Ilona Massey: A Beauty from Budapest

Ilona Massey (1910-1974) was no relation to Raymond or Anna. Her real last name was Hajmássy and she hailed from Budapest.

Unlike her countrywomen the Gabor sisters, Massey came from poverty, however. Originally a dressmaker’s apprentice, she learned to sing and dance, and became a chorus girl in her native country. This led to appearances in two Hungarian films. She sent her pix to the Vienna office of MGM, and this is what set the machinery in motion to bring her to America. She was brought over at the same time as Hedy Lamarr and billed as “the new Marlene Dietrich” — rather unfortunate for the old one at that time, I should think. In the States, her first two pictures were Nelson Eddy musicals, Rosalie (1937) and Balalaika (1939). She was only in a couple of dozen American films: the best remembered are Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and the Marx Brothers’ Love Happy (1950).

Massey also appeared on Broadway in the 1943 revival of the Ziegfeld Follies.

In 1954 Massey got her own variety program The Iona Massey Show on The Dumont Network. She was also a guest on The All Star Revue, The Ed Wynn Show, The Ken Murray Show, The Paul Winchell Show, Your Show of Shows, The Colgate Comedy Hour et al. Old Time Radio fans may know Massey best from her role in the Cold War thriller series Top Secret. Not coincidentally, Massey was an ardent anti-Communist throughout the Cold War era. Her fourth and last husband was Air Force Major General Donald Dawson.

Ilona Massey’s last screen appearance was in The Cool Ones (1967).

For more on the variety arts, including tv variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.