Ferenc Molnár was a Hungarian novelist and dramatist mostly known for his novel The Paul Street Boys. He adopted American citizenship after emigrating to the US to escape the persecution of Hungarian Jews during WWII. Most of his Hungarian peers could only dream of the success he had abroad.
Molnár Ferenc (born Neumann) was born in Budapest, 12 January 1878 and died in New York, 1 April 1952. His parents were Mór Neumann and Jozefa Wallfisch.
During his school years, he was studying to become a journalist. However, due to the pressure of his parents, from 1896 he studied law for a year at the university in Geneva and Budapest. Meanwhile, he already had his writings published in Pesti Hírlap. He worked on pieces of literature and translations of plays, too.
His first great success came with the play the Devil (1907), but Liliom, The Swan, and The Red Mill were also successfully played abroad, especially in Austria, Germany, and the US.
Some of his short stories are regarded as masterpieces, especially those collected in Music (1908).
They look behind the glittering surface of society life and represent the problems of the poor and the underdog.
His first satirical novel, The Hungry City created a sensation among readers. In 1906, he published The Paul Street Boys, the youth novel which granted him recognition:
The Paul Street Boys became one of the most famous Hungarian novels outside the country. It has been translated into many languages, and in several countries, it is a mandatory or recommended reading in schools.
Louis Rittenberg made the first English translation and published in 1927, and later revised by George Szirtes for a re-release in 1994.
The novel tells a story of a group of schoolboys from District VIII. They spend most of their time on the grund, but another gang of boys tries to take it over. The Paul Street Boys must militarily defend themselves and the grund. The book ends in a tragedy.
It has many adaptations besides the Hungarian films: The USA movie No Greater Glory is one of them (1934). I ragazzi della via Paal, the Italian version was filmed one year later, in 1935.
In the same year as the publishing of The Paul Street Boys, Molnár married Margit Vészi writer and painter. They had a daughter from the marriage, Márta Molnár.
As the anecdotes say, Molnár was an alcoholic and suffered from depression.
The reason his first wife divorced him was that he beat her on numerous occasions. He wrote the play Liliom for her, in which the main character often beats his shy, meek wife who makes their living. The play’s debut in Vígszínház was a failure and Molnár could not cope with it; he had a nervous breakdown. He was treated in a sanatorium for a year.
The very same play was a huge success in Berlin.
In Vígszínház, Irény Varsányi played the female lead role, whom Molnár had fallen in love with and even had a duel with her husband because of which Molnár was sent to jail. Soon after this, his first wife divorced him. In 1922, Molnár married his second wife, Sári Fedák, but they ended up divorcing after a short time.
He had severe depression, which was worsened by the disappointment. He contemplated and tried to commit suicide. When Sándor Bródy, who also dealt with depression, tried to lecture him on the ways of killing oneself, Molnár replied:
“I only accept advice in the question of suicide from people who already succeeded”.
His third wife was Lili Darvas actress with whom they fled Hungary in 1939. They first went to France, then Switzerland, to finally end up in New York. In the US he became depressed again when his secretary and lover, Vanda Bartha committed suicide.
Despite his depression, he wrote numerous plays in America. His play Panoptikum debuted on Broadway in 1949. In 1950, Ingrid Bergman featured in Liliom.
He died in 1952, at the age of 74, during a stomach surgery.
Featured Image: The Paul Street Boys Sculpture in Budapest. Wikicommons by user: misibacsi