Jenő Rejtő was a Hungarian journalist, pulp fiction writer and playwright.
Jenő Reich was born in 1905 in Budapest. His father was Áron Reich Lipót, a Bonyhád-born merchant, and his mother was Wolf Ilona. He had two brothers Lajos and Gyula. They lived in Budapest on the opposite side to the Hungarian Theater in Pest. This is where the first impulses probably came from, as there were no intellectual ascendants in his family.
The boy, who was weak for a long time, became stronger in his adolescence, he also took some boxing training. He was good at Hungarian Literature, German and history at school, but weak in the rest. As he did not finish high school, he could not graduate. He began acting at the age of 19. During this period he had already written poems in which the influence of Endre Ady was clearly felt.
Rejtő began his journey in the 1920s. In Western Europe, he made a living from everyday work. Then went to North Africa- which was a French colony back then. As a result of the global economic crisis that had erupted in the meantime, his family was falling into poverty. At the age of 23, his first work Pay! was published. He returned from his tour in 1930, after that he became friends with Frigyes Karinthy, another great figure of Hungarian literature.
After that, he worked as a cabaret writer in Budapest. His posthumous book called Report from Mistake contains more than 120 cabaret scenes. He worked as a translator for Nova. Among others, he translated Erich Kästner from German and Pierre Benoit’s works from French to Hungarian.
He began writing small pulp fictions in addition to stage works. Between 1934 and 1940, 20 of his short stories appeared in the World City Novels series. At Nova under the pseudonym P. Howard’s 14 adventure novels, under the name of Gibson Lavery, 5 of his Wild West stories appeared in the late 1930s. He wrote under a pseudonym because of the publishing pressure, like most fiction writers around that time. It is a general expectation, or we can call it superstition, that the Hungarian audience is less receptive to the work of a writer with a Hungarian name. From 1938, humour became the main motif in his works. After Nova, his work was published by Csillag and Aurora publishers. His fans only found out in his last two years of Jenő Rejtő’s life; that he is the same person as P. Howard.
In his most successful books, Rejtő mixed fashionable adventure novels with his own “Pest humour”. This duality brought him success. He was characterised by a lot of work and maximalist attitude, but also an unhealthy lifestyle. He smoked cigarettes, drank a lot of coffee, took sleeping pills, and used an amphetamine derivative called Aktedron, which was legal at the time. As a result of these, his body weakened, and he was in neurological institution several times. World War II broke out, and he could not publish anymore because of his Jewish origins. He was taken by force from the hospital to do his labour service on the eastern front. He died in 1943 in the Soviet Union.
In the early years of communism, his works were only available on the black market. Later, his novels were republished and became popular instantly. Some of his works have been made into films and comic books.
His life was as adventurous as his novels. During his short life, Rejtő showed his genius in many forms of literature. His popularity, legacy and impact are unquestionable. His works have been published in English, Chech, Bulgarian, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Swedish, Serbian, Russian and Italian among others, entertaining readers around the world. He has a place among the great figures of Hungarian literature without question.