Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh
Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at 25th Annual Academy Awards Source: Wikimedia Commons / Unknown photographer

We will show you celebrities with Upper Hungarian and Transylvanian roots, who are or were known all over the world, but what fate would have befallen them if their ancestors had not left the former monarchy in time? Movie stars whose ancestors (or themselves) were born in the former Hungarian territories taken away by the Treaty of Trianon to become part of (Czech) Slovakia or Romania. These are people whose names are known all over the world.

Thanks to 24 we can introduce them to you. The common connection of these people mentioned in our article is that their ancestors come from former Hungarian cities of villages and if their families would not have emigrated to America, not only would they not have had such a brilliant career, but it is also likely that they would have died at a young age due to the Holocaust. Another common connection would be that all of them were talented in more than one thing.

24 asked Csaba Katona, a researcher at the Institute of History of the Humanities Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences about the history of our heroes. Csaba Katona said that many factors complicate the reconstruction of their past, but emigration is what joins them together; The Weismüllers left in 1905, Curtis’ mother and grandmother emigrated in 1921, and Paul Newman’s mother left his Upper Hungarian home as a child.

They were part of the mass emigration at the turn of the 20th century when millions of people (1.5 million just from Hungarian territories) set out to seek their fortune. Since it was an awful lot of people, it is no surprise that there are quite a few of them who are talented; from Weismüller to George Sugar, for example.

Both Tony Curtis and Paul Newman were also partly Jewish, but another exciting thing is that they were born in the same year and Newman’s mother and Curtis’ mother were born only 25 kilometres apart. If the ancestors of Weismüller, Curtis and Newman had not left their homeland, they probably would not have become actors. As 3,500 Jewish residents were deported in 1944 from the birthplace of Curtis’ mother, for the (Schwartz) family, the emigration in 1921 presumably also meant their survival. Paul Newman’s family could not have expected much good if they remained in their homeland either, as the actor’s father, Arthur, was also of Jewish descent. Johnny Weismüller’s family were not Jewish, but John was born as a child of Swabian parents. Unfortunately, the Swabians were evicted from Temesvár (Timișoara) as well.

The Olympic Tarzan, Johnny Weissmüller

Johnny Weismüller was originally born as János Weissmüller on June 2nd, 1904 in Szabadfalu (near Temesvár (Timișoara) in Temes (Timiș) county (present-day Romania). Nevertheless, when the family emigrated to the United States in January 1905, according to some data, the birthplace of the little János was Párdány (present-day Serbia).

He was very successful even before his movie career, as he already was a five-time Olympic champion.

In 1924 he won in three categories as a swimmer (100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay) and won a bronze medal at the same Olympics as a member of the American water polo team. In 1928, he won two more gold medals as a swimmer at the Amsterdam Olympics (100 meters freestyle, 4 × 200 meters freestyle relay). In his early years, he was a thin boy who was often ill and had breathing problems. He began swimming on the advice of doctors; he soon became a 190-centimetre, 95-pound athlete. In 1927, he set a new world record of 51.0 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, which stood for 17 years.

Johnny Weismüller Swimmer
Johnny Weissmuller at a swim meet Source: Wikimedia Commons / George Grantham Bain

In 1929, Weismüller signed a contract with BVD to be a model and representative. He travelled a lot and did swim shows and promoted several brands of swimwear. The same year, he made his first motion picture appearance as an Adonis, wearing only a fig leaf, in a movie entitled Glorifying the American Girl. Weismüller’s acting career took a turn for the better when

he signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He received the role of Tarzan in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and the movie was a huge success; Weismüller became an overnight international wonder.

Weissmüller starred in six Tarzan movies for MGM, then in 1942, Weismüller went to RKO and starred in six more Tarzan movies. With the 12 Tarzan movies he starred in, Weissmüller earned an estimated $2,000,000 and established himself as what many movie historians consider the definitive Tarzan. Although he was not the first Tarzan in movies, he was the one that many associates with the now traditional Tarzan-yell.

Tarzan Weismüller
Maureen O’Sullivan & Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure Source: Wikimedia Commons

He retired in 1965, moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was the founding chairman of the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) and he was inducted into it the very same year. Weismüller’s face is included in the collage on the iconic front cover of The Beatles’ 1967 record album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He also opened a small chain of health food stores and had a swimming pool company. Weissmüller even met Queen Elizabeth II. After his eventful life, he died January 20, 1984, in Acapulco, Mexico.

The racer, Paul Newman

Although Paul Newman was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA on January 26, 1925, his mother, Theresa Fetzko, was born in Homonna (Humenné), present-day Slovakia. According to some information about him, he was called Pál in his birth certificate.

As a child, Newman showed interest in the theatre; his first role was at age seven, playing the court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. When he was ten years old, Newman performed at the Cleveland Play House in a production of Saint George and the Dragon. He attended university for a brief period of time, but Newman served in the United States Navy in World War II. He became an Aviation Radioman Third Class and was posted to Hawaii.

Paul Newman Venice
Paul Newman on a water taxi in Venice in 1963 Source: Wikimedia Commons / Lmattozz

After the war, he acquired a BA diploma in drama and economics at Kenyon College in 1949.

He made his Broadway theatre debut in the original production of William Inge’s Picnic in 1953, and he also appeared in the original Broadway production of The Desperate Hours two years later. Newman’s first movie role for Hollywood was in The Silver Chalice, which unfortunately was a failure, but he managed to recover from it and five years later,

he starred in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and that earned him his first Academy Award nomination

as the movie was quite successful. The same year, he also starred in The Long, Hot Summer for which he won Best Actor at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

Paul Newman Racecar
Ex Paul Newman Racing’s 1979 Spyder NF-11 Chevrolet V8 Source: Wikimedia Commons / jason goulding

He received the leading role in dozens of movies afterwards, such as Exodus (1960), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Towering Inferno (1974), Slap Shot (1977), The Verdict (1982) and many, many more. In addition to starring in and directing Harry & Son, Newman directed four feature films starring Joanne Woodward. In 2003, he even appeared in a Broadway revival of Wilder’s Our Town for which he received his first Tony Award nomination.

Newman was an auto racing enthusiast and became interested in motorsports

and because of his love and passion for racing, Newman agreed to star and host his first television special, Once Upon a Wheel about the history of auto racing. He was a frequent competitor in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events and have won four national championships, he competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, and he competed into his 80’s. At one point he also formed a professional racing team as well. He died on September 26, 2008, at age 83 in Westport, Connecticut, U.S.

The artist, Tony Curtis

The man, later known to the world as Tony Curtis, was originally born Bernard Schwartz in New York on June 3, 1925. His father came from Mátészalka, and his mother from Nagymihály (Michalovce). Tony Curtis was proud of his Jewish-Hungarian roots. Curtis first visited Hungary in 1985.

He founded the Emanuel Foundation in 1987, one of the goals of the organisation is to cherish the memory of the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary.

He also supported, among other things, the renovation of the Synagogue at Dohány utca (street). During his travels, Curtis always visited the places in Hungary that were closest to him. His daughter, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis has also shown interest in the history of her family.

Tony Curtis 1958
Publicity photo of Tony Curtis Source: Wikimedia Commons / United Pictures Corporation

At the age of 8, Curtis and his brother were placed in an orphanage for a month because their parents were not able to afford to feed them. Curtis joined a neighbourhood gang who were playing truants and pilfered from a local dime store.

At the age of 11, a friendly neighbour saved him from ending up living a life of crime. He was sent to a Boy Scout camp, where he was able to calm down.

Later he attended Seward Park High School and when Curtis was 16, he had his first acting part in a school play. Curtis also enlisted in the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor and joined the Pacific submarine force.

He signed a contract with Universal Pictures and changed his name from Bernard Schwartz to Anthony Curtis. The studio taught him fencing and riding, but his biggest fear was that he would return to the Bronx as a failure. Curtis’s uncredited screen debut was in Criss Cross (1949), where he played a rumba dancer, this is also where he met one of his future colleague Burt Lancaster. In his second film, City Across the River (1949), he was credited “Anthony Curtis”. Curtis also had a role in The Lady Gambles (1949), although only four lines, he received a more significant role in Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949). He also starred in three westerns and was billed “Tony Curtis” in Kansas Raiders (1951). Universal awarded him the starring role in The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) and it became a box office hit. Another box office hit for him was The Vikings (1958).

Tony Curtis and Monroe
Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis in a promotional image for Some Like it Hot (1959) Source: Wikimedia Commons / United Artists

Curtis also had a key role in Spartacus (1960), which was an important part of his career as Curtis received a Golden Globe nomination.

Curtis enjoyed painting throughout his life and he even started painting as a second career starting from the 80s. His paintings now are worth more than $25,000 apiece. In his last years, he focused on his painting career and not on the movies; he was a surrealist and according to himself, he was inspired by Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Magritte. His pictures are even housed in famous galleries; in 2007, for example, The Red Table one of his paintings, was on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Among other awards, in March 2006, Curtis received the Sony Ericsson Empire Lifetime Achievement Award, and he also got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Curtis died of cardiac arrest in his home on September 29, 2010, in Henderson. He was buried at Palm Memorial Park Cemetery in Henderson, Nevada.

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