He was born in a small Hungarian village, went abroad because of the Horthy regime and quickly became one of the most well-known director-producers in the world. Sándor Korda (Sir Alexander Korda) made the British filmmaking sector prosper in the 1930s and 1940s.
According to divany.hu, he was born as Sándor László Kellner in 1893 in Pusztatúrpásztó (today Túrkeve), 150 kilometres away from Budapest in a Jewish family.
Interestingly, he had two brothers who worked in the movie sector, as well. They went to a boarding school in Túrkeve: on Monday morning a cart took them to the school and brought them back on Friday. When his father died, they moved to Kecskemét to his grandfather, but he regularly beat them. Therefore, Sándor
decided to move to Budapest at the age of 15.
He continued his schools there and started to work, as well, so he managed to bring his family to Budapest. He wanted to become an author so he read a lot and that is why he later made so many film adaptations of classic literary works. In his free time, he went to coffee houses to talk about politics and that is how he became a journalist writing for Független Magyarország (Independent Hungary) and took the name Korda as a pseudonym because students were forbidden to work as journalists.
Since nobody wanted to write reviews of the movies because they regarded it as inferior journalism, he did that and, by 1912, he became a columnist. Later he founded the first Hungarian newspaper writing about films, titled Pesti Mozi. He was not enlisted during WWI because of he had defects in vision.
He was only 21-year-old when he could make his first movie titled “The deceived journalist” (1914).
In 1915, he made his first full-length feature film, “A tiszti kardbojt“. Jenő Janovich, leader of the Corvin studio in Kolozsvár, hired him and, after he returned to the capital, he founded the Budapest department of the film studio. He established his offices in the Róna street where today the headquarters of the Hungarian commercial TV-channel, TV2 can be found.
He wanted to make movies by adapting Hungarian classics that imitate the dramaturgy and technical developments of the American films. One of his best films from those days was created in 1918 adapting Mór Jókai’s “Az aranyember“, a famous novel still compulsory in every Hungarian school.
In the government of the Aster Revolution, he became film commissioner which he held during the communist dictatorship, as well. Therefore, the Horthy regime arrested him, but his wife, Mária Korda, rescued him. They fled to Vienna and
never returned to Hungary.
From Vienna, they went to Berlin where he directed four movies while his wife became a star. In 1927, they received a contract in Hollywood from the First National and the Fox. However, Mr Korda was only given trash movies to make while his wife was not allowed not play because of her strong Hungarian accent.
In 1931, he returned to Europe, got divorced and was left with only 20 dollars in his pocket. He went to England and led one of the studios of the Paramount. Since the British government wanted to get rid of the cheap American movies, they gave money to local film producers so
he could found his first film making company, the London Films.
He gave work to many Hungarians and discovered, for example, László Steiner (Leslie Howard) who became world-known with his “Gone with the Wind“.
The private life of Henry VIII in 1933 brought him world fame; there were long queues in front of the cinemas even in the USA and Mr Korda
became one of the most successful British movie makers quickly.
He invested the money into a modern film studio in Denham. The Thief of Bagdad (1940) won the Academy Awards for Cinematography, Art Direction (Vincent Korda) and Special Effects (Lawrence W. Butler, Jack Whitney) and marked the first major use of bluescreening in film. It was also nominated for Original Music Score (Miklós Rózsa); this was the first time a British film score had been recognised at the Academy Awards. During WWII he returned to Hollywood as an influential producer.
He was a good friend of British PM Winston Churchill,
so he did a morale-boosting documentary, The Lion Has Wings, in 1939. The PM asked him to give British spies work, and Mr Korda transmitted information even from Hollywood.
George VI knighted him in 1942 thanks to Churchill’s recommendation. He died in 1956 in London because of a heart attack.
The Korda film studio in Etyek, Hungary, was named after him.