Let us acquaint you with 5 influential and famous people of Hungarian descent who have forever changed society, culture and science.
The Hungarian-born American Philadelphia Orchestra conductor and violinist was extremely successful in his field. He was identified with the Late Romantic stylistic movement and early 20th-century repertoire. Ormandy first saw the light of day under the name Jenő Ormandy Blau in 1899, in Budapest. He was the son of Jewish parents, Benjamin Blau, a dentist and amateur violinist, and Rozália Berger. His parents made him study violin at the Budapest Royal Academy and he showed exceptional talent early on. By age 17, he was already touring across Central Europe as a professional violinist. But he was soon lured to the Big Apple by the prospect of an overseas tour, and eventually emigrated to the US in 1921. He held the longest tenure in American Orchestra, precisely 44 years between 1936 and 1980. Interestingly, critics and record collectors always condemned Ormandy for not adding enough polish and precision to his works. Nonetheless, he earned many prestigious musical awards such as the Grammy for the best classical orchestral recording for the Sibelius: Four Legends of the “Kalevala” album. He died in 1985 of pneumonia, and after his death, Ronald Reagan declared 18 November “Eugene Ormandy Appreciation Day”.
Johnny Weissmuller is often regarded as swimming’s first superstar for his impressive 5 gold medals and 67 world records as a professional. He was born János Péter Weissmuller into a Swabian family in Szabadfalva (also known for its German name Freidorf which later merged with Timișoara/Temesvár in Romania) in 1904. Weissmuller did not get to make memories in his homeland, as at an age of only 3, his parents emigrated to the US taking along their son. However, they soon divorced which also motivated the young boy to push himself harder and harder during every swimming race he entered. He received his first two Olympic medals during the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris for winning the 100-meter freestyle as well as the 400-meter freestyle race as part of the US team. Interestingly, he followed a vegetarian diet after being inspired by the nutrition studies of John Harvey Kelloggs, the father of cornflakes.
Despite his athletic records, many people know him from the big screen. Weissmuller was discovered by the movie industry following his short career as a swimwear model for BVD underwear. His most known role was playing the protagonist in the motion picture, Tarzan of the apes, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The famous Tarzan yell also originates from him. He died at age 79 of pulmonary congestion, in 1984.
Theodore von Karman, a renowned Hungarian-American mathematician, aerospace engineer, and physicist, was arguably one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. He was born as Kármán Tódor in 1881, in Budapest. He was the third out of five children of Mór Kalman and Helen Kohn, a Jewish couple. Von Karman studied engineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and obtained his doctorate in Germany. On a sunny day in March 1908, he saw his first aeroplane crossing the sky which experience made him drawn to the physical principles of flying machines instantly and for life. Von Karman fulfilled a variety of academic posts and even served the Austro-Hungarian Army during WWI. After the war, he began traveling widely and spent most of his time in the US, mainly in Washington D.C., doing research and working on various projects with other scientists.
In 1944, Von Karman was invited to be the director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He even received a National Medal of Science by John F. Kennedy in 1963. According to Brittanica, Von Karman was the founder of the U.S. Institute of Aeronautical Sciences and he made important contributions to fluid mechanics, turbulence theory, supersonic flight, mathematics in engineering, aircraft structures, and wind erosion of soil. He died of a heart attack during his sleep in 1964.
According to IMBD, the Hungarian American motion-picture actor was born as Lászlo Loewenstein to Jewish parents in Rózsahegy, in the Slovak area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1904. He studied in Vienna, however, did not finish his education, instead, ran away and did various temporary jobs before he got into acting. The aspiring actor first started out in amateur productions, often playing criminals and other seedy characters. He was born to play sinister figures in theatres and on screen due to his stocky figure and big, bulging eyes. Lorre achieved international fame in 1931 as the psychotic child murderer in the German classic film M, directed by Fritz Lang. He made his first Hollywood appearance in Mad Love, an American horror film in which he played a love-struck doctor who is obsessed with a young actress. He even made an appearance in the iconic Casablanca and worked together with such big names as Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart and Bela Lugosi, another famous Hungarian who played Dracula on screen.
Later on, he suffered serious career disappointments due to a worsening morphine addiction which he developed after his doctor prescribed him the painkiller following chronic gallbladder troubles. He died of a stroke at age of 59, in 1960.
The longest-surviving original member of the iconic punk-rock band Ramones was born as Tamás Erdélyi in Budapest, in 1949. Tommy’s parents were of Jewish origin and worked as professional photographers, so he was already born into an artistic family. Most of his relatives died during the Holocaust. His family left the country at the time of the Hungarian revolution and arrived in the US in 1957. Tommy became interested in music at a young age and formed his first garage band, Tangerine Puppets, at high school. His first job included working as an assistant engineer in a recording studio along with Jimi Hendrix himself. He and his bandmates, Johnny Ramone, Dee Deee Ramone and Joey Ramone, founded the legendary band in 1974, in New York. He played only on the band’s first three albums, “Ramones” in 1976 and “Leave Home” and “Rocket to Russia” in 1977. According to the Guardian, the Ramones served as an inspiration to many well-known British punk bands such as the Clash, Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols and even Kurt Cobain of Nirvana said he yearned to play in a band such as the Ramones.
Tommy Ramone died of bile duct cancer at age of 65 in 2014, in his home.