Earthy Russian character actor Akim Tamiroff was relatively aimless, not settling upon a theatrical career until he was nearly 19. Selected from 500 applicants, Tamiroff was trained by Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater School. While touring the U.S. with a Russian acting troupe in 1923, Tamiroff decided to remain in New York and give Broadway a try. He was quite active with the Theatre Guild during the 1920s and early '30s, then set out for Hollywood, hoping to scare up movie work. After several years' worth of bit roles, Tamiroff's film career began gaining momentum when he was signed by Paramount in 1936. He became one of the studio's top players, appearing in juicy featured roles in A-pictures and starring in such B's as The Great Gambini (1937), King of Chinatown (1938), and The Magnificent Fraud (1939). Essaying a wide variety of nationalities, Tamiroff was most frequently cast as a villain or reprobate with a deep down sentimental and/or honorable streak. He was a favorite of many directors, including Cecil B. DeMille, starring in Union Pacific (1939), Northwest Mounted Police (1940), and Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty (1940). He was twice nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar for his work in The General Died at Dawn (1936) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). During the 1950s, Tamiroff was a close associate of actor/director Orson Welles, who cast Tamiroff in underhanded supporting roles in Mr. Arkadin (1955), Touch of Evil (1958), and The Trial (1963), and retained his services for nearly two decades in the role of Sancho Panza in Welles' never-finished Don Quixote. Akim Tamiroff continued to flourish with meaty assignments in films like Topkapi (1964) and After the Fox (1966), rounding out his long and fruitful career with a starring assignment in the French/Italian political melodrama, Death of a Jew (1970).
by Hal Erickson biography