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FERENC MOLNAR (1878-1952)

Hungarian playwright and novelist Ferenc Molnar was born in Budapest on January 12, 1878. Even as a child, he was interested the theatre and once described his first dramatic effort as "a weird, spectacular play which was successfully produced in the early [18]90s, on a flimsy stage built within the basement home of a friend. I did the settings, while my chum contributed the paper puppets of his own making. The premiere of this play, staged with the aid of all sorts of blue bottles filched from the surgery of my father, a physician, ended in a riot. In consequence of which, my next play had to languish for a decade thereafter, until the Comedy Theatre of Budapest saw fit to present it. This protracted pause may have left its baneful impress upon all my later dramatic efforts."

At the age of eighteen, Molnar began work as a journalist. He also dabbled in short fiction and, by the age of twenty-two, had published his first novel, The Hungry City (1900). He achieved some fame in 1907 with the publication of another novel, The Paul Street Boys, which depicted two rival gangs on the streets of Budapest. That same year, he established himself as one of the leading dramatists of his day with the production of The Devil, a reimagining of the Faust legend that dealt with a couple's marital infidelity. His other plays include Liliom (1909) which was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, The Guardsman (1910) which was adapted into a film of the same name, The Swan (1920) also adapted into a film which happened to be Grace Kelly's last movie, and The Play's the Thing (1926) which is reminiscent of Pirandello in its exploration of the themes of reality and illusion. Altogether, Molnar wrote about forty plays which are known for their sophisticated dialogue, sentimental pathos, and unique fusion of realism and romanticism. Rudolph W. Chamberlain describes Molnar's plays as "clever, gay, bantering, apparently light, but flashing unexpectedly beneath the surface of things and leaving the audience or the reader with a definite impression of brilliance and truth.... Some writers are merely clever. Molnar seems more." (Beacon Lights of Literature: Book Four).

Described by Chamberlain as having a "full, round, moon-like face, with a monocle fixed in his eye; rather of a twinkle about the mouth; and a look that a small boy might have," Molnar served as a war correspondent during World War I, and some of his accounts were published in the New York Times. During the late 1930s, he frequented a certain coffeehouse in Budapest, and a story is told that he would sometimes sit there, in his favorite chair, and converse with friends for hours. After the Nazis invaded nearby Austria, a friend asked Molnar (a Jew) why he didn't emigrate to America to save himself. "It is easy to emigrate to America," Molnar reportedly replied, "but it is difficult to get up from this chair." Eventually, however, Molnar did emigrate to the United States in order to escape Nazi persecution. He died in New York City on April 1, 1952.


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