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Filming in Hungary: Blog

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A Hungarian in Hollywood: The Amazing Life of Pál Királyhegyi

zita kisgergely

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Every now and again we come across a person whose life was so extraordinary, at first glance it appears made up, or is perhaps the lives of two or three people conflated into one. Such is the case with Hungarian writer Pál Királyhegyi, or Paul King, as he was known in America. While Királyhegyi is not quite a household name  like Ferenc Molnár, or Zsa Zsa Gabor, he should be. In his long life, Királyhegyi experienced firsthand such historical events as the birth of the talking film in Hollywood, the 'Blitz' WWII aerial bombardment of England, the Holocaust, and Soviet Communist rule in Hungary.

But it all started in turn-of-the-century Budapest, where he was born to Jewish parents in 1900. At age 19 he left his home country, and after a short stint as a street performer in Italy, Királyhegyi stowed away in the hull of a cargo ship bound for the United States. Initially finding employment by turns as a journalist for Hungarian newspapers, and as a rather inept busboy, he worked his way west, eventually arriving in Hollywood around the time when ‘talkies’ were in their infancy. Hobnobbing with the likes of Charlie Chaplin (who hired Királyhegyi to work at his studio for a time) and fellow Hungarians directors Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and Charles Vidor (A Farewell to Arms), he found fortune working at Paramount Studios (also founded by a Hungarian) as a scenario writer. It might have ended there, but for the fact that the writer in Királyhegyi was restless, and missed home.

 via cultura.hu

via cultura.hu

Returning to Hungary via London, he arrived in time “not to miss the Auschwitz Express”, as he put it. Királyhegyi was subjected to confinement in a number of the Third Reich’s worst concentration camps, surviving by his wits alone. After being liberated by his former adopted country men (the Americans) he made his way back to Budapest and tried to return to normal life of a journalist, only to be banished to a communal farm by the Communist authorities, who looked down on writers.

But by the time of his passing, Királyhegyi had returned to his place as a respected journalist and writer of plays in his beloved Budapest. You can take him as a kind of Hungarian Forrest Gump, except that he was much sharper of mind and quicker of wit. He had the kind of verve that demanded he send the following telegram to Stalin himself: “J.V STALIN, MOSCOW, KREMLIN. THE SYSTEM HAS NOT WORKED OUT STOP PLEASE STOP IT STOP KIRALYHEGYI STOP”

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Luckily, Királyhegyi’s memoir My First 200 Years was recently translated into English and is set to revive interest in this unique Hungarian, who had an impact on Hollywood, Hungary, and history. (For transparency sake, it is worth pointing out that the author of this post also had a hand in editing the translation of Királyhegyi’s My First 200 Years).

Flatpack Films is based in Budapest, Hungary. We are a film company that offers an inspiring and professional work atmosphere for our local and international clients. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast, and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we facilitate, we do to highest standard possible.