Anybody will tell you that Vitaly Solomin (1941-2002) died too young. He still had his boyish good looks and his youthful energy when he died of a stroke at the age of 60 during the intermission of a performance of a musical production of Krechinsky’s Wedding. The stroke actually occurred during the first act but, typically, Solomin continued to perform until the curtain fell. He even tried to get people not to call a doctor because he still had the second act to play. But he died before the doctor could come or the second act could begin. This happened at the affiliate stage of the Maly Theater which is located in the Zamoskvorechye, or Beyond the Moscow River, region of Moscow. I live in the courtyard of this beautiful building and, in fact, I’m looking out the window at it right now as I write these lines. Vitaly was the younger brother of Yury Solomin, long the artistic director of the Maly Theater, where Vitaly worked his entire career. If this is possible, I would say that Yury is the more famous of the two, but that Vitaly was the most loved of them. Maybe Vitaly was both. He performed in a host of extremely popular films, including his crowning role as Doctor Watson in three wildly popular Russian versions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. In all he played in 57 films between 1963 and 2002, and was one of the most recognized faces and most respected actors in Russia.
It so happened that my wife Oksana Mysina played Solomin’s wife in his very last film, a made-for-TV miniseries called All or Nothing, based on a novel by the Polish writer Joanna Chmielewska. Oksana often tells the story of the first time she met Solomin. Whether during a costume or makeup check, she decided to go into his dressing room to introduce herself. She walked in all smiles and cheer, excited that she was to be working with the great “Doctor Watson.” Solomin was busy at his dressing room table, but Oksana made bold to announce herself. “Hello, Vitaly Mefodievich,” I presume she said in her characteristic good-natured voice, “I’ll be playing your wife in this film.” Oksana said Solomin’s reaction was priceless. Slowly, as if he would rather have heard he was now to be led to his execution, he turned his head toward her. When his eyes finally found her, he said not a word. He just stared at her blankly until she felt uneasy enough to leave. So much for the danger of meeting your idols. Don’t get me, or Oksana, wrong. There isn’t a whiff of reproach in this little story. Solomin was a consummate professional and his work was everything. Anything that had to do with anything but his work – was not of the least interest to him. That lovable, impish Doctor Watson was work – he was created through the labor of a great artist, a great actor. Another of Oksana’s little stories that I love is the way Solomin did not trust producers. Russian producers are notorious for not paying on time or for not paying at all. Our family has had plenty of experience with that. Anyway, at the end of each filming day Solomin would wait for the producer to bring him an envelope with his pay for the day. No envelope today, no shoot tomorrow.
At the time of his death Solomin lived in a most interesting building at Nikitsky Boulevard 9, just north of the New Arbat Street at the very beginning of the famous Arbat Street. As we see in the plaque immediately below, the structure was originally built to house a host of arctic explorers.