A Curtiz Goulash is Made of Empty Horses

20 Apr


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.


— shangheinz


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  1. Tim

    April 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Wundervoll, shangheinz. Wundervoll!!

    What a talented, arrogant & prolific (empty) horse’s ass Kurtiz was! And at such a young age! Are you sure he didn’t put a move on Miss Lili!?

    What’s your feeling about his Olympic fencing claim? Is there any credible evidence to support his claim on that? No doubt he had immense talent as a director, but as an Olympic fencer, too? He seems to be guilding the Lili with that one.

    Warner & Curtiz vs. Flynn. An epic war, which I believe. Flynn won. (as I don’t see many Jack Warner or Michael Curtiz fan sites!!)


    • shangheinz

      April 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm


      Dear Shiver-me-Tim,

      While I cannot confirm a Lili Damita- Michael Curtiz- Marlene Dietrich love triangle, I cannot rule out an affair between Tiger Lil` and Macho Curt either. He was a dandy and a lady`s man with that typical temperament attributed to Hungarian paprika. Having fought in WWI he was no slouch when it came to personal confrontations (see fierce look on the foto). That made him a man in high demand in film as well as in real life.
      Concerning his Olympic record, I think stage fencing could well have been on his timetable at the Royal Academy of Theater and Art. Maybe he excelled at it and became a representative of his homecountry at this sport OR another Michaly Kertesz (a rather common name!) was mistaken for this famous bearer of the same name.


    April 20, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    So no mention of a marriage to Lili Damita? Unfortunately because WikiPedia and the IMDB websites and a few books have repeated this misinformation it is being accepted as fact!–A. R.

    • shangheinz

      April 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      Hi A.R,

      I actually was looking for evidence of their marriage at the civil registry office in Vienna. Very quickly I came across facts that made a legal relationship rather improbable.
      Sascha Film had moved their film productions to Berlin. Three films with Damita were made in rapid sucession. At that pace there was hardly any time for a wedding planing, let alone going back to Budapest or Vienna for a family reunion. Then there was Curtiz` jewish family background. Moreover he had had a divorce only recently.
      On the other hand Lili`s liaisons were talk of town and nowhere a romantic entanglement with her director was mentioned. In a newspaper article from 1929 her career was summed up and no marriage was quoted. I then focused on Curtiz biografies (3 sources) and again…nada! One would think that if they were devoted to one another at some point, that Curtiz would have put a word in for her at Warners. Instead they never worked on a film together ever again.


  3. Tim

    April 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Well, at least he WAS an Olympic Level Director, shanghai … and a Master Malapropist!

    Plus, as he said: “I make it go so fast nobody notices.” (Except us here on the EFB, and probably a few of his mistresses!)