One of the greats of Czech film and theatre, Ladislav Smoljak, died at the age of 78 at the weekend. As a director, screenwriter and actor, Smoljak, brought his special humour to the stage and screen over more than four decades. He will perhaps be best remembered as one of the creators of the fictional Czech character Jára Cimrman.
Ladislav Smoljak fell in love with the world of theatre at a young age. But he failed to get into theatre school and studied mathematics and physics instead. After a short spell teaching these disciplines he got a job with the magazine Mladý Svět. His breakthrough came in 1966 when he was one the creators of the legendary Czech fictional character Jára Cimrman.
Cimrman, a 19th and early 20th century Czech genius, was first given life in a regular radio programme. The character was used to poke fun at contemporary events and national characteristics from the safe distance of a fictional character lost in a mysterious past. Even from the beginning, some people actually thought the fictional character was real.
From then on, the Cimrman phenomenon snowballed. A Jára Cimrman theatre was created in 1967. And after the plays, films followed as well. The first one “Jára Cimrman, lying, sleeping” was directed by Ladislav Smoljak and was released in 1983. A detective comedy, supposedly based on one of Cimrman’s works, followed a year later.
But Ladislav Smoljak did more than just follow in the footsteps of the now larger than life character of Jára Cimrman. Often teaming up with Oscar-winning director Zdeněk Svěrák, he also acted on the stage and in films and directed some comedy film hits of his own. One of these, for example, was the 1983 hit starring Josef Abrhám “Run, waiter run,” the story of a married man who tries to escape his financial difficulties by pretending to be a waiter in top hotels.
In spite of his long illness, Ladislav Smoljak continued to be active. His last appearance on the stage was on May 25, appropriately enough at the Jára Cimrman theatre. That appearance was in “Czech Heaven,” which he wrote with Zdeněk Svěrák.
Ladislav Smoljak will probably be best remembered for making Czechs smile, even in the most trying moment of their recent history.
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