Ferenc Molnár

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.”[2] 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."[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

Ferenc Molnár
Ferenc Molnár 1941
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten, 1941
Born Ferenc Neumann
12 January 1878
Budapest, Austria-Hungary (today Hungary)
Died 1 April 1952 (aged 74)
New York City, New York, US
Resting place Linden Hill Cemetery, Ridgewood, Queens
Occupation Novelist
Years active 1901-1952
Spouse 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[1]
Moln%C3%A1r Ferenc haditud%C3%B3s%C3%ADt%C3%B3k%C3%A9nt
Ferenc Molnár was a war correspondent during the First World War.


Early years

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."[2] 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.[2] 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."[2] 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).[3] 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.[4] So positive were his war reports that he was decorated by the Habsburg Emperor, but criticized by some of his pacifist peers.[4] He later wrote Reflections of a War Correspondent, describing his experiences.

Budapest and theatrical career

"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." [2]

Later years and death

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.[2] 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!"[2]

Paul street boys sculpture PB110359
"Paul Street boys" sculpture in Budapest


Molnár's most popular plays are Liliom (1909, tr. 1921), later adapted into the musical Carousel; The Guardsman (1910, tr. 1924), which served as the basis of the 1931 film of the same name, which starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; and The Swan (1920, tr. 1922). His 1918 film, The Devil, was adapted three years later for American audiences, starring George Arliss in his first nationally released film. The 1956 film version of The Swan (which had been filmed twice before) was Grace Kelly's penultimate film, and was released on the day of her wedding to Prince Rainier.

Molnár's play The Good Fairy was adapted by Preston Sturges and filmed in 1935 with Margaret Sullavan, and subsequently turned into the 1947 Deanna Durbin vehicle, I'll Be Yours. (It also served as the basis for the 1951 Broadway musical Make a Wish, with book by Sturges.) The film version of the operetta The Chocolate Soldier used the plot of Molnár's The Guardsman rather than the plot of its original stage version, which was based on George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, because Shaw reportedly disliked the operetta adaptation of his work, and would not allow his plot to be used for the screenplay.

Molnár's play Olympia was adapted for the movies twice, the first time (quite unsuccessfully) as His Glorious Night (1929), and secondly as A Breath of Scandal (1960), starring Sophia Loren. In 1961, Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond turned Molnar's one-act play Egy, kettő, három into One, Two, Three, a film starring James Cagney and Horst Buchholz. His play, The Play at the Castle, has twice been adapted into English by writers of note: by P. G. Wodehouse as The Play's the Thing and by Tom Stoppard as Rough Crossing.

Selected works


Moln%C3%A1r Ferenc Uher
Portrait of Ferenc Molnár (1918)
  • The Lawyer (1902)
  • Jozsi (1904)
  • The Devil (1907)
  • Liliom (1909)
  • The Guardsman (1910)
  • The Tale of the Wolf (1912)
  • The White Cloud (1916)
  • Carnival (1916)
  • Fashions for Men (1917)
  • The Swan (1920)
  • The Play's the Thing (1926)
  • Olympia (1928)
  • The Good Fairy (1930)
  • Delicate Story (1940)
  • The King's Maid (1941)


  • The Hungry City (1901)
Gardesofficeren p%C3%A5 Svenska Teatern 1911
Scene from Act 2 of the Guardsman (1911)
Moln%C3%A1r Ferenc plaque (Budapest-09 L%C3%B3nyay u 4)
Plaque commemorating Mr. Ferenc Molnár (1878-1952). It is affixed on the wall of the primary school where the novelist was a student from 1887 to 1895. The plate with the bronze relief by the artist Johanna Götz was unveiled on September 30, 2014. (Budapest, District IX, Lónyay Street Nr 4)
  • The Memoirs of a War Correspondent (1916)
  • The Captain of St. Margaret's (1926)
  • Farewell My Heart (1945)
  • Companion in Exile: Notes for an Autobiography (1950)


  1. ^ https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=hu&u=http://mandarchiv.hu/cikk/4010/A_tehetseges_Veszi_Margit&prev=search
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Györgyey, Clara (1980). Ferenc Molnár. United States of America: Twayne Publishers. p. 174. ISBN 0-8057-6416-X.
  3. ^ Kőbányai, János (21 April 2018). "Bíró, Lajos". YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.
  4. ^ a b "Two Ways Of Being a Jewish Writer: Ferenc Molnár and Arthur Schnitzler", Ivan Sanders, European Cultural Review

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