Alexander Korda

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        Alexander Korda (Birth Name: Sandor Kellner) (1892-1946). Director, Producer and Maker of Stars.

          'July 2012: Added a trivia section with more fascinating facts on Korda than anywhere you will find including details of his death.'
          - Paul Page | Old Page | YouTube Slideshow

        Alexander Korda autographs, photographs and more @ (direct link to signed stuff - seen some letters recently)

        Alexander Korda was born on September 16, 1893, near Turkeve, Hungary. He worked as a journalist and editor of a film magazine before directing his first film in 1914. Two younger brothers, Zoltan and Vincent, were later to work with him as director and art director respectively.

        Korda's turbulent 25 years in Britain seem to overshadow his previous 17 years spent as a director in Hungary and later in Vienna, Berlin, Hollywood, and Paris. Although he and Michael Curtiz dominated the early Hungarian film industry between 1917 and 1919, Korda was scarcely known outside his own country during that period...more

        Alexander Korda
        Alexander Korda



        When the communist regime of Bela Kun fell in 1919, Korda fled the country. He emigrated with his actress wife Maria Corda, to Vienna where he directed four films. The first an adaptation of Mark Twain's novel The Prince and The Pauper, was successfully released in America. The praise for its evocative recreation of British pageantry convinced Korda that foreign directors could effectively handle national subjects outside their own experience. In Berlin, from 1922 -26, with films like Das Unbekannte Morgen(1923), (The unknown Tomorrow) he accommodated his own preference for light romantic subjects, adopting the Expressionist preoccupations with destiny and mysticism then fashionable in German cinema. Determined to make films that would attract Hollywood, Korda directed the lavish and sophisticated Eine Dubarry von Heute (A Modern Dubarry) in 1926. It earned him a contract with First National in Hollywood which he took up early in 1927.

        During his four years in Hollywood (1927-30), however, Korda was typecast as a director of female stars or of films with Hungarian settings. The only notable film he made there,The Private Life of Helen of Troy(1927) was an impressively photographed version of the Greek Legend, reshaped into a marital comedy, with the characters given contemporary speech and attitudes. This humanizing approach to history, though anticpated by Lubitsch's German costume pictures, became the model for Korda's later films.

        Korda returned to Europe in 1930. At Paramount's French subsidiary at Joinville he made Marius(1931), the first of the trilogy of film adaptations from Marcel Pagnol's plays about Marseilles life.

        In the autumn of 1931, Alexander Korda came to Britain to direct 'quota' pictures for Paramount's British subsidiary, but within a few months he had decided to form his own company, London Film Productions. The company's sixth production The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), achieved Korda's goal of successful competition in world markets. It captured the American box-office and earned ten times its cost in its first world run. Historical costume films were considered passe at the time, but Korda 'humanized' a well known historical subject, turning it into a sex romp which owed much to the vitality of Charles Laughton's peformance.

        For the next seven years, Korda sought to build on Henry's success, first with other 'private life' films (the rise of Catherine the GreatandThe Private Life of Don Juan in 1934, both box-office failures) and then with a series of over 30 prestige films for which Korda mixed and matched the natonalities and talents he had collected to achieve an international production. Although none of the subsequent films equalled Henry's profitability (as they cost much more to make, they could hardly be expected to recoup proportionally as much), even a selective list shows how much the British film industry owed to this emigre Hungarian: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Things to Come and Rembrandt (both 1936), Fire Over England and Knight Without Armour (both 1937), The Drum (1938), The Four Feathers (1939) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940).

        All these films exhibited the Korda stamp in varying degrees, according to the amount of control he exerted as head of production. This stamp is best defined by a brief analysis of his strengths and weaknesses as a director. Although associated with all the 100 films which London Films produced between 1932 and 1956, he directed only eight of them. The subjects he chose tended to fall into two categories: the satirical, high society comedies: Wedding Rehearsal (1933), The Girl from Maxim's (1933) and An Ideal Husband (1947). And the 'private life' films The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Private Life of Don Juan, Rembrandt and That Hamilton Woman! (1941).

        The most outstanding quality commom to all these films is their visual polish, which owes much to French cameraman Georges Perinal and to Korda's brother Vincent, London Films head of Art Direction. These two men created impressive films that rivalled anything Hollywood was producing, both in grandeur of scope and sumptuousness of detail. Established actors and actresses were chosen for the lead parts, while Korda chose the supporting roles from his stable of young contract starlets. There is an urgency and vitality in the acting of unexperienced actors, but Korda sometimes seems unsure in the direction of his untrained actors (the new stars he loved to create), contenting himself with glamorizing them or treating them as part of the decor. Even though Korda considered the script stage the most important in the making of the film (he worked uncredited on many of the scripts of his and others' movies), the basic structure of his films is often too flimsy to support their load of overelaborate detail. There is a tendency towards repetition of scenes and dialogue, and the dialogue itself is unconvincing and often depends on rather childish metaphors. The films he directed and the films he produced mostly share a nostalgic view of Britain and proudly champion her past glories.

        What Korda lacked as a film-maker, he made up for as a film impresario, combining a fertile imagination, always open to new ideas, with a journalist's understanding of publicity and promotion. But his special gift was his ability to manipulate finance and financiers, and it was this which was to be most exercised during the late Thirties.

        The business of making internationally marketed films was an expensive one, and London Films required immense financial investment. This came from two sources: the American United Artists Company (in which Korda became a full partner in 1935) and the City of London's Prudential Assurance Company. The United Artists tie-up was a mixed blessing as UA owned no cinema chains itself and could not guarantee American distribution for Korda's films. Heavy investment by the Prudential became Korda's mainstay in the Thirties and led to the building of the Denham studios. Opened in 1936 Denham was the most up-to-date studio in Europe, yet it was too big for a single producer and by the time it was fully operational, the investment boom in the film industry, caused by the success of Henry VIII, had given way to a slump. Korda was forced to add cheaper features to his production schedules and to accept independent producers as tenants to fill Denham's empty stages. Korda found himself losing control of Denham to the financiers (eventually to J.Arthur Rank). He was finally forced to become a tenant producer in the studio he had built just a few years before.

        Having gone to Hollywood in 1940 to supervise the completion of The Thief of Baghdad, Korda stayed there to direct That Hamilton Woman! in which Nelson's efforts against the French became an open metaphor for Britain's current war with Germany. This film earned him a subpoena from isolationist American senators who charged him with making the American branch of his production company a centre for Pro-British propaganda. Although criticized by many in Britain for having 'deserted' to Hollywood, Korda did in fact make several trans-atlantic crossings during the war and it now seems clear that he was acting as a courier for Winston Churchill. In 1942 he was knighted by King George VI, the first film personality to be so honoured.

        In the summer of 1943, Sir Alexander Korda returned to London and spent two frustrating years trying to set up the merged MGM-British/London Film Productions company from which he then resigned in late 1945 having completed only one film, Perfect Strangers (1945). Throughout 1946 he was busy resurrecting London Films as a separate company. Korda, tired of directing, was now the executive producer - an administrator and businessman. After 1947, his name ceased to appear on the credits, and as the name disappeared so did the old Korda style. His major triumph during his last years was in drawing a large number of independent British Film-makers to his company and allowing them freedom to work without interference. Directors like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Asquith, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat and Laurence Olivier made some of their best films under the aegis of Korda's umbrella organisation.

        To obtain adequate distribution for these films, Korda gained control of British Lion in 1946 and rebuilt and refitted Shepperton Studios which became London Film's Production base. During the 1948 financial crisis in the film industry, Korda's British Lion secured the first government loan to the film business through the newly created National Film Finance Corporation. By 1954 the NFFC loan amounting to $3million, had still not been repaid, and with the appointment of an official receiver for British Lion, the second Korda film empire collapsed. Even after this debacle, Korda was able to form new financial alliances which allowed him to continue producing film until his death in 1956.

        Korda was almost as famous for the films he did not make as the ones he did - indeed, he received the honour of having an entire television documentary devoted to footage from a film I Claudius (directed by Josef von Sternberg), which was abandoned after a month's shooting. He was more successful as a producer than as a director and his reputation for extravagance now seems deserved. Yet he demonstrated to the world 'that in spectacle and lavishness of production the British industry could legitimately hope to match the best that America could produce'.

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        Trivia has been sourced from the brilliant book on Korda, Korda: The Definitive Biography. Available at (direct link).

        [] On 3 April 1939 a preview of The Four Feathers was held at the Majestic Cinema in Wembley. As a result of comments from it he cut about 10 minutes from the film. In spite of having a general release in Britain that coincided with the closure of cinemas for a fortnight at the beginning of the war, it would become one of his most successful films with box-office receipts of over £300,000. []

        [] Korda died in the early hours of 23rd January 1956 of a massive heart attack. London Film productions was liquidated on his death. []

        [] A non-denominational funeral service was held at Golders Green Crematorium on the 27th January for close friends and family. A reporter from the Daily Sketch wandered through the carpet of flowers that lay in the Gardens of Remembrance. The loveliest wreath of all - Christmas roses, carnations, aconite, freesia and anemonoes - was signed: "Happy Memories, Winston and Clementine Churchill"'. []

        [] Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson planned the memorial service four days later held at St. Martin-in-the-Field. Olivier delivered the address. []

        [] His ashes were not buried until 25th February 1959 in Stoke Poges Garden of Remembrance, Buckinghamshire, in a service conducted by a pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church. []

        [] With his then wife, Merle Oberon, he received his knighthood at the Palace on 23rd September 1942. []

        [] He opened his new film studio at Denham, Buckinghamshire in May 1936. It was the biggest and most modern in Europe. Less than three years later, beset by increasing financial troubles, he would be forced to relinquish control. []

        [] Korda arrived in London in 1931 to direct films for Pramount-British, setting up his own company, London Film Productions, in Febrary 1932. []

        [] Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh would get married in the course of the production for his film, That Hamilton Woman. []

        [] 1938 was the year romance blossomed between Merle and Alexander Korda. Several times he had obtained loans from London Films of about £3,000 each. One of these loans was made ust about the time he presented Merle with a piece of jewellery estimated to cost the same amount. []

        [] Korda and Oberon attended the premiere of The Prvate Life of Don Juan together on 5 September 1934. []

        [] After Wuthering Heights, she returned to Europe via the ship, Normandie and arrived in Le Havre on 6th April 1939 where she was met by Alex. They ten had a brief holiday in the South of France. []

        [] They attended the premiere of The Four Feathers on 17th April 1939 in London. []

        [] At their wedding, Alex presented her with a necklace once worn by Marie Antoinette. []

        [] Korda and Oberon were married in Antibes on 3rd June 1939. []

        [] They found a large house in Denham which was later owned by Sir John Mills. Alex persuaded his brothers and their families to move into the house too. It was a shock for Merle who went to bed early, did not smoke and had a small appetite to adjust to Alex's insomniac life-style with its heavy dependence on rich foods and cigars. []

        Alexander Korda The Definitive Biography Hardback Book

        [] Alexander Korda The Definitive Biography Hardback Book Extensively Scanned []


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