Hungarian Cinema-Theatre Expatriates before and after Summer 1919

Richard Stites, Georgetown University

Much study has been devoted to the huge wave of Russian emigres who departed from Soviet Russia (later USSR) in the years 1917-21. Less attention has been paid to another wave, smaller but artistically very significant, and particularly so on screen and stage, who left Hungary after Horthy's forces crushed the infant Hungarian "Republic of the Councils" [i.e., Soviet Hungary] in the summer of 1919. Hence this paper.

Unlike the Russian emigration, the Hungarian expatriates of 1919 and afterwards included a considerable number of Magyar leftists, those who either actively supported Bela Kun's Hungarian "Councils" revolution of spring-summer 1919, or who at least sympathized with it or did not oppose it -- and who fled for their lives when Horthy's right-wing counter-revolution won the day. Other Hungarian professionals in film and theatre emigrated in the 1920s and 1930s for better economic opportunities which they saw, first in Vienna, then in Berlin, and eventually (for many of the expats) in the USA.

Among the Hungarian emigres of 1919 and later, who went on to make significant contributions to stage and screen in the West, were directors Sandor Kellner ("Sir Alexander Korda") and Mihaly Kertesz "("Mike Curtiz"); writers Ferenc Molnar and Laszlo Biro; critics Bela Balazs and Gyorgy Lukacs; composers Miklos Rozsa and Bela Bartok; designers Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Vincze Kellner ("Vincent Korda"); assistants Andras Toth ("DeToth") and Zoltan Kellner ("Korda"); actors Szoke Szakall ("Cuddles Sakall") and Ilona Hajmassy ("Massey") and numerous others.

This paper will consider both the background of their activities in Hungary, 1918-19, before they emigrated, and the outcome of that emigration in the West in subsequent years. In some cases the contrast is striking. E.g., actor Bela Blasko ("Lugosi") pursued a rather "red" path in the brief months of the "Republic of Councils," but in Hollywood his activist, ultra-leftist image was much muted, eclipsed by a new image as a king of horror ("Dracula").

If time and equipment permit, the talk will be illustrated by a few video clips, including very rare films made by the emigres in the early 1920s at their first stopping-off points, Vienna and Berlin. Most of their films made in "Red Hungary" itself seem not to have survived.