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Posts Tagged ‘Famous Hungarians’

Zsa_Zsa_Gabor_-_1959

Via Wikipedia

Her name is synonymous with glamor – no not her birth name Sári Gabor –  but Zsa Zsa, a simple Hungarian girl who became Hollywood royalty. It is fair to say that before there was Paris Hilton, before Angelina Jolie, and other starlets who became obsessions of the American public and media, there was Zsa Zsa.  Born in 1917 in Budapest, which was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it wasn’t until just before World War II that Gabor was able to flee Europe (she would have to, her mother was Jewish).

Before retiring due to health reasons, Zsa Zsa spent over 70 years in the entertainment industry in the USA. Her career stretches far back as the Milton Berle Show, which many consider the first real successful TV comedy show, all the way up to spots on the David Letterman Show. In between there are almost a hundred TV and film credits, from roles on much-loved shows as Bonanza to Mr. Ed, from The Love Boat to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, all the while getting the American ear accustomed to her sultry Hungarian accent.

Gabor’s life was as dramatic as the roles she played. All in all, she was married nine times.  When a reporter asked hew who many husbands she had, she famously said, “You mean other than mine?”  She was first proposed to at the tender age of 15, and indeed took the Turkish diplomat as her first husband. But by 19 she had been crowned Miss Hungary, and it was obvious she was determined to make a career for herself in entertainment. Divorced before the age of 20, Gabor emigrated with her mother the US. Not long after, she met hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, who became her second husband. In 1952 Gabor got her big break in Hollywood, being offered a part in a Fred Astaire movie. The rest, dah-ling, is history.

Though she became an American citizen, Zsa Zsa never fully lost her trademark Hungarian accent, as you can see in the clip below.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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photo by Petr Novák

photo by Petr Novák

There are so many famous Hungarian cinematographers that Wikipedia has a page dedicated to them alone. But the most renown must be Vilmos Zsigmond. He is responsible for filming such classics as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, and Deliverance. Over the course of his career he was nominated for an Oscar four times and won once for Close Encounters.

Zsigmond’s life it worthy of a film itself. Born in 1930 in the Hungarian city of Szeged, he studied cinema at the rigorous Academy of Drama and Film in Budaspet. As a young technician, he risked his life to fim some of the most valuable footage of the 1956 Revolution in Budapest. With that footage, and with colleague Laszlo Kovacs, he escaped Hungary across the Austrian border. Footage from the revolution and the story of their escape can be found in the PBS biopic Vilmos and Laszlo: No Subtitles Necessary (see clip below).

It was in the 1960s that Zsigmond arrived in Los Angeles. He began working as a technician on low-budget, independent films, in hopes of breaking into the industry in Hollywood. His big break came when Robert Altman hired him as cinematographer for McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Word of his professionalism and technique quickly spread and soon he was working with the biggest directors in Hollywood, including Stephen Spielberg, John Boorman, Brian DePalma, Richard Donner, and Woody Allen.

Zsigmond also lensed some notorious flops. After shooting The Deer Hunter, he shot Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and after having success with Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, he shot Bonfire of the Vanities. Both follow-up films were widely panned and considered templates for movie flops to come.

In 2003 Zsigmond was included in the Camera Guild’s list of the 10 most influential cinematographers of all time list. Over the age of 80, Zsigmond is still working today. His latest credits include Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and Dan Pritzker’s Bolden! which is currently in production.

Below find an interview with Vilmos Zsigmond from the Slamdance Film Festival followed by a clip from No Subtitles Necessary.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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tolonc3The history of film in Hungary is almost as long as the history of film itself. This is a nation that prides itself on its record of technical innovations and challenging narrative techniques. The country’s rich cinematic past will twine with its technology-savvy present when the reels of Michael Curtiz’s A Tolonc (The Undesirable) arrives at Budapest’s National Digital Archive and Film Institute, where it will be restored and digitally re-mastered.

The Undesirable is one of the many lost films of Hungary’s golden age of silent film, and represents one of the first directorial efforts from Michael Curtiz, who went on to achieve international fame as the director of such films as Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, and The Jazz Singer. His hundred-year-old silent film was discovered in the basement of the Hungarian House, a cultural center in New York City. How it got there is still unknown, but great efforts have been made to return the film to its homeland. The undertaking of returning and restoring the film, at the cost of close to 50,000 Euro, will be funded by the Hungarian National Film Foundation, overseen by Terminator and Rambo producer, and HNFF head honcho, Andrew Vajna.

toloncCurtiz, born Manó Kaminer Kertész, shot the film in 1914 in the then Hungarian-ruled city of Kolozsvár, (now better known as Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Shooting for the film was completed in the summer before the outbreak of WWI. There is evidence that the film was shown in the United States in the 1920s. This would make it one of Hungary’s first releases into the US market.

By this time next year, you can expect to see the re-mastered version of A Tolonc posted on You Tube, and – if all goes well – there will be a theatrical showing in Budapest to celebrate the film’s 100 year anniversary. It will be a fine homecoming for a film that spent so long abroad. What a difference a century makes.

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PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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opera

It is a prominent spot on any tourist’s itinerary, and a much loved piece of the Budapest cityscape. What’s more, it is actually a historical site that is used continually throughout the year, hosting one of the most prestigious opera companies in the world. We are, of course, talking about the Budapest Opera House, also known by its more formal title, the Hungarian State Opera House.

Commissioned by Emperor Franz Joseph when Hungary was still part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire, the construction took 10 years to complete and opened in 1884: it was then called the Hungarian Royal Grand Opera. The emperor’s involvement probably accounts for the royal stairway, which is off to the side, by the still-existing ramp for horse-drawn carriages. The architect, Miklós Ybl (also responsible for the St. Stephen’s Basilica), planned the Opera House in neo-Renaissance style, in line with the prevailing taste of the age. The first director was Ferenc Erkel, composer of the Hungarian National Anthem. His position was later filled by an up-and-coming young composer named Gustav Mahler.

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The interior was designed to produce acoustics suitable for world-class singers. Indeed, in a recent study by a group of sound engineers, the Budapest Opera House was determined to have the third best acoustics in all of Europe, following Paris and Milan.

The decoration of  the Opera is a sumptuous affair. Over 7 kg of gold went into the gilded interior, which is adorned with over a hundred statues and paintings. Frescos and mosaics greet the opera-goer in the ornate, luxurious grand front hall.  But this is not just a luxury for the rich. It was designed with the people in mind, and is still affordable these days: about ten dollars will get you a ticket, though you can spend much less if you want to sit in the upper balcony.

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The Opera House was renovated in the late 1990s, and it shines with the splendor of a polished jewel.

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PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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As last week’s statistics prove, American football is bigger than ever. The ‘world’ championship (even though it is only played by American teams) Super Bowl contest drew a record 108,000,000 viewers. American football is very popular. As such, it is not surprising to learn that there have been than a few Hungarians who have made a living tossing around the pigskin. But we are here to tell you that two of the most legendary names in the game, Joe Namath and Don Shula – both of Hungarian decent – played against each other in one of the epic American football matches of all time.

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The Players: ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath is an American Hall of Fame quarterback, who spent most of his career with the New York Jets. The name Namath is a permutation of the name Német, which means ‘German’ in the Hungarian language. Namath’s grandfather was an immigrant from Hungary, who spent his life working in the gritty Pittsburgh steel mills. The younger Namath was so talented at American sports that he was actually offered a career in baseball before he decided to settle on football. He is one of the most winning QB’s of all time and was named one of the top 100 footballers of all time by Sports Illustrated magazine.

Don Shula: Like Namath, Shula’s parents were Hungarians who found a new life in the Midwest of the United States. As a player, Shula had a brief, unspectacular career, playing for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Washington Redskins in defensive positions. It wasn’t until he started coaching that he came into his own. Ultimately, Shula found his way to the head coach job with the Miami Dolphins, where he coached the team to the only unbeaten season and post season in NFL history.

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The Game: 1969’s Super Bowl III is actually the first championship to bear the name ‘Super Bowl’. Sula’s Colts were heavily favored to win. Perhaps it was prophetic, but a young, cocky (and drunk) Namath was quoted as bragging to the press, “We’re going to win the game. I guarantee it.” It was also very bold, as the Colts were favored to win by 18 points. The result would be lopsided, but in favor of Namath’s Jets, who won 16 to 7. Football enthusiasts consider Super Bowl III to be the first real Super Bowl, and of great historical significance to the game. It was certainly significant to Hungarian Americans, though there was no way they could lose with Shula versus Namath.

Below find some highlights from the game, including a very artistic (Hungarian?) moustache on Joe Namath.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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It is always refreshing when the location of Budapest gets used as the city of Budapest in a film, as opposed to doubling for other more expensive, less picturesque cities. It is only more gratifying when the title of the film actually bears the same name as the city it depicts. Recently released Budapest, is based on Chico Buarque’s internationally acclaimed novel of the same name.

The story begins when the Brazilian narrator’s plane is waylaid in Budapest after a bomb scare. As a ghost-writer and linguist, he becomes immediately enchanted with the Hungarian language and Budapest itself. At its most simple level, the story follows the path of the narrator, Jose Kosta, on his path to fluency in Hungarian, after breaking with his wife and falling in love with his language teacher. But nothing is so easy in Budapest, as Kosta observes of the language, “he had no way of knowing where each one (word) began or finished. It was impossible to detach one form the next; it would be like trying to cut a river with a knife.”

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Kosta’s love interest, the helpful Hungarian who guides him through the complexities of language and love in this city, is played by local favorite Gabrielle Hámori, who, in a more just world, would be an international star. Here is a funny piece of trivia: Hámori starred in the film Hungarian Beauty, a shot for shot remake of the Oscar-winning Hollywood film American Beauty. This is a funny co-incidence, as the hero of Budapest is a ghost-writer, whose work stands in for that of somebody far more famous than himself.

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Though the story primarily concerns itself with the intricacies of language, translation and identity, it does make space for some spectacular shots of the city. There is just something about a bridges across the Danube that acts as perfect backdrop for a character who is deep in thought.

You can see from the trailer that Budapest incorporates multiple locations from around the city, and allows the characters a good deal of dialog in Hungarian. The film Budapest wonderfully exemplifies, through the eyes of a foreigner, how captivating and seductive the city is, and how difficult it is to escape.

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urania3The history of Hungarian film is almost as old as film itself. Since Adolf Zukor Michael Curtis, and William Fox left Hungary to help build studios and make classic movies in California, the country has remained a fertile ground for innovators and trail-blazers on the international film scene. It is only fitting that one of the grandest, most elegant movie theaters on the planet is situated in the heart of Budapest. The Urania stands as a functioning monument to the great artistic achievements of film and a tribute to audiences who still like to enjoy cinema in a proper movie theater.

The structure housing the Urania was constructed in the 1880s. Its original purpose was actually not film related: nickelodeons had yet to even debut at that point in history. The Urania was what is known as an ‘Orpheum’, which is a kind of cabaret/dance hall. Right before the turn of the century, it was refitted to be a movie theater, in order to first host a Hungarian Scientific Society’s presentation, and then later to accommodate the rush of interest in this new crowd-pleasing medium.

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The architect, Henrik Schmal – who also contributed designs to a few of Andrássy Avenues’ more regal buildings – incorporated both Moorish and Venetian Gothic styles into his design for the Uriania. You can see how ideal the setting would be for any interior that is intended to invoke old-world European charm. Indeed, one of Hungary’s first locally made films was shot there so long ago.

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The building fell into disrepair in the later part of the 20th century, but was totally renovated in 2005. By renovation, we don’t mean a tacky updating of the interior. No, the Urania was lovingly restored, with all the original fixtures kept intact. It would be impossible to craft such an ornate and opulent cinema today. As a landmark, it serves both as a tourist attraction as well as a venue for popular and art-house Hungarian film. Like the best monuments, it is in use and appreciated by the inhabitants of this city, which has contributed so much to the history of film.

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Before David Blaine was entombing himself in ice, before Penn and Teller did magic upside down, before David Copperfield disappeared the Statue of Liberty before all of America’s eyes, and before about any magician dared tangle with a straight-jacket, there was Harry Houdini, or as he was known upon birth in a Budapest hospital, Erik Weisz. Though he  was considered more of a stunt performer, and made his name by performing daring escapes, his craft fell under the umbrella of magic.

Houdini was born to a Hungarian Rabbi in 1874, and was just four when the entire family emigrated, setting sail for the United States. It was there that he was nicknamed ‘Harry’ by friends, who riffed on his Anglicized name Ehrich. His first brush with fame came when he was nine, after he took up trapeze, and billed himself as ‘Ehrich, the Prince of the Air.’ He only acquired the name Houdini after falling under the influence of French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

Houdini was initially something of a disappointment as a magician. He tried his hand at card tricks in the sideshows and cheap nickelodeons of New York, but found little success in distinguishing himself. It was then that he decided to become more novel, and transform himself into an escape artist. His initial feats of escape brought him a small amount of fame on the Vaudville circuit in America, but his really publicity coup came when he was touring Europe, and was challenged to escape from a pair of Scotland Yard handcuffs. He succeeded, and before long, Houdini was being invited to escape from jails and shackles all across Europe.

Rich from his escapes, he became only more daring. Now it was not enough to escape from jail, he had to elude the clutches of death by hanging from skyscrapers or being immersed in water for his performances. For much of his career, he was one of the highest paid performers in America, eventually supplementing his career with film roles. Houdini died in 1926 of acute appendicitis, aggravated by several blows to the stomach delivered by a skeptical audience member.

Coincidentally, in the film of is life, Houdini, the magician was played by Tony Curtis, another Hungarian who made it big in the States.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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It is well known that a few Hungarians have made it big as actors in Hollywood. Bela Lugosi and Zsa Zsa Gabor have used their charms to become almost stereotypes of the exotic, deeply charismatic Magyar on-screen. But did you know that there are many other actors with Hungarian roots? These are thespians who managed to make huge careers without playing up the strong accents of their immigrant parents or grandparents. Note: most did change their names to make them more palatable to American audiences.

Photo by Alan Light

For starters, grand dame scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Hollywood legend (and child of Hungarian immigrants) Tony Curtis, has been on movie  screens since her debut as the innocent heroine Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween. This led to a slew of roles in slasher films, then later comedies like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Curtis is known to return to Budapest from time to time, and was a major force in fund-raising for the Dohány Street Synagogue renovation.

For many years in the 90s, America’s biggest TV star was Jerry Seinfeld. Though his eponymous character’s father makes no allusion to a Hungarian background, Seinfeld’s real-life father was indeed named Kálmán, and of Hungarian origin. There might have been a joke in the fact that Kálmán ‘sein’feld was a ‘sign’ maker from Hungary. Though the show was never a hit in Hungary, Seinfeld is routinely listed as one of the top critical and commercial successes in the history of American television.

Photo by Alan Light

As if this wasn’t enough, Hollywood royalty, and America’s ‘golden girl’ Goldie Hawn was born to a Hungarian immigrant, Laura Steinhoff. Hawn has been the darling of American cinema for over 40 years, starring in such films as Cactus Flower (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), Shampoo, Private Benjamin, and Death Becomes Her. She was nominated for Golden Globe awards eight times and won once. Goldie Hawn is the mother of Kate Hudson, who has a small film career of her own.

‘Is this all you have to offer?’ you may ask. No, the list of film and TV stars with Hungarian roots goes on and on, but this post won’t. Stay tuned for A Dash of Paprika Part II, coming soon.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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Not long ago we posted about the curious amount of Norwegians who come to Budapest to get their education in medicine at Semmelweis University. Lately in the news, though, we found one of Hungary’s most beautiful minds – and one-time medical student himself – travelling to Norway to be honored with the Abel Prize, known in certain brainy circles as the ‘Nobel of Math’.

This year’s Abel Prize recipient, Endre Szemerédi – a young-looking 71 – is the first Hungarian to receive the honor. According to the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters the prize was bequeathed for Szemerédi’s advances in discreet mathematics, which informs theoretical computer science and information theory.

Like most Hungarians who achieve worldwide fame, Szemerédi’s path to success was fraught with obstacles. At one point, this great mind was even making his living working in a factory. Ever modest, and despite his long time abroad (he has lived and taught in the United States for many decades), Szemerédi credits his Hungarian upbringing and the long tradition of innovation in mathematics in Hungary for his achievement: “It is not my own personal achievement, but recognition for this field of mathematics and Hungarian mathematicians,” he told NJ.com

In the book, An Irregular Mind, published prior to the award ceremony, it was written that “Szemerédi has an ‘irregular mind’; his brain is wired differently than for most mathematicians. Many of us admire his unique way of thinking, his extraordinary vision.”

At almost 900,000 dollars the Abel Prize should make for a very happy Hungarian indeed. Endre Szemerédi currently teaches at Rutgers in the US state of New Jersey.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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