My dear fellow Flynn fans,
here is all the Austrian National Library has to offer about director deluxe Michael Curtiz in his pre Hollywood days.
He was born Michaly Mano Kertesz Kaminer in Budapest on the 24th of december in 1888.
He came from an upper middle class jewish family. His mother Aranka Vatz was an opera singer and his father Ignaz Kaminer an architect. He had two brothers, Gabriel and David. He was educated at the Royal Academy of Theatre and Art and attended the Markoszy University.
He started out as a child singer in 1899 and later became an actor in 1912 in the film “Today and tomorrow”. Then and there he confided to a friend that he intended to switch sides and was more interested in directing than acting.
He allegedly was part of the Hungarian fencing team at the Olympics in Stockholm of the same year.
In 1913 he took part in a monumental film called “Atlantis” made in Denmark, and claimed to be inspired by the very innovative way of film making there ever since.
In 1914/15 he served in the Infantry of the Austro- Hungarian Army along the Russian front and was wounded. He finished the war as newsreel camera man (one of the first of ist kind) making propaganda films.
In 1915 he married Ilona Kovacs Perenyi, a silent film actress also known as Lucy Doraine. Their daughter Katharine was born in 1916. His first marriage lasted until 1923.
In 1917 he became managing director of the newly founded Phoenix film production Company in Hungary.
By 1918 he had finished at least 38 films (some sources say 50), all lost or reduced to fragments.
When Bela Kun established the first communist regime in Hungary in March of the same year, Kertesz was busy filming “Liliom”, originally a play of Ferenc Molnar about a trigger temper carnival barker, who after serving time in purgatory for comitting suicide gets a second chance to do good on his daughter Julie. The 1945 broadway show “Carousel” is based on this story. It is the one and only of his 165 films Kertesz couldn´t finish. He fled the country with his family in turbulent times after Bela Kun was overthrown after a 120 day reign. Other prominent emigrants were Sandor (later: Alexander) Korda and Bela Lugosi.
During that period he is said to have made a film titled “Odette” in Sweden starring a 14 year old Greta Grabo.
From 1919 on Sascha Film Productions owner Count Alexander Kolowrat employed Kertesz in Vienna. Until 1926 timeless classics like “Sodom und Gomorrha” and “Die Sklavenkönigin” were made there with huge budgets and produced standard setting innovations. The film known in the US as “The Moon of Israel” went head to head with Cecil B. De Mille`s “Ten Commandments” covering the exact topic of the exodus of the Israelits. Not to be outdone Kertesz contrived new ways for the scene of the parting of the Red Sea in order to match the superior Hollywood effects machinery. It was this pioneer spirit and the capability to direct up to 5000 extras that landed him a 28 year long lasting job with Warner Bros.
He made 3 films in Berlin with Count Kolowrat`s diva darling of the day Lili Damita (see EF blog: “The thrill of being Tiger Lil`”), before she became Mrs. Errol Flynn.
In 1929 he married Helen Lucas, a screen writer and actress also known under the stage name of Bess Meredyth.
In 1931 a certain Helen Lucy Doraine Rietmüller (rather: Reitmüller) can be found on the passengers list of the SS Bremen entering the port of NY. She claimed her residence to be in Hollywood 5680 Hilloak Drive. Despite their seperation Kertesz may have seen for his first wife to come to America.
In 1935 at age 19 his only legitimate child Katharina arrived at Los Angeles following her parents on February 23rd, again via the SS Bremen. Kertesz was a no show at the port probably working on the lot. ”Kitty” becomes a scholar at the New York Art College. Four years later she tried to commit suicide and gives a sense of abbandonement as reason to the press.
But she was not the only Kertesz sibling to be left behind on the old continent. A son called Michael had been born to a bank accountant in 1920. Alimony was paid for him by Warners. His second daughter Sonja was born in 1923 to aspiring actress Miss Dalla Bona from the Sodom & Gomorrah set. In 1925 his second son was born to another actress from the S&G set, Miss Vondrak . Michael II. briefly worked for his dad as gaffer at the studios and is now a painter in Seattle. Last but not least the daughter of actress Jill Gerard was acknowleged by a parental court to be Curtiz`child. She was born in 1956 when Casablanca`s favourite son was a mere 70 years old.
Back to 1935 and the filming of a flick called “The case of the curious bride”. It was there when a scene required of an unknown Australian actor to mime a beautiful corpse covered with a blanket. When the cameras were rolling the silence suddenly was broken by a hearty sneeze from down under the blanket. Whereupon the temperamental dictator-director Curtiz supposedly snapped: “You-no-good-bum-of-a-sum-of-a-bitch, don´t you know, nose of dead man is dead also !?
The rest is Errol Flynn history.