Ferenc Molnár (born Ferenc Neumann, 12 January 1878–1 April 1952, anglicized as Franz Molnar) was a Hungarian-born author, stage-director, dramatist, and poet, widely regarded as Hungary’s most celebrated and controversial playwrights. His primary aim through his writing was to entertain by transforming his personal experiences into literary works of art. He was never connected to any one literary movement but he did utilize the precepts of Naturalism, Neo-Romanticism, Expressionism, and the Freudian psychoanalytical concepts, but only as long as they suited his desires. “By fusing the realistic narrative and stage tradition of Hungary with Western influences into a cosmopolitan amalgam, Molnár emerged as a versatile artist whose style was uniquely his own.” As a novelist, Molnár may best be remembered for The Paul Street Boys, the story of two rival gangs of youths in Budapest. It has been translated into fourteen languages, and adapted for the stage and film. It has been considered a masterpiece by many. It was, however, as a playwright that he made his greatest contribution and how he is best known internationally. "In his graceful, whimsical, sophisticated drawing-room comedies, he provided a felicitous synthesis of Naturalism and fantasy, Realism and Romanticism, cynicism and sentimentality, the profane and the sublime." Out of his many plays, The Devil, Liliom, The Swan, The Guardsman and The Play's the Thing endure as classics. He was influenced by the likes of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Gerhart Hauptmann. He immigrated to the United States to escape persecution of Hungarian Jews during World War II and later adopted American citizenship. Molnár’s plays continue to be relevant and are performed all over the world. His national and international fame has inspired many Hungarian playwrights to include Elemér Boross, László Fodor, Lajos Biró, László Bús-Fekete, Ernö Vajda, Attila Orbók, and Imre Földes, among others.
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1941
12 January 1878
Budapest, Austria-Hungary (today Hungary)
1 April 1952 (aged 74)|
New York City, New York, US
|Resting place||Linden Hill Cemetery, Ridgewood, Queens|
Margit Vészi (1906-1910; divorced; 1 child)|
Sári Fedák (1922–1925; divorced)
Lili Darvas (1926-1952; his death)
|Children||Marta Molnar Sarkozi (1907-1966) suicide|
Ferenc Molnár was born in Budapest on January 12, 1878 to Dr. Mór Neumann, a prosperous and popular gastroenterologist, and Jozefa Wallfisch. The home in which he lived was opulent but gloomy. Even though he was born into wealth, "It was not a friendly atmosphere for the lively and precocious Ferenc, who constantly had to be warned to keep quiet." Just a year before his birth, his parent's first born son and Molnar's brother, László, died. HIs mother was also frail and frequently bedridden. Illness spread throughout the rooms of his house and young Ferenc was constantly being told to keep quiet. In 1887, Molnár entered the Református Gimnázium, a secondary school (high school) located in Miskolc, Hungary, where he was inspired to learn foreign languages and where his talent as a writer began to take shape. At the age of fourteen he started a periodical called Haladás (Progress) which sold only four copies and a secondary publication called Életképek (Panorama) selling only twenty copies. His first dramatic work was Kék barlang (Blue Cave), a controversial play written, directed, and staged in the basement of a friend's house. Upon completing secondary school, Molnár went on to study law at the University of Budapest in 1895 and shortly thereafter he was sent to Geneva by his father to continue his studies at the Swiss University. While living in Geneva, he began writing frequently, often sending his work to various papers. Molnár also wrote the short "novella" Magdolna during this time. He would also travel to Paris to see some of the popular new plays. "The fashionable boulevard comedies of Bernstein, Bataille, Capus, and others left a deep impression on him and later greatly influenced his dramatic style." In 1896, he abandoned a legal career to pursue a full-time career as a journalist. He covered a variety of topics during his time as a journalist but his primary focus was the court trials for Vészi's Budapesti Napló (Budapest Daily), a newspaper then edited and published by József Vészi, a Jewish intellectual who dominated Hungarian political journalism. Molnár's first wife was one of Vészi's daughters (Margit Vészi). His mother died in 1898 when Ferenc was just twenty years of age. Molnár served as a proud and jingoistic supporter of the Austro-Hungarian Empire while working as a war correspondent during the First World War. So positive were his war reports that he was decorated by the Habsburg Emperor, but criticized by some of his pacifist peers. He later wrote Reflections of a War Correspondent, describing his experiences.
In 1901, Molnár published his first full-length novel, Az éhes város (The Hungry City). This contribution to literary fiction made Molnár's name familiar throughout Hungry. It was "a relentless exposé of the evil effect of money, viewed by a young, idealistic newspaper man." The year following the release of Az éhes város, Molnár began writing for the theatre. It was in this medium that he would eventually become internationally known. His early works as a playwright were influenced by his journalistic work. Molnár's first play, A doctor úr (The Lawyer), and the play that followed, Józsi, are both comedies that were essentially a dramatization of newspaper sketches about a spoiled rich child and published as a collection of short dialogues. His personal life inspired a lot of his writing. After his separation from his first wife (Margit Vészi) he became seriously involved with the famous Hungarian actress, Irén Szécsi, who was married to a wealthy manufacturer at the time. Some of his most critically successful works, were influenced by this affair. In 1907, Molnár wrote Az ördög (The Devil) for Irén, in which he challenged her to leave her husband. It brought molnár international fame and was performed all over Europe and In New York. The Devil was later adapted into a film by the Hungarian born American director Michael Curtiz and 3 years later into an English language version directed by James Young. It was in 1907, that Molnár also wrote 3 books to include his juvenile novel, A Pál-utcai Fiúk (The Paul Street Boys). "His fame reached its height with the successful performances of Liliom abroad, though the play initially had been a failure in Budapest." It became his best-known play and was later adapted into the musical Carousel by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Molnár sought to regain favor with his wife Lili by portraying her in the role of Juli, and then through his plays The Guardsman and The Wolf, preceded to explain the complexities of his affair with Irén. The Guardsman was published in 1910 and served as the basis of the 1931 film of the same name, starring American power couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Molnár fell into a deep depression after Irén cut off the affair and returned to her family. He resorted to drinking heavily as a result and in 1911 attempted suicide. He was rehabilitated in Austria and during this dark time continued writing. Between 1910 and 1914 five volumes of his collected essays were published as well as his translations of over thirty French Plays. "Molnár's long and turbulent life was one of hard and incessant work. For over fifty years he transposed his inner conflict in his literary work; writing was his oxygen, elixir, and self-therapy." 
On January 12, 1940, Molnár relocated to America and spent the final twelve years of his life living in Room 835 at New York's Plaza Hotel. In 1943 he suffered a massive heart attack which forced him to suspend work for just short of a year to rest. To celebrate the end of World War II, Molnár wrote and published Isten veled szivem (Farewell My Heart) and the English Edition of The Captain of St Margaret's . Molnár became depressed after learning the fate of his Jewish friends and colleagues after the war. He was outraged and depressed and his personality changed as a result. He became apathetic, morose, and a misanthrope. In 1947 Molnár experienced a devastating tragedy - his secretary and devoted companion, Wanda Bartha, committed suicide. This event had a lasting affect on Molnár. Upon her death he wrote his most tragic work, Companion in Exile, recalling his friend's sacrifices and the times they had spent together. Monár donated all his manuscripts and bound scrapbooks containing articles about him, and prepared by Wanda Bartha, to the New York Public Library. Molnár died of cancer, aged 74, at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City on April 1, 1952. Because of his superstitious fear that creating a Will would hasten his death, Molnár left several manuscripts and unfinished work and a significant amount of money behind. His funeral was attended by only his wife, Lili Darvas, and a few close friends. In the name of all women Molnár had loved, Lili Darvas bid him farewell with a quotation: "Liliom, sleep my boy, sleep!"