Background to the 65th birth anniversary of playwright Alexander Vampilov

Alexander Vampilov was born on August 19, 1937 in the village of Kutulik, Irkutsk region, to a Buryat father and a Russian mother. His father, Valentin Vampilov, was the head-master of the local school; his mother, Anastasia Vampilov, taught mathematics and acted as the head of studies at the same school. The family already had three children, Volodya, Misha and Galya. A few months after the birth of Alexander, one of the teachers sent false information against his father to the NKVD, saying he was one of the so-called Pan-Mongolists, a movement that allegedly supported a reunion of Buryatia, Mongolia and two national districts. Valentin Vampilov was arrested and executed outside Irkutsk in early 1938. He was rehabilitated only 19 years afterwards.

The Vampilov family was literally living off of bread and water. Anastasia went on working at the school, but her salary was barely enough to provide a living for herself and four small children. Having finished school, Alexander entered the historical and philological department of the Irkutsk University. As a freshman, he began writing short comic stories. In 1958, some of them were printed by local newspapers. A year on, Vampilov joined the staff of the regional paper Sovetskaya Molodyozh and the Union of Young Talents under the auspices of the Soviet Writers' Union. In 1961, he published a book called "Concurrence of Circumstances" under the pen name of A.Sanin. In 1962, he wrote his first play, "Twenty Minutes with an Angel." In the same year, the editorial staff of Sovetskaya Molodyozh decided to send Vampilov to Moscow to study at the Higher Literary Courses of the Central Komsomol School /the Komsomol was a youth organization of the Soviet period/. Having spent several months in Moscow, Alexander returned home and was appointed the newspaper's Executive Secretary. In December of the same year, the Maleyevka House of Writers outside Moscow hosted a seminar, in the course of which Vampilov presented readers with two new one-act comedies, "The Crow Grove" and "100 Rubles in New Cash." In 1964, Vampilov quit journalism and dedicated himself to writing. After a short while, he began publishing his short stories in Irkutsk.

At about the same time, he returned to Moscow and joined the Higher Literary Courses of the Institute of Literature. In the winter of 1954, he made the acquaintance of the popular Soviet playwright Alexei Arbuzov, whose seminar he attended. Seeing Arbuzov at the Central Telegraph Office, Vampilov walked up and asked him to read his new play, "Farewell in June." The eminent playwright was duly impressed. Vampilov tried to have the play staged but did not succeed; it was first staged in 1966 by the Klaipeda Drama Theater in Lithuania. In the same year, Vampilov joined the Soviet Writers' Union.

There followed the plays "Elder Son," "Hunting for Ducks" /both 1970/, "The Case with the Maker-Up" /1971/, "Last Summer in Chulimsk" /1972/ and others. Everyone read them with enthusiasm, but none wanted to stage them in Moscow or Leningrad because of their sharp criticism of Soviet reality. In the provinces, however, the play "Last Summer in Chulimsk" was running in as many as eight theaters. In the meantime, the Irkutsk Teenagers' Theater, which now bears Vampilov's name, never staged one single play by Vampilov during his lifetime.

By 1972, theatrical circles in Moscow had changed their opinion of Vampilov's plays. "Last Summer in Chulimsk" was staged by the Yermolova Theater and "Farewell" by the Stanislavsky Theater. The March of 1972 saw the premiere of "Provincial Anecdotes" at the Leningrad Big Drama Theater. Simultaneously, Lenfilm signed a contract with Vampilov for a screen script to "Pine Springs." It looked as though fortune had finally smiled at the talented playwright. He was young, full of creative plans for the future, and happily married to a girl called Olga. His sudden death was a shock to everyone.

On August 17, 1972, just two days before his 35th birthday, Vampilov and two friends, Gleb Pakulov and Vladimir Zhemchuzhnikov, went rowing across Lake Baikal. Witnesses testified that the boat propelled by Vampilov and Pakulov caught on to a sunken log and overturned. Vampilov decided to swim to the shore -- and he did, but his heart failed as soon as his feet touched the bottom. The water in Lake Baikal is too cold...

The playwright's glory reached its peak only after his death. Publishers began printing his books, theaters began staging his plays /"The Elder Son" alone ran in 44 theaters at one time/, filmmakers began making screen versions of his works. Kutulik opened a Vampilov Museum, Irkutsk gave his name to its Teenagers' Theater. A memorial stone was laid near the place of his death.

Vampilov's plays and stories are topical to this day. Years go by but Vampilov's moods, his pain and his emotions remain, and so does his ability of feeling other people's pain.

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