Alexander Korda - Director

Nationality: Hungarian/British. Born: Sándor László Kellner in Puszta Turpósztó, Hungary, 16 September 1893; adopted surname Korda, from journalistic pseudonym "Sursum Corda" (meaning "lift up your hearts"), 1910. Education: Attended schools in Kisújszállás, Mezötúr, and Budapest, until 1909. Family: Married 1) Maria Farkas (actress Maria Corda), 1919 (divorced 1930), one son; 2) Merle Oberon, 1939 (divorced 1945); 3) Alexander Boycun, 1953. Career: Worked at Pathé studios, Paris, 1911; title writer and secretary, Pictograph films, Budapest, and founder of film journal Pesti mozi , 1912; directed first film, 1914; formed Corvin production company with Miklós Pásztory, built studio near Budapest, 1917; arrested under Horthy regime, fled to Vienna, 1919; formed Corda Film Consortium, 1920 (dissolved 1922); formed Korda-Films, Berlin, 1923; with wife, contracted to First National, Hollywood, 1927; hired by Paramount French subsidiary, 1930; moved to British Paramount, London, 1931; founder, London Films, 1932; built Denham Studios, also made partner in United Artists, 1935 (sold interest, 1944); lost control of Denham Studios, 1938; formed Alexander Korda Productions, retained position as head of London Films, 1939; based in Hollywood, 1940–43; entered partnership with MGM, 1943 (dissolved, 1946); reorganized London Films, bought controlling interest in British Lion (distributors), 1946; founder, British Film Academy (now British Academy of Film and Television Arts), 1947. Awards: Knighthood, 1942. Died: In London, 23 January 1956.

Films as Director:


A becsapott újságíró ( The Duped Journalist ) (co-d); Tutyu és Totyo ( Tutyu and Totyo ) (co-d)


Lyon Lea ( Lea Lyon ) (co-d); A tiszti kardbojt ( The Officer's Swordknot ) (+ sc)


Fehér éjszakák ( White Nights ) or Fedora (+ sc); A nagymama ( The Grandmother ) (+ sc); Mesék az írógépröl ( Tales of the Typewriter ) (+ sc); A kétszívü férfi ( The Man with Two Hearts ); Az egymillió fontos bankó ( The One–Million–Pound Note ) (+ sc); Ciklámen ( Cyclamen ); Vergödö szívek ( Struggling Hearts ); A nevetö Szaszkia ( The Laughing Saskia ); Mágnás Miska ( Miska the Magnate )


Szent Péter esernyöje ( St. Peter's Umbrella ) (+ pr); A gólyakalifa ( The Stork Caliph ) (+ pr); Mágia ( Magic ) (+ pr); Harrison és Barrison ( Harrison and Barrison ) (+ pr)


Faun (+ pr); Az aranyember ( The Man with the Golden Touch ) (+ pr); Mary Ann (+ pr)


Ave Caesar! (+ pr); Fehér rózsa ( White Rose ) (+ pr); Yamata (+ pr); Se ki, se be ( Neither in Nor Out ) (+ pr); A 111-es ( Number 111 ) (+ pr)


Seine Majestät das Bettelkind ( Prinz und Bettelknabe ; The Prince and the Pauper )


Heeren der Meere ( Masters of the Sea ); Eine Versunkene Welt ( Die Tragödie eines Verschollenen Fürstensohnes ) ( A Vanished World ); Samson und Delilah ( Samson and Delilah ) (+ pr)


Das unbekannte Morgen ( The Unknown Tomorrow ) (+ pr)


Jedermanns Frau ( Jedermanns Weib ) ( Everybody's Woman ) (+ pr); Tragödie im Hause Habsburg ( Das Drama von Mayerling ) ( Tragedy in the House of Hapsburg ) (+ pr)


Der Tänzer meiner Frau ( Dancing Mad )


Madame wĂĽnscht keine Kinder ( Madame Wants No Children )


Eine Dubarry von heute ( A Modern Dubarry ); The Stolen Bride ; The Private Life of Helen of Troy


Yellow Lily ; Night Watch


Love and the Devil ; The Squall ; Her Private Life


Lilies of the Field ; Women Everywhere ; The Princess and the Plumber


Die Manner um Lucie (+ pr); Rive Gauche (French version of Die Manner um Lucie ) (+ pr); Marius; Zum Goldenen Anker (German version of Marius )


Service for Ladies ( Reserved for Ladies ) (+ pr)


Wedding Rehearsal (+ pr); The Private Life of Henry VIII (+ pr); The Girl from Maxim's (+ co-pr)


La Dame de Chez Maxim (French version) (+ pr); The Private Life of Don Juan (+ pr)


Rembrandt (+ pr)


That Hamilton Woman ( Lady Hamilton ) (+ pr)


Perfect Strangers ( Vacation from Marriage ) (+ pr)


An Ideal Husband (+ pr)


On KORDA: books—

Balcon, Michael, and others, Twenty Years of British Films, 1925–45 , London, 1947.

Brunel, Adrian, Nice Work: The Story of Thirty Years in British Film Production , London, 1949.

Tabori, Paul, Alexander Korda , London, 1959.

Cowie, Peter, Korda , in Anthologie du Cinéma no. 6, Paris, 1965.

Nemeskurty, István, Word and Image: A History of the Hungarian Cinema , Budapest, 1968.

Kulik, Karol, Alexander Korda: The Man Who Could Work Miracles , London, 1975.

Korda, Michael, Charmed Lives: A Family Romance , New York, 1979.

Stockham, Martin, The Korda Collection: Alexander Korda's Film Classics , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1993.

On KORDA: articles—

Watts, Stephen, "Alexander Korda and the International Film," in Cinema Quarterly , Autumn 1933.

Lejeune, C.A., "Alexander Korda: A Sketch," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1935.

Alexander Korda
Alexander Korda

Harman, Jympson, "'Alex': A Study of Korda," in British Film Yearbook 1949–50 , London, 1949.

Price, Peter, "The Impresario Urge," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1950.

Campbell, Colin, "The Producer: Sir Alexander Korda," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1951.

Gilliat, Sidney, and others, "Sir Alexander Korda," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.

Richards, Jeffrey, "Korda's Empire: Politics and Films in Sanders of the River, The Drum , and The Four Feathers ," in Australian Journal of Screen Theory (Kensington, New South Wales), no. 5–6, 1980.

Taylor, John Russell, "Tales of the Hollywood Raj. Alexander Korda: Showman or Spy?," in Films and Filming (London), July 1983.

"Alexander Korda," in Film Dope (London), January 1985.

Street, Sarah, "Denham Studios: The Golden Jubilee of Korda's Folly," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1986.

Street, Sarah, "Alexander Korda, Prudential Assurance and British Film Finance in the 1930s," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and TV (Abingdon, Oxon), October 1986.

Clarke, S., "Profile: London Films," in Variety (New York), vol. 348, no. 10, 28 September 1992.

Ringer, Paula, "Alexander Korda: Producer, Director, Propagan-dist," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Illinois), no. 239, May 1995.

Fischer, Dennis, "A World of Childhood Delights: The Thief of Bagdad ," in Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), no. 60, April-May 1997.

Wilinsky, Barbara, "First and Finest: British Films on U.S. Television in the Late 1940s," in Velvet Light Trap (Austin, Texas), no. 40, Fall 1997.

On KORDA: films—

Vas, Robert, The Golden Years of Alexander Korda , BBC TV documentary, 1968.

* * *

Alexander Korda may be Britain's most controversial film figure, but there is no doubt that his name stands everywhere for the most splendid vision of cinema as it could be, if one had money and power. Both of these Korda had, although several times he was close to bankruptcy, living on pure Hungarian charm and know-how. He at least had a dream that came near reality on several occasions.

Korda had two younger brothers, Zoltan, who worked with him as a director, and Vincent, who was an art director; both were outstanding in their fields. Alexander worked as a journalist and film magazine editor before he directed his first film in Hungary in 1914. He had labored long in the cinematic fields of Vienna and Berlin when finally in 1926 his film production of A Modern Dubarry earned him a contract in Hollywood with First National, where his initial film was the extravagantly beautiful The Private Life of Helen of Troy , starring his wife Maria Corda as Helen. It brought him instant recognition. He directed four features starring Billie Dove (who should have played Helen of Troy for him): The Stolen Bride, The Night Watch, The Yellow Lily , and Her Private Life , a remake of Zoë Akins's play, which Corinne Griffith had filmed earlier under its stage title, Declassé. Korda also directed a sound feature starring Griffith, Lilies of the Field. Alexander Korda could soon write his own ticket.

He did just that in 1931, leaving Hollywood to return to England where he set up his own production company, London Film Productions. There he was almost fully occupied with production details, and only directed eight of the many films which his company produced. It was an exciting era for an ambitious producer like Korda. His company's product was so lavish that he seemed in a fair way not only to rival Hollywood but to surpass it. His first big success was The Private Life of Henry VIII , starring Charles Laughton as Henry and with Merle Oberon making her debut as the unfortunate Anne Boleyn. Korda then married Oberon and started to set the stage for her stardom. Hers was not the only career Korda established, for he had much to do with the film careers of Laurence Olivier, Vivian Leigh, Robert Donat, and Leslie Howard, among others. He was the power behind it all, the man who set up financial deals for pictures that starred these actors.

While the pictures he directed, like Rembrandt, That Hamilton Woman , and Vacation from Marriage , were done in exquisite taste, Korda was also involved in the production of such pictures as Catherine the Great, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Elephant Boy, The Ghost Goes West, Drums, The Four Feathers, The Thief of Bagdad, The Fallen Idol , and The Third Man. Three times Korda built and rebuilt his company, and the third time it was with national aid. Even after the Korda empire collapsed he was able to secure new financial alliances which allowed him to keep producing until his death in 1956. His name stood for glory, and when, after 1947, his name ceased to appear as part of the film credits, the lustre surrounding a London Films production vanished.

—DeWitt Bodeen

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