Magyars in the Movies

As the 89th Academy Awards9th Academy Awards9th Academy Awards will be taking place in Hollywood at the end of this month, we’ve thought it’s high time for us to gather up all the various connections our country’s native sons have with the world of silver screens and film studios. A country of great cinematic traditions (the comedies of the 30s are still huge favorites to this day, while Hungarian art-house directors Tarr, Jancsó and Szabó have influenced filmmakers throughout the world), the legacy of Hungarian émigrés is – ironically – much larger than of those who’ve stayed within the borders of this conflict-torn Central European country. Below, we’ll give you an idea just how imbued the movie-making business was by people of Hungarian stock during the 20th century! Did you know, for example…

…that, according to a legend, the following sign used to hang above the door of a Hollywood studio, “It’s not enough to be Hungarian to make films. One must also have talent,” suggesting that once upon a time you couldn’t swing a cat in LA from all the Hungarians. Whether that is true or not, Hungary has definitely made significant contributions to film history.

…that the first Oscar awarded to a Hungarian artist was a reward for the work of William S. Darling (Wilhelm Sándorházi), who received the prize for the art design of the movie Cavalcade? The Hungarian-born art director won his second award for The Song of Bernadette in 1943 and his third one for Anna and the King of Siam in 1946.

Anna and the King of Siam (1946)

…that one of the most outstanding and frequently quoted pieces in the history of cinema was directed by a Hungarian? In 1942, Michael Curtiz (born Mihály Kertész) won the Academy Award for Best Director, as well as Best Picture, for his wartime romantic drama, Casablanca. During his 36-years long Hollywood career, Curtiz directed 10 different actors to Oscar nominations and made stars of many more, including Errol Flynn and James Cagney.

Casablanca (1942)

…that Adolf Zukor was one of the architects of the Hollywood film industry? Born to a Jewish family in rural Hungary, he was just 15 when he lost both of his parents, then subsequently emigrated to America and made his fortune in the fur business. In 1903 he started a venture with Marcus Loew for a new chain of movie theaters. In 1912 he established Famous Players, which evolved over time into Paramount Pictures. Zukor championed vertical integration, organizing production, distribution, and exhibition within a single company, discovered such stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Gary Cooper, and thus gave rise to Hollywood as we know it. Zukor is one of the handful of Hungarians who have their own stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

…that it was a Hungarian who first used Panavision’s revolutionary Panaflex camera on a movie? The film was Sugarland Express, and the cameraman was named Vilmos Zsigmond. The Szeged native went on to win an Academy Award in 1977 for his work on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The following year he was nominated for his cinematography on Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, and was again nominated for the powerful look he brought to Mark Rydell’s The River (1983). In 2003, Zsigmond was named by the International Cinematographers Guild as one of the ten most influential cinematographers in history.

Jack Nicholson and Zsigmond Vilmos (1989)

…that the first filmmaker to ever be knighted by a British monarch was born in 1893 in the small town of Túrkeve, Hungary? Sir Alexander Korda started his career by writing to contemporary Hungarian film magazines, which was soon followed by movie scripts and directorial works, and led to building his own company, Corvin Film. After the failed Communist Revolution of 1919, Korda left Hungary for foreign lands, worked in Vienna, Berlin and Hollywood, and finally settled in London in 1932. His extensive filmography includes An Ideal Husband and The Thief of Baghdad, and together with fellow Hungarians Imre Pressburger, Lajos Bíró and Zoltán Korda (his brother), he made such gems as Jungle Book, The Spy in Black and The Private Life of Henry VIII.

If you’re even more interested in the influence Hungarians had (and still have) on the world of cinema, be sure to take a field-trip to the Korda Film Park in Etyek, which offers you a peek into the continent’s largest working film studio, as well as providing you with further insight into Hungary’s movie industry through interactive exhibits and more!