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||Ferenc Molnár (1878-1952) - Pseudonym of Ferenc Neumann|
Hungarian-American playwright, director, novelist, short-story writer, and journalist, whose reputation reached its peak between the wars. Molnár wrote in all about 42 plays, in which he combined realism and romanticism, cynicism and sentimentality. His earliest works show the influence of the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Much of his life Molnár spent away from his native country; he died in New York. Molnár's novel, The Paul Street Boys (1907), is among the most popular books in Hungary.
"It was there that Olga was then to encounter the materialization of the impulses she had been, only half uncounsiously, struggling against for six years; the spirit of evil purpose against which good contends; the incarnation of the arch fiend in the attractive shape of a suave, polished, plausible, eloquent man of the world, whose cynicism bridged the years of married life; whose subtle suggestions colored afresh the faded dreams which she believed faintly remembered, and believed would come no more." (from The Devil, 1907)
Ferenc Molnár was born Ferenc Neumann in Budapest into a well-to-do Jewish family. His father, Mor Neumann, was a famous physician. At the age of eighteen, Molnár began a career in journalism and then studied law in Budapest and Geneva. He joined the editorial staff of the Budapest newspaper Budapesti napló and changed his German name, to be known as a Hungarian writer, which he was. In 1906 he married the journalist and painter Margit Vészi; they divorced in 1910. She was the daughter of Jósef Vészi, the editor-in-chief of Pester Lloyd. Like Molnár, she came from a Jewish family. Later in life Molnár converted to Christianity.
At the age of twenty-two, after writing a number of short stories, Molnár published his first novel, Az éhes város (The Hungry City). Molnár's early plays were comedies, such as A doktor úr (1902) and Józsi (pub. 1904). In 1907 he gained fame as a novelist with A Pál utcai fiúk (The Paul Street Boys), a story about two rival boy's gangs on the streets of Budapest. The gangs share the same grund, a vacant plot, an "open country, grassland and the great plains," as Molnár himself described it. "It is a spell of freedom and boundlessness, this plot of ground that is hedged about by a rickety fence on one side, and by rearing walls stabbing skywards, on the other." In the story a weak little boy, Erno Nemecsek, shows his devotion to his gang and sacrifices himself for it. Molnár's depiction of the young people's psyches is expressed in poetic style, drawing parallels between gang life and the contemporary problems.
Az ördög (1907, The Devil), taking its central idea from Faust and dealing with marital infidelity, was staged in New York a year after its Hungarian premiere. This comedy established Molnár's fame as one of the leading dramatists of his day. Molnár's great invention was to bring on the stage a mysterious character, The Devil, who manipulates the characters and can anticipate their thoughts. Molnár wrote the play for Irén Varsányi, who was at that time Hungary's leading actress. Her jealous husband, Illés Szécsi, a wealthy manufacturer, challenged him to the duel, but it was eventually Molnár who spent two weeks in jail.
Molnár's most enduring achievement, failed first but it soon soon
success. The premičre in December 1909 at Budapest left critics a bit
bewildered. The hero is killed in the fifht scene but he is back on
earth in the seventh. After four screen adaptations the play become
eventually familiar as the
Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel (1944). Earlier also
the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) had thought of setting
it to music. It has been said, that Molnár wrote the work after his
wife upbraided him
for slapping their daughter – the incident become a key to story, in
which it was justified. However, according to a family source this is
an untrue gossip, although there were episodes of domestic violence in
the family. Molnár had separated from Margit Vészi
before their daughter was born, and they never lived under the same
Influenced by Oscar Wilde, Pirandello, and George Bernard Shaw, but with his own touch of wit and grace, Molnár fused in Liliom naturalistic scenes with mystical symbolism. Liliom, a barker and a bouncer, is the main attraction at the Widow Muskat's carousel in the Budapest City Park. Mrs Muskat is jealous of the young housemaid Julie, and when Liliom defends her, he is fired. He moves with Julie in the home of a relative. Liliom is warm-hearted but he has a quick temper. He suffers because he cannot work at the carousel and in his anger he strikes Julie. After an unsuccessful robbery, Liliom commits suicide. Two "heavenly policemen" take Liliom to a celestial court. Liliom refuses to admit his love for Julie and shows no regret for his sins. He is sentenced to sixteen years of Purgatory for ill-treating his family. In the last scene Liliom appears Julie and their daughter disguised as a beggar. When his daughter Lujza refuses his gift, a stolen star, he strikes her in desperation. The girl asks the mother if it is possible to have been hit hard and yet feel as though one had been caressed. Julie guesses the identity of the stranger, and Liliom is taken away as a hopeless case by two detectives. "It is possible dear – that someone may beat you and beat you and beat you, – and not hurt you at all," says Julia.
During World War I Molnár served for a year as a war correspondent. His reports were published in book form in 1916 under the title Egy haditudósító naplója (The Diary of a War Correspondent). The warmhearted book records human goodness and solidarity in the middle of the horrors of war. Some of these writings also appeared in the New York Times, although Hungary belonged to the enemies of the Allies.
1908 and 1940, sixteen of Molnár's plays were produced
Broadway. When he visited the United States with his wife in the 1920s,
he was honored with a dinner dance, at which guests included Gershwins
and Vanderbilts. Until 1925, he resided in Hungary, and then moved to
Germany. In Vienna he stayed in comfortable hotel for long periods, in
Budapest he was seen often at
the Café Central on Károlyi Mihály street. Partly because many of the
guests were Jews, Arthur Koestler called the cafés "Budapest's literary
ghettos" (History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries, edited by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer, 2007, p. 22). According to an anecdote, Molnár
tossed keys of the New York kávéház, where he wrote Liliom, into the Danube, in protest at its closing at night.
Molnár's most interesting plays from this decade include Játék a kastélyban (1926, The Play's the Thing), which followed a Pirandellian theme of reality and illusion through a discussion of how a play should be written. A hattyú (1921, The Swan), a comedy about a girl being groomed to marry a prince, was filmed in 1956 with Grace Kelly. In Olympia (1928) Molnár assailed the cruelty of aristocracy toward the common man. The Good Fairy (1930), had a recpectable run on Broadway. Its film version from 1935, directed by William Wyler, and starring Margaret Sullavan and Herbert Marshall, was written by Preston Sturges, who invented a new beginning and damped down observations on marital infidelity. Sullavan played a beautiful and naive young woman, who disrupts the lives of three men. The film was a smash hit. It was remade in 1947 as I'll be Yours.
"It is a pity, that there are not more Fontannes, Lunts and Molnárs to help out the screen, for then this medium of entertainment would be in a far higher plane." (Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times)
In 1938, after the Anschluss, Molnár fled to the United States (according to some sources 1936) to escape Nazi persecution. In his new home country, he was celebrated for his masterly theatrical technique and the sparkling dialogue of his characters, which at the same time expressed a sense of humanity and decency. His plays had hidden Freudian undertones, but at the end Molnár usually shows his care about the morality of the decisions of his bourgeois characters. Socially minded reviewers, on the other hand, accused him of sentimentality, and emphasis on the savoir vivre of the upper middle class, that waters down all social criticism. The major exception was Liliom, which blended criticism of injustice with fantasy. Underpaid workers and vagrants Molnár portrayed with great sympathy.
"It can be claimed that Molnár never wrestled with destiny, unlike the heroic struggles of the major playwrights: somehow he too seemed to be a victim of the cult of illusion so characteristic of the pseudo-Victorian Hungarian society. In Molnár world atmosphere is everything, and it would be difficult to substantiate social realities from his always amusing, unpredictable, and occasionally artistic dialogues." (Lóránt Czigány in The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature, 1984)
Molnár's second wife
was the actress-singer Sári Fedák (1879-1955). Their marriage was
stormy, partly because Molnár fell in love with the sixteen-year-old
new star of the stage, Lili Darvas (1902-1974); he called her "Miss
Meteor" because she had a quick success. Molnár divorced Fedák in 1925
and Darvas became his wife within a year. He wrote for her many plays,
including Still Life (1925), Riviera (1926), Olympia (1928), Mima (1928), and Delilah (1938).
During WWII, Sári Fedák was a supporter of Nazi Germany. Following the
Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, she was sentenced to
for a short period by the "People's Court". Darvas began a succesful
career in the 1950s. Molnár's
daughter Márta was married to the poet and novelist Györky Sárközi, who
died of starvation in a forced labour camp in 1945.Márta Sárközi committed suicide in 1966.
From 1940 Molnár held court in his suite at the famous New York Plaza Hotel (room no. 835). "Always take the cheapest room in the best hotel!" he once said. (The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat by Paul Lendvai, 2003, pp. 481-482) Molnár continued writing, but he did not speak much English and he became increalingly isolated. His wife Lily Darvas did not live with him but they had an intense correspondence and remained close to each other whenever possible. ('Exile in the Hotel Plaza: The Twilight Years of Ferenc Molnár (1940–1952)' by Ágnes Széchenyi, in Hungarian Studies, Volume 23, Issue 1 (June 2009) Molnár died on April 2, in 1952. Because of a superstitious fear that in preparing a will he would shorten his life, Molnár died intestate. Long after his death, his plays were viewed in the Communist Hungary with suspicion. Even in the 1980s Attila Tamás wrote in A History of Hungarian Literature (1983): "He had great talents as a dramatist, but he lacked the appreciation of the noble human values necessary for true greatness."
P.G. Wodehouse adapted Game of Hearts from a text by Molnár, and also The Play's the Thing. Tom Stoppard's Rough Crossing (1985) was freely base on Molnár's Play at the Castle and Wodehouse's The Play's the Thing; it was produced in New York in 1997. The Guardsman was made into a radio drama in 1947 by Arthur Miller. In addition, a number of Molnár's plays and novels were turned into Hollywood films, among them No Greater Glory (1934), a tale of of schoolboys and their war games, Liliom, filmed several times, and The Swan, first directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki in 1925, remade in 1930, and then again in 1956 by Charles Vidor, starring Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness.
Billy Wilder's satirical One, Two, Three, about Coca-Cola, a raging capitalist, and Communism was based on Molnár's Egy, kettő, három (1929). Wilder shot the film mostly in Germany. Originally Molnár's single act play took place in the office of a frenzied capitalist, Mr. Norrison (C.P. MacNamara in the film, played by James Gagney). Norrison's young female houseguest, Lydia, the daughter of an important banking client, announces that she is going to marry a Socialist taxi driver. The cabbie, Anton, is turned into a nobleman before the day is through with the help of tailors, barbers, and shoe salesmen. "It must be very wonderful, sir, to be as you are and have almost all mankind at your disposal," says Norrison's aged servant. He answers: "But as regards mankind, after what was just done here, I think mankind – or as you so carefully put it, almost all mankind – should damn well be ashamed of itself." Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond practically left none of the dialogue intact in their screenplay. Some of the verbal exchange is funny. Wilder had seen the play on the stage in Berlin in 1928. Coca-Cola has a major thematic role in the film– MacNamara is an executive of the company – but personally Wilder did not drink it. He once said that "Coca-Cola tastes like burnt pneumatic tires." (Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder by Gene Phillips, 2009, pp. 247-259)
For further reading: 'Exile in the Hotel Plaza: The Twilight Years of Ferenc Molnár (1940–1952)' by Ágnes Széchenyi, in Hungarian Studies, Volume 23, Issue 1 (June 2009); The Play's The Thing by Mátyás Sárközi (2004); Molnár Ferenc by Lajos Csordás (2004); World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 2, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Szinház az egész világ by M. Sárközi (1995); Ferenc Molnár and the Austro-Hungarian Fin de Sičcle by I. Várkonyi (1992); Ferenc Molnár: A Bibliography by E.M. Rajek (1986); McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama , ed. by Stanley Hochman (1984); The Oxford History of Hungarian Literature by Lóránt Czigány (1984); A History of Hungarian Literature by István Nemeskürty et al. (1983); Ferenc Molnár by C. Györgyey (1980); Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, ed. by Jean Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); 'Molnár Ferenc színpada' by P. Nagy in Iradalomtörténet 1 (197); Molnár Ferenc by I. Vécsei (1966); A magyar iradalom története, Vol. 5, ed. by I. Sötér et al. (1965); Krétarajzok by E. Illés (1957); Companion in Exile by Ferenc Molnár (1950); Masters of the Drama by J. Glassner (1940) - Suom.: Molnárilta on suomennettu mm. romaani Parooni (1907) sekä näytelmiä.