The Hungarians of Show Business

The Magyar Kath, a Hungarian-American band in Toledo, Ohio, 1916

Today is the National Day of Hungary, commemorating the 1848 Revolution when Hungary sought independence from the Austrian Empire. I thought I would take the opportunity to celebrate Hungarians in American show business, having done a similar post on the Poles recently. As with the Poles, a surprising number turned up! Hungarian, I’m sure you know, is a language that relies on lots of accent-marks and such in its written form. Expedience (I have several posts scheduled for today) requires that I publish this without the correct marks — hopefully I can come back and correct the omission by St. Stephen’s Day! (August 20)

Some of the Hungarian-Americans we have written about (or plan to): Broadway beauties the Dolly Sisters were Hungarian, as was Ilona Massey and the vaudeville comedian Joe Penner, the silent screen star Vilma Banky, horror icon Bela Lugosi (of course!), the Wiere Brothers (and their niece Kim Darby), the diminutive Matina Brothers, TV comedy pioneer Ernie Kovacs, producer/director George Pal, and actors Oscar Beregi and Michael Pataki. Kirk Alyn, the first screen Superman and the husband of Virginia O’Brien, was Hungarian.

William Fox, father of the Fox Film Corporation and its corporate descendants, was a Hungarian Jew; as were Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount; Jules White, head of Columbia’s comedy shorts unit; magician Harry Houdini; directors Michael Curtiz, George Cukor, Alexander Korda and Peter Medak;  the Gabor Sisters; singer-songwriter Paul Simon; comedians Soupy Sales and Bill Dana;  and the actors S.Z Sakall; Tony Curtis; Peter Lorre; Cornel Wilde, Paul Lukas and William Shatner.

Mickey Hargitay, body-builder husband of Jayne Mansfield, and father of Mariska Hargitay, was Hungarian, as was performing little person Zoltán Hirsch, a Jewish victim of the Nazis. Playwrights Ferenc Molnár (adapted by Preston Sturges and Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Miklos Laszlo (adapted by Lubitsch) were Hungarian, as were cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Szigmond.

Famous show biz folks who were half Hungarian or half Hungarian-Jewish included King Vidor, Don Adams, Goldie Hawn, Sam Raimi, Drew Barrymore, and Adrien Brody. As for those who are less than half, the list gets too long and what’s the point?

I dedicate this post to my good friends Stefania de Kennessy, the composer, and comedian Tom Racz, Hungarians what are Hungarians.