Though never considered a star in the handsome-leading-man sense of the word, Zinoviy Gerdt was among Russia's most beloved and respected character actors. Over his nearly five-decade-long career, Gerdt appeared in puppet theater, in dozens of feature films, and on various television shows. The respect accorded him by peers and fans was as much a product of his personal integrity as it was of his talent. He was not an overtly political man, though most of his films spanned the Communist era, but Gerdt refused to buckle under government pressure to appear in propaganda films and productions. Instead, he would only perform in productions that did not offend his personal values.
Gerdt launched his career in Moscow amateur theater during the '30s. His leg was seriously injured during WWII, and this pretty much killed his theatrical career, at least in the normal sense. In 1945, Gerdt found employment working with the Moscow Puppet Theater and worked under Sergei Obraztsov. He was typically cast as the show's colorful, smart-alecky emcee. Though no one saw his face, Gerdt's characterization of the announcer won him considerable acclaim (Gerdt penned most of his own monologues). He made his screen debut in 1958 and specialized in comic roles. The limp from his war wound was only occasionally noticeable. An excellent Gerdt performance can be found in Zolotoy Telyonok (1968), the high-spirited sequel to The Twelve Chairs. On television, Gerdt was a popular host and guest on literary shows. He was especially loved when he read from classic books. He also occasionally narrated films such as Zigzag Udachi (1969) and Devyat Dney Odnogo Goda (1964). In the early '90s, after the fall of the Communist government, Gerdt hosted a Russian chat show in which he informally interviewed celebrities while sipping tea. In 1969, Gerdt received the honorary title of People's Artist of the Russian Federation for his many contributions to Russian film.