Akim Tamiroff
Ակիմ Թամիրով
Tamiroff in the Netherlands in 1964
Hovakim Tamiryants

(1899-10-29)October 29, 1899
DiedSeptember 17, 1972(1972-09-17) (aged 72)
Alma materMoscow Art Theatre
Years active1919–1972
(m. 1932)

Akim Mikhailovich Tamiroff[a] (born Hovakim Tamiryants;[b][1] October 29, 1899 – September 17, 1972) was an Armenian-American actor of film, stage, and television. One of the premier character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age,[2] Tamiroff developed a prolific career despite his thick accent, appearing in at least 80 motion pictures over a span of 37 years.[3]

He was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in The General Died at Dawn (1936) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), winning the first ever Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for the latter. Orson Welles, a friend and oft-collaborator, praised him as "the greatest of all screen actors."[4]

Early life and education

Tamiroff was born Hovakim Tamiryants (Armenian: Հովակիմ Թամիրյանց) to Armenian parents[5] living in the Russian Empire. Different sources cite either Tiflis[6] (in modern-day Georgia) or Baku[3] (in modern-day Azerbaijan) as places of birth. His father was an oil worker, and his mother a seamstress. He trained at the Moscow Art Theatre drama school for nine years from the age of 19,[7] where he was a pupil of Konstantin Stanislavski. During that time, he changed his name to the russified moniker Akim Mikhailovich Tamiroff (Russian: Аким Михайлович Тамиров).

Stage acting

During his time at the Moscow Art Theatre, he became acquainted with fellow Armenian Nikita Balieff. Following the Russian Revolution, Tamiroff and several other émigrés joined Balieff in Paris to form the La Chauve-Souris touring revue.[2]

He arrived in the U.S. for the first time in January 1923 on a three-month tour with the revue and starred in a repertory of Russian plays directed by Stanislavski. He returned in November and stayed until 1924. His final trip with them was in October 1927 when he decided to stay permanently.[3][8][9] He joined the Theatre Guild in New York City, where he met his wife Tamara Shayne. Both were later naturalized as United States citizens.

1940, Akim Tamiroff as Dominique You on original program for movie The Buccaneer, playing in a local cinema in Prilep, Macedonia (Kingdom of Yugoslavia)

Film and television career

Tamiroff in Touch of Evil (1958)

Tamiroff's film debut came in 1932 in an uncredited role in Okay, America!. He performed in several more uncredited roles until 1935, when he appeared in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. He also appeared in the lavish epic China Seas in 1935 with Clark Gable, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell and Robert Benchley. The following year, he was cast in the titular role in The General Died at Dawn. He appeared in the 1937 musical High, Wide, and Handsome with Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott, and the 1938 proto-noir Dangerous to Know opposite Anna May Wong, frequently singled out as his best role.[10]

In the following decade, he appeared in such films as The Buccaneer (1938) with Fredric March, The Great McGinty (1940), The Corsican Brothers (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942) with Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield, Five Graves to Cairo (1943) with Erich von Stroheim as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Frank Borzage's His Butler's Sister (1943), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman,[11] for which he received another Oscar nomination,[3] and Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). Though ethnically Armenian, his many character roles included such ethnicities as Russian, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, French, German, Greek, Egyptian, Polish, Turkish, Malayan, Tartar, Gypsy, and Jew

In later years, Tamiroff appeared in Ocean's 11 (1960) with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin's Rat Pack, Topkapi (1964) with Peter Ustinov and Melina Mercouri, Lord Jim with Peter O’Toole and Alphaville (1965), Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969) by Jesús Franco. He also had a long collaboration with Orson Welles including Mr Arkadin (1955), Touch of Evil (1958) with Charlton Heston, The Trial (1962), and as Sancho Panza in Welles's unfinished version of Don Quixote.[12][13]


In 1944, Tamiroff was the first Golden Globe Award winner for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his work in For Whom the Bell Tolls.[14]

He was twice nominated for Academy Awards, both times for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The first was for his work in The General Died at Dawn, and the second was for his work in For Whom the Bell Tolls.[3] Both these films starred Gary Cooper.

For his contributions to the American film industry, Tamiroff received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures at 1634 Vine Street.[15][16]

Personal life

Tamiroff's accepted birth year was 1899, although in at least two instances this appeared to be different. In his second trip to America in November 1923[17] his age is given as 27 and in the 1930 census as 32.[18] He married fellow actress Tamara Shayne, with whom he performed nightclub acts,[3] in February 1933[19] in Los Angeles. Yet, according to the above-mentioned 1930 census, the couple was living in Chicago, Illinois, as married under the (misspelled) name Tameriroff.[18] It appears also that this was his second marriage.

Tamiroff was fluent in five languages – Armenian, Russian, English, French, and Italian.


Tamiroff died on September 17, 1972, from cancer.[3]


While Tamiroff may not be a household name now, his malapropistic performance as the boss in The Great McGinty is thought to have been the inspiration for the cartoon character Boris Badenov,[20] the male half of the villainous husband-and-wife team Boris and Natasha on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.[21] He was also spoofed in a 1969 episode of the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf entitled "The Stand-in" in which a frog named "Akim Toadanoff" directs a movie on Living Island. He is mentioned in J.D. Salinger's "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" (New Yorker, 1942), and Walker Percy's 1961 novel The Moviegoer.[22]


Tamiroff in the trailer for For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Tamiroff in the trailer for Fiesta (1947)


Year Title Role Notes
1932 Okay, America! Bit Role Uncredited
1933 Clear All Wires! Moscow Hotel Clerk
Gabriel Over the White House Delegate to The Debt Conference
The Barbarian Colonel
Professional Sweetheart The Hotel Waiter
Storm at Daybreak Gypsy Fiddler
The Devil's in Love Adjutant
Queen Christina Pedro
1934 Fugitive Lovers Deaf-Mute Bus Passenger
Sadie McKee Riccori
The Great Flirtation Paul Wengler
Whom the Gods Destroy Peter Korotoff
Straight Is the Way Mr. Slavko Uncredited
Now and Forever French Jeweller
Chained Pablo
The Scarlet Empress Granin Uncredited
The Merry Widow Maxim's Manager
Lady by Choice Poupolis
The Captain Hates the Sea General Salazaro
Here is My Heart Manager of Hotel
1935 The Lives of a Bengal Lancer Emir
La Veuve joyeuse Le Turc
The Winning Ticket Giuseppe
Rumba Tony Uncredited
Naughty Marietta Rudolpho
Black Fury Sokolsky
Reckless Chef At Wedding Uncredited
Go into Your Dance Mexican In La Cucaracha Cantina
Paris in Spring Cafe Manager
China Seas Paul Romanoff
The Gay Deception Spellek
The Big Broadcast of 1936 Boris
Two-Fisted Taxi Driver
The Last Outpost Mirov Uncredited
1936 The Story of Louis Pasteur Dr. Zaranoff
Desire Major Avilia
Woman Trap Joe Ramirez De La Valle
Anthony Adverse Carlo Cibo
The General Died at Dawn General Yang Nominated- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Jungle Princess Karen Neg
I Loved a Soldier Unknown Unfinished
1937 Her Husband Lies Ed "Big Ed" Bullock
The Soldier and the Lady Ogareff
King of Gamblers Steve Kalkas
The Great Gambini The Great Gambini
High, Wide, and Handsome Joe Varese
This Way Please Tartar Chieftain Uncredited
1938 The Buccaneer Dominique You
Dangerous to Know Stephan Recka
Spawn of the North "Red" Skain
Ride a Crooked Mile Mike Balan
1939 Paris Honeymoon Mayor Peter Karloca
King of Chinatown Frank Baturin
Union Pacific Fiesta
The Magnificent Fraud Jules LaCroix / President Alvarado
Honeymoon in Bali Tony, The Window Washer
Disputed Passage Dr. "Tubby" Forster
1940 The Way of All Flesh Paul Kriza
Untamed Joe Easter
The Great McGinty The Boss
North West Mounted Police Dan Duroc
Texas Rangers Ride Again Mio Pio
1941 New York Town Stefan Janowski
The Corsican Brothers Baron Colonna
1942 Reap the Wild Wind The Lamb (voice) Uncredited
Tortilla Flat Pablo
1943 Five Graves to Cairo Farid
For Whom the Bell Tolls Pablo Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Nominated- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
His Butler's Sister Popoff
1944 The Miracle of Morgan's Creek The Boss
The Bridge of San Luis Rey Uncle Pio
Dragon Seed Wu Lien
Can't Help Singing Prince Gregory Stroganovsky
1945 Pardon My Past Jim Arnold
1946 A Scandal in Paris Emile Vernet
1947 Fiesta Chato Vasquez
The Gangster Nick Jammey
1948 My Girl Tisa Mr. Grumbach
Relentless Joe Faringo
1949 Outpost in Morocco Lieutenant Glysko
Black Magic Gitano
1953 Desert Legion Private Plevko
1954 They Who Dare Captain George One
You Know What Sailors Are The President of Agraria
1955 Cartouche Il Marchese Di Salpiere
The Widow Carlo Serra
Mr. Arkadin Jakob Zouk
1956 The Black Sleep Odo
Anastasia Boris Andreevich Chernov
1957 Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst Colonel Peng
1958 Touch of Evil Joe "Uncle Joe" Grandi
Me and the Colonel Szabuniewicz
1959 Desert Desperadoes The Merchant
1960 Ocean's 11 Spyros Acebos
1961 La moglie di mio marito Presidente Agenzia Pubblicitaria
The Bacchantes Teiresias
Romanoff and Juliet Vadim Romanoff
The Last Judgment The Director
The Italian Brigands 'O Zingaro
Ursus and the Tartar Princess Khan of the Tartars
1962 Invasion 1700 Jan Onufry Zagłoba
The Reluctant Saint Bishop Durso
The Trial Bloch
A Queen for Caesar Gnaeus Pompeius
1964 The Black Tulip Marquis de Vigogne
Panic Button Pandowski
Topkapi Gerven, The Cook
Spuit Elf Bakker / Brandmeester
1965 Le bambole Monsignor Arcudi Segment: "Monsignor Cupido"
Lord Jim Schomberg
Crime on a Summer Morning Frank Kramer
Alphaville Henri Dickson
Marco the Magnificent The Old Man of the Mountain
Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha Professor Lambaré / Dr. Kha
The Liquidator Sheriek
1966 Adultery Italian Style Max Portesi
Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. Tanamashu
I nostri mariti Cesare Segment: "Il marito di Olga"
After the Fox Okra
Un gangster venuto da Brooklyn Joe Montano
Hotel Paradiso Anniello
1967 The Vulture Professor Hans Koniglich
A Rose for Everyone Basilio
Monsieur Lecoq Unknown Unfinished
1968 O tutto o niente Pigsty / Dean Light
The Girl Who Couldn't Say No Uncle Egidio
Great Catherine Sergeant
1969 100 Rifles General Romero Deleted role
Marquis de Sade: Justine Du Harpin
The Great Bank Robbery Papa
Death of a Jew Inspector Mehdaloun
1972 Don Quixote Sancho Panza Unfinished, filmed between 1955 and 1969


Year Title Role Notes
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Unknown Episode: "Trouble in Pier Twelve"
1954 The Black Forest Baron Von Moribund Television film
1955 The Chocolate Soldier Major Ludek Television film
The Best of Broadway Nick Verdis Episode: "Broadway"
Climax! Albert Ganz Episode: "To Wake at Midnight"
1956 Four Star Playhouse Mendoza Episode: "One Forty Two"
Ethel Barrymore Theatre Pancho Villa Episode: "This Is Villa"
1957 Playhouse 90 Mr. Anagnos Episode: "The Miracle Worker"
Producers' Showcase General Otakar Zandek Episode: "The Great Sebastians"
1958 DuPont Show of the Month The Governor Episode: "Cole Porter's 'Aladdin'"
Matinee Theatre Unknown Episode: "The Inspector General"
The Rifleman Cesar Tiffauges Episode: "New Orleans Menace"
1959 The DuPont Show with June Allyson Tony Episode: "Love Is a Headache"
1960 Tales of the Vikings Eyulf 2 episodes
Johnny Ringo Andy Baranov Episode: "The Assassins"
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Captain Farago Episode: "Thunder in the Night"
1961 Wagon Train Joe Muharich Episode: "The Joe Muharich Story"
1962 Route 66 Sam Benjamin Episode: "Blues for the Left Foot"
The Dick Powell Show Inspector Boulanger Episode: "View from the Eiffel Tower"
Kraft Television Theatre Captain Farago Episode: "Thunder in the Night"
1962–1963 Naked City Emil Pappas / Demetru Lapesku 2 episodes
1963 The Defenders John Solasky Episode: "The Trial of Twenty-Two"
Breaking Point Goldstein Episode: "A Pelican in the Wilderness"
1966 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Chairman Georgi Koz Episode: "The Jingle Bells Affair"
1969 Then Came Bronson "Papa Bear" Episode: "Pilot"


  1. ^ Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia  (in Armenian). p. 948 – via Wikisource.
  2. ^ a b "Akim Tamiroff, Actor, Is Dead; Had Screen Career of 35 Years". The New York Times. 1972-09-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Akim Tamiroff, Actor, Is Dead; Had Screen Career of 35 Years". The New York Times. 19 September 1972. Archived from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  4. ^ "This Hour has Seven Days: Chuvalo, Welles, and the Klan". CBC Archives. 1965-10-24. Archived from the original on 2017-11-04.
  5. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-8108-6096-4.
  6. ^ Parish, James Robert (1978). Hollywood Character Actors. Arlington House. p. 478. ISBN 0-87000-384-4.
  7. ^ Robinson, Harlow (2007). Russians in Hollywood. ISBN 9781555536862.
  8. ^ 'Practice Fun' Music Studio Archived October 29, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Dougmacaulay.com. Retrieved on April 1, 2014.
  9. ^ "Akim Tamiroff". Archived from the original on February 1, 2005. Retrieved September 2, 2016.. theoscarsite.com. Retrieved on April 1, 2014.
  10. ^ King, Susan (August 26, 2012). "Cinecon film festival unearths some old treasures". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  11. ^ King, Susan (September 1, 1995). "HOME ENTERTAINMENT : New 'Bell' Tolls With Original Luster". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  12. ^ McCarthy, Todd (May 19, 1992). "Don Quijote de Orson Welles Don Quixote of Orson Welles". Variety. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  13. ^ Lim, Dennis (August 17, 2008). "'Quixote' eerily like Welles' life". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  14. ^ "Golden Globe Awards for 'Akim Tamiroff'". Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on 16 January 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Akim Tamiroff | Hollywood Walk of Fame". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  16. ^ "Akim Tamiroff - Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. September 19, 1972. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  17. ^ 1923 passenger list, Birth year 1896. "Ancestry.com". Ancestry.com.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ a b Census 1930, Tameriroff couple. "Ancestry.com". Ancestry.com.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Marriage date. "Ancestry.com". Ancestry.com.
  20. ^ Corliss, Richard (October 23, 2010). "Unsung Creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle Dies". Time. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  21. ^ Low-rated and barely animated, Rocky & Bullwinkle became a TV touchstone. Tv.avclub.com. Retrieved on July 8, 2013.
  22. ^ The Moviegoer. (New York: Vintage, 1998), 165


  1. ^ Armenian: Ակիմ Թամիրով, Russian: Аким Михайлович Тамиров
  2. ^ Armenian: Հովակիմ Թամիրյանց