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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.

Liliom, perhaps Molnár's most enduring achievement, failed first but it soon soon gained international 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 roof.

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.

Between 1908 and 1940, sixteen of Molnár's plays were produced on 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. According to an anecdote, the keys of the New York kávéház, where he wrote Liliom, he tossed 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 held court in his suite at the New York Plaza Hotel, and continued writing, but he did not speak much English and he became increalingly isolated. In Hungary his plays were not performed during the Communist period. 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. His second wife was the the actress-singer Sári Fedák (1879-1955), who became a Nazi. They divorced in 1925 and Molnár then married the actress Lili Darvas (1902-1974); she began a succesful television career in the 1950s. After the war, Sári Fedák was sentenced to prison for a short period by the "People's Court". In the Communist Hungary Molnár's works were viewed with suspicion long after his death. 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 adapted a Molnár Rough Crossing in 1985, and 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 play 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, but Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond practically left none of the dialogue intact in their screenplay. 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."

For further reading: 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.

Selected works:

  • Magdolna: és egyéb elbeszélések, 1898
  • A csók és egyéb elbeszélések, 1899
  • Az éhes város, 1900
  • Egy gazdátlan csónak története, 1901
    - The Derelict Boat (translated by Emil Lengyel, 1926)
  • A doktor úr, 1902
    - The Lawyer (translated by Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Éva, 1903
    - Eva (translated by Emil Lengyel, 1926)
  • Józsi és egyéb kis komédiák, 1904
  • Józsi, 1904
  • Gyerekek, 1905
  • Egy pesti leány története, 1905
  • Az ördög, 1907
    - The Devil (adapted by Oliver Herford, 1908; Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
    - films: The Devil, 1915, dir. by Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, starring Edward Connelly;  De Duivel in Amsterdam, 1919, dir. by Theo Frenkel, starring Eduard Verkade; The Devil, 1921, dir. by James Young, screenplay by Edmund Goulding
  • A Pál utcai fiúk, 1907
    - The Paul Street Boys (translated by Louis Rittenberg, 1927)
    - Koulupoikia (suom. Matti Kivekäs, 1913)
    - films: A Pál utcai fiúk, 1924, dir. by Béla Balogh, starring Gyuri Faragó, Ernö Verebes and Gusztáv Vándory; A Pál utcai fiúk, 1929, dir. by Béla Balogh, starring Lászlo Gyarfas, Géza Berczy and Ernö Verebes; No Greater Glory, 1934, dir. by Frank Borzage, starring George Breakston, Jimmy Butler, Jackie Searl, Frankie Darro;  I Ragazzi della via Paal, 1935, dir. by Alberto Mondadori, Mario Monicelli; 1967, dir. by Zoltán Fábri; A Pál utcai fiúk, 2005 (TV film), dir. Ferenc Török, starring Péter Geszti, Zoltán Mucsi and Balázs Bojtár 
  • Rabok, 1908
    - Prisoners (translated by Joseph Szebenyei, 1925)
    - film: Prisoners, 1929, dir. by William A. Seiter, starring Corinne Griffith, Ian Keith, Otto Matieson
  • Muzsika, 1908
  • Ketten beszélnek, 1909
    - Stories for Two (tr. 1950)
  • Liliom, 1909
    - Liliom: A Legend in Seven Scenes and a Prologue (translated by Benjamin F. Glazer, 1921)
    - Carousel (libretto by Oscar Hammerstein, 2nd; music by Richard Rodgers), 1945; Burgess Meredith, Joan Tetzel and Ingrid Bergman acted in 1940 production in New York at Forty-fourth Street Theatre - films: Liliom, 1919, dir. by Michael Curtiz;  A Trip to Paradise, 1921, dir. by Maxwell Karger; Liliom, 1930, dir by Frank Borzage, starring Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, Lee Tracy; Liliom, 1934, dir. by Fritz Lang, starring Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray; Carousel, 1956, dir. by Henry King, starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Cameron Mitchell . "My own fondness for Carousel must allow considerable credit to the original stage show and to Ferenc Molnár for providing, in his play "Liliom", the basis for a warm and touching fantasy which, in contrast to some people, I do not find excessively sentimental or sticky... Henry King has taken and played fair by the stage show and added his, by this time long-accumulated, feeling for tenderness, sense of place and atmosphere and sincere involvement. Photographically, the major part of the film is stunning." (Clive Denton in The Hollywood Professionals, vol. 2, 1974)
  • Pesti erkölcsök, 1909
  • A Testőr, 1910
    - The Guardsman (translated by Grace I. Colbron and Hans Bartsch, 1924; Frank Marcus, 1978)
    - films: A Testör, 1918, dir. by Alexander Antalffy; Der Gardeoffizier, 1925, dir. by Robert Wiene; The Guardsman, 1931, dir. by Sidney Franklin; The Chocolate Soldier , 1941, dir. by Roy Del Ruth, starring Nelson Eddy, Risë Stevens, Nigel Bruce;  Lily in Love, 1984, dir. by Károly Makk, starring Maggie Smith, Christopher Plummer, Elke Sommer
  • Hétágú síp, 1911
  • A Farkas, 1912
    - The Tale of the Wolf (translated by Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929) / The Wolf (adapted by Heinrich Hirsch and Frank Hauser, 1975)
  • Ma, tegnap, tegnapelőtt, 1912
  • Báró Márczius és egyéb elbeszélések, 1913
    - Parooni (suom. Eemeli Jaakkola, 1913)
  • Kis hármaskönyv, 1914
  • A fehér felhő, 1916
    - The White Cloud (translated by Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Farsang, 1916
    - Carnival (tr. 1924; Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Úri divat, 1916
    - Fashions for Men (translated by Benjamin F. Glazer, 1922; in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
    - film: Fine Clothes, 1925, dir. by John M. Stahl, starring Lewis Stone, Percy Marmont, Alma Rubens
  • Egy haditudósító naplója, 1916
  • Az aruvimi erdő titka és egyéb szatírák, 1916
  • Ismerősök, 1917
  • Andor, 1918
  • Széntolvajok, 1918
  • A hattyú, 1920
    - The Swan (translated by B. Glazer, in Plays of Molnár, 1927; Melville Baker, 1929)
    - film adaptations: The Swan, 1925, dir. by Dimitri Buchowetzki, starring Frances Howard, Adolphe Menjou, Ricardo Cortez; One Romantic Night, 1930, starring Lillian Gish; The Swan, 1956, dir. by Charles Vidor, starring Grace Kelly, Alec Guinness
  • Színház: Előjáték Lear királyhoz, Marsall, Az ibolya, 1921 (three one-act plays)
    - A Prologue to King Lear (translated by Benjaminn F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • A vörös malom, 1923
    - The Red Mill (tr. 1928)
  • Égi és földi szerelem, 1923
    - Launzi – Heavenly and Earthly Love (tr. 1923; Benjamin F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Az üvegcipő, 1924
    - The Glass Slipper translated by Benjaminn F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Husbands and Lovers, 1924 (nineteen dialogues by Franz Molnar, English texts by Benjamin Glazer)
  • Játék a kastélyban, 1926
    - The Play's the Thing (adapted from the Hungarian by P.G. Wodehouse, 1927) / Rough Crossing (by Tom Stoppard, adapted from Play at the Castle by Ferenc Molnár, 1985)
    - Näytelmä linnassa (suom.)
  • Gőzoszlop, 1926
    - The Captain of St. Margaret's (translated by Barrows Mussey, 1945)
  • Riviera, 1926
    - Riviera (translated by Benjaminn F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
  • Plays of Molnár, 1927 (English texts and introduction by Benjamin F. Glazer; contains Liliom, Husbands and Lovers, Fashions for Men and The Swan)
  •  Olympia, 1928
    - Olympia (translated by Sydney Howard, 1928; in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929)
    - films: His Glorious Night, 1929, dir. by Lionel Barrymore, starring John Gilbert, Catherine Dale Owen, Nance O'Neil; Olimpia, 1930, dir. by Chester M. Franklin, Juan de Homs, starring Maria Alba, José Crespo; Si l'empereur savait ça, 1930, dir. by Jacques Feyder, starring André Luguet, Françoise Rosay; A Breath of Scandal, 1960, dir. by Michael Curtiz, starring Sophia Loren and John Gavin
  • Összes munkái, 1928 (20 vols.)
  • The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929 (foreword by David Belasco)
  • Marsall, 1929
    - Marshall (translated by Benjaminn F. Glazer, in The Plays of Ferenc Molnár, 1929) / Actor from Vienna (tr. in Romantic Comedies, 1952)
    - film: 1942, Tales of Manhattan (the first sequence), dir. by Julien Duvivier, starring Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Henry Fonda, Ginger Rogers, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, Ethel Walters, Paul Robeson
  • Egy, kettő, három, 1929
    - The President (tr. 1930; in Romantic Comedies, 1952; adapted by Morwyn Brebner, 2012)
    film: One, Two, Three, 1961, dir. by Billy Wilder, based on Molnár's play, screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond, starring James Gagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin
  •  A jó tündér, 1930
    - The Good Fairy (translated and adapted by Jane Hinton, 1932)
    - films: The Good Fairy, 1935,  dir. by William Wyler, starring Margaret Sullavan and Herbert Marshall; remade in 1947 as I'll be Yours, dir by William A. Seiter, written by Preston Sturges and adapted anonymously for his previous screenplay based on the Molnár original, staring Deanna Durbin, Tom Drake and William Bendix
  • Valaki, 1932 (German title: Jemand; as Arthur in 1949)
  • Harmónia, 1932
  • A zenélő angyal, 1933
    - Angel Making Music (translated by V. Katona and P. Barwell, 1935)
  • Mennyegző, 1934
  • Az ismeretlen lány, 1934
  • Nagy szerelem, 1935
    - film: Double Wedding, 1937, dir. by Richard Thorpe, screnplay by Jo Swerling,  starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Florence Rice
  • A cukrászné, 1935
    - Delicate Story (translated by Gilbert Miller, 1941)
  • Csoda a hegyek között, 1936
  • A király szolgálólánya, 1936
    - The King's Maid (tr. 1941)
  • All the Plays of Molnár, 1937 (with a foreword by David Belasco)
  • A zöld huszár, 1937
  • Delila, 1938
    - Delilah / Blue Danube (tr. 1952)
  • Őszi utazás, 1939
  • Arthur, 1943 (as Valaki in 1932)
    - Arthur or Somebody (tr. 1952)
    - film: Dear Arthur, 1960, based on P.G. Wodehouse's adaptation of Molnár's play Jemand, teleplay by Gore Vidal, dir. Bretaigne Windust, starring Rex Harrison, Sarah Marshall
  • Panoptikum, 1942
    - Waxworks (tr. 1952)
  • A császár, 1942
    - The Emperor (tr. 1942)
  • The Blue-Eyed Lady, 1942
  • Isten veled szívem, 1947
    - Farewell My Heart, 1945 (translated by Elinor Rice, 1945)
  • Szívdobogás, 1947
    - Game of Hearts (tr. 1952)
  • Útitárs a száműzetésben - Jegyzetek egy önéletrajzhoz, 1950
    - Companion in Exile: Notes for an Autobiography (translated by Barrows Mussey, 1950)
  • Romantic Comedies: Eight Plays, 1952 (tr. various)
  • Szinház, 1961
  • Nászinduló, 1966
  • A zenélő angyal; regény, 1970
  • Az aruvimi erdő titka, 1973
  • Toll: rövid igaz történetek, megjegyzések, feljegyzések, kuriózumok gyűjteménye, 1987
  • Pesti napló, 1993 (ed. Gál Péter Molnár)
  • Egy gazdátlan csónak története; A gőzoszlop: kisregények, 2000 (ed. Mátyás Sárközi)
  • Keserű mesék a szívről: kisregény és válogatott novellák, 2000 (ed. Zoltán Hafner)
  • --or not to be: Molnár Ferenc levelei Darvas Lilihez, 2004

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