Manuscript Collection MS COLL 00693 - Rekai donation of Ferenc Molnar and Lili Darvas Papers

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Rekai donation of Ferenc Molnar and Lili Darvas Papers


  • 1947-1957 (Creation)

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Manuscript Collection

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1 box (12.5 centimetres)

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Ferenc Molnar was an Hungarian-American playwright, director, novelist, short-story writer, and journalist. Molnár wrote in all about 42 plays. Much of his life Molnár spent away from his native country; he died in New York. Molnár's novel, The Paul Street Boys (1907), is among the most popular books in Hungary.

Ferenc Molnár was born Ferenc Neumann in Budapest into a well-to-do Jewish family. His father, Mor Neumann, was a famous physician. At the age of eighteen, Molnár began a career in journalism and then studied law in Budapest and Geneva. He joined the editorial staff of the Budapest newspaper Budapesti napló and changed his German name, to be known as a Hungarian writer, which he was. In 1906 he married the journalist and painter Margit Vészi; they divorced in 1910. She was the daughter of Jósef Vészi, the editor-in-chief of Pester Lloyd. Like Molnár, she came from a Jewish family. Later in life Molnár converted to Christianity.

At the age of twenty-two, after writing a number of short stories, Molnár published his first novel, Az éhes város (The Hungry City). Molnár's early plays were comedies, such as A doktor úr (1902) and Józsi (pub. 1904). In 1907 he gained fame as a novelist with A Pál utcai fiúk (The Paul Street Boys), a story about two rival boy's gangs on the streets of Budapest.
Az ördög (1907, The Devil), taking its central idea from Faust and dealing with marital infidelity, was staged in New York a year after its Hungarian premiere. This comedy established Molnár's fame as one of the leading dramatists of his day. Molnár wrote the play for Irén Varsányi, who was at that time Hungary's leading actress. Her jealous husband, Illés Szécsi, a wealthy manufacturer, challenged him to the duel, but it was eventually Molnár who spent two weeks in jail.

Liliom, perhaps Molnár's most enduring achievement, failed first but it soon soon gained international success. The première in December 1909 at Budapest left critics a bit bewildered. The hero is killed in the fifth scene but he is back on earth in the seventh. After four screen adaptations the play becomeseventually familiar as the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel (1944). Earlier also the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) had thought of setting it to music. Influenced by Oscar Wilde, Pirandello, and George Bernard Shaw, but with his own touch of wit and grace, Molnár fused in Liliom naturalistic scenes with mystical symbolism.

During World War I Molnár served for a year as a war correspondent. His reports were published in book form in 1916 under the title Egy haditudósító naplója (The Diary of a War Correspondent). Some of these writings also appeared in the New York Times, although Hungary belonged to the enemies of the Allies.

Between 1908 and 1940, sixteen of Molnár's plays were produced on Broadway. When he visited the United States with his wife in the 1920s, he was honored with a dinner dance, at which guests included Gershwins and Vanderbilts. Until 1925, he resided in Hungary, and then moved to Germany. In Vienna he stayed in a comfortable hotel for long periods, in Budapest he was seen often at the Café Central on Károlyi Mihály street.

Molnár's most interesting plays from this decade include Játék a kastélyban (1926, The Play's the Thing), which followed a Pirandellian theme of reality and illusion through a discussion of how a play should be written. A hattyú (1921, The Swan), a comedy about a girl being groomed to marry a prince, was filmed in 1956 with Grace Kelly. In Olympia (1928) Molnár assailed the cruelty of aristocracy toward the common man. The Good Fairy (1930), had a respectable run on Broadway. Its film version from 1935, directed by William Wyler, and starring Margaret Sullivan and Herbert Marshall, was written by Preston Sturges, who invented a new beginning and damped down observations on marital infidelity. The film was a smash hit. It was remade in 1947 as I'll be Yours.

In 1938, after the Anschluss, Molnár fled to the United States (according to some sources 1936) to escape Nazi persecution. In his new home country, he was celebrated for his masterly theatrical technique and the sparkling dialogue of his characters, which at the same time expressed a sense of humanity and decency. Underpaid workers and vagrants Molnár portrayed with great sympathy.

Molnár held court in his suite at the New York Plaza Hotel, and continued writing, but he did not speak much English and he became increasingly isolated. In Hungary his plays were not performed during the Communist period. Molnár died on April 2, in 1952. Because of a superstitious fear that in preparing a will he would shorten his life, Molnár died intestate. His second wife was the the actress-singer Sári Fedák (1879-1955), who became a Nazi. They divorced in 1925 and Molnár then married the actress Lili Darvas (1902-1974); she began a successful television career in the 1950s. After the war, Sári Fedák was sentenced to prison for a short period by the "People's Court". In the Communist Hungary Molnár's works were viewed with suspicion long after his death. Even in the 1980s Attila Tamás wrote in A History of Hungarian Literature (1983): "He had great talents as a dramatist, but he lacked the appreciation of the noble human values necessary for true greatness."

P.G. Wodehouse adapted Game of Hearts from a text by Molnár, and also The Play's the Thing. Tom Stoppard adapted a Molnár Rough Crossing in 1985, and The Guardsman was made into a radio drama in 1947 by Arthur Miller. In addition, a number of Molnár's plays and novels were turned into Hollywood films, among them No Greater Glory (1934), Liliom, filmed several times, and The Swan, first directed byDimitri Buchowetzki in 1925, remade in 1930, and then again in 1956 by Charles Vidor, starring Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness.
Billy Wilder's satirical One, Two, Three, about Coca-Cola, a raging capitalist, and Communism was based on Molnár's play Egy, kettő, három (1929). Wilder shot the film mostly in Germany.

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Biographical history

International actor Lili Darvas won acclaim in her adopted country, the United States, on stage, in films, and on television. Born in Budapest on April 10, 1902, to Alexander and Berta (Freiberger) Darvas, both of whom were Jewish, she was educated at the Budapest Lyceum. She made her professional debut at age twenty, playing Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Magyar Szinhas in Budapest. Married to one of Hungary’s outstanding playwrights, Ferenc Molnar, Darvas appeared in a range of modern and classical works and became one of Budapest’s leading actors. Molnar, inspired by her talent, created a series of sparkling plays for her, including Riviera, Olympia, and The Girl from Trieste. In 1926, Darvas joined the acting troupe of the German impresario Max Reinhardt, even though she had learned to speak German only two years earlier, by reciting classical German verse plays for hours at a time.

She performed with Reinhardt’s company in Vienna and Berlin and at the Salzburg Festival until 1938. Her roles included Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Lady Milford in Kabale und Liebe, Vivie in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, and Sadie Thompson in Rain. When Reinhardt’s company traveled to New York in 1927, Darvas appeared as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Faith in Jedermann, Lucille in Danton’s Tod, and Beatrice in The Servant of Two Masters. Toward the end of her prewar European career, she played the title role in the film Marie Baskirchev (1936). Her next significant movie role would be in the MGM all-star musical Meet Me in Las Vegas in 1956.

In 1938, she left Europe, immigrating to the United States, where she became a citizen in 1944.

In 1944, she made her Broadway debut as Peter Gray, the women’s page editor of the Herald Tribune, in the play Soldier’s Wife. The following season, she played Gertrude in Maurice Evans’s famous “G. I.” production of Hamlet. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Darvas worked steadily on the New York stage. She returned to Budapest to perform in a revival of Olympia in 1965 and made the film Love there five years later. Her last major Broadway stage role was that of Madame Neilsen in Les Blancs in 1970.

In 1951, she began a television career that would lead to roles in over a hundred programs. Her most significant television performance was in the title role of the National Educational Television Opera Theatre production of Rachel La Cabana in 1973.

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Gift of Julie Rekai Rickerd and Judyth Rekai, 2013

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Includes correspondence and other print material related to Hungarian-American playwright and novelist Ferenc Molnar (1878-1952) and his legal wife, the actress Lili Darvas (1902-1974), with some letters addressed to Kati Rekai (1921-2010). Rekai’s aunt, Wanda Bartha, was Molnar’s private secretary, literary advisor and soul mate who died prematurely at the age of 38, and was also best friends with Darvas. Most material is in Hungarian. Molnar wrote Companion in Exile (1950) to honour the memory of his life with Wanda Bartha. Also includes a variety of material related to Kati Rekai, including a typescript account by Dr. John Rekai of the Rekai family’s experience emigrating to Canada in 1950, print items and some correspondence.

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  • English

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Most of the material is in Hungarian.

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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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