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Hungarian Roots: George Pal, The Master Of Puppets And Special Oscar Awarded Hungarian-Born Animator And Film Producer

Robert Velkey 2016.10.13.

In our weekly series, we write about celebrities – artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and scientists – who have some Hungarian origin, yet only few would consider them as “par excellence Hungarians”. In many cases even the persons concerned know/knew only very little about their Hungarian roots, while others are/were proud of their “Magyar” background despite lacking the ability to speak the language of their parents or grandparents. Our thirty-third target is: 

George Pal, a Hungarian born animator owner of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, father of Puppetoons and the creator of the “Pal-methods”: stop motion and replacement animation.

George Pal, was born as György Pál Marczincsak on the 1st of February 1908 in the town of Cegléd in Austro-Hungary. He studied in Budapest and graduated at the Academy of Arts with a degree in Architecture when he was 20 years old in 1928. Until he married Elisabeth “Zsoka” Grandjean he worked for the Hunnia Film of Budapest where Mr. Pal drew lobby posters and created embellished titles for silent movies. He also quickly learned the craft of motion picture cartooning.


At the age of 23 after they got married with her wife they moved to Berlin, Germany. From 1931-1932, Pal worked at UFA Studios in Berlin where he became head of the cartoon department. Then, he set up his own film studio in the German capital. His credentials attracted orders from companies for animated advertising. Instead of the cartoon approach, he developed his own take on making inanimate objects move, even dance, using the still evolving art of stop-motion photography. Advertisements featuring, for instance, Overstolz cigarettes, outfitted with faces, arms, and legs, were shown on theater screens strutting and singing as if drawn by a cartoonist. These “puppets” without strings would later evolve into animated characters made of wood who would have names and star in their own films.

When the Nazi regime installed itself in Germany, George and Zsoka left Berlin and moved to Prague for a while. They lived in the Czech capital until they received an invitation from Sies Neuman, head of Philips Radio’s advertising, to move to Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands, and work there. During the 1930s George and Zsoka applied for an American emigration visa, only to be told each time that the small Hungarian quota was filled. Then, in 1939, the American consulate granted a visa for them and their young son to leave for New York.


In December of that year, aged 32, he emigrated from Europe to the United States. At this time, his friend Walter Lantz helped him obtain American citizenship. The president of Paramount Pictures’ New York office, saw one of Pal’s Puppetoon films at a party. He was so impressed by it that he contacted Pal and offered him a contract to make them for Paramount, either in New York or at their animation studio in Florida. From 1941 to 1947, he created more than 40 Puppetoon films, and received a special Academy Award in 1943. His studio staffers included Willis H. O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Wah Chang, and Gene Warren. He was also close friends with animation producer, Walter Lantz, as well as film pioneer, Walt Disney.

The master of puppets received seven Academy Award nominations for the films, and in 1944 he was presented with a special Oscar for his work on the series.


In 1980, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences founded the “George Pal Lecture on Fantasy in Film” series in his memory. If George Pal had not lived – if he had not done the things he did – if he had not shown us his grand visions of the universe, a great many wonderful things would never have happened.


Previously on Hungarian Roots:

Tim Howard, goalkeeper for English club Everton and US national team

Rachel Weisz, English film and theatre actress and former fashion model

Alanis Morissette, Canadian alternative rock singer-songwriter and actress

Gene Simmons, musician, songwriter, guitarist and co-lead singer of rock band KISS

Béla Lugosi, Hungarian-American actor, famous for portraying Count Dracula in 1931

Kesha, US singer, songwriter and rapper

Louis C. K., world-famous US comedian

Adrien Brody, Oscar-winning American actor

Joaquin Phoenix, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning US actor

Don Shula, Legendary American football coach

Drew Barrymore, US actress, model and producer

Paul Simon, American songwriter, singer and guitarist

Uri Geller, Israeli illusionist and self-proclaimed “psychic”

Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, American actress

Hungarian Roots: Andy Vajna, Hungarian-American Film Producer Of The “Terminator” Series

Joe Eszterhas, Top Hollywood Screenwriter

Edward Teller, “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb”

Harry Houdini, Hungarian-Americal magician, illusionist, escapologist and stunt performer

Peter Falk, world-famous American actor known as lieutenant Culumbo

William Fox, the man who forgot to sleep and founded 20th Century Fox

Tommy Ramone, drummer of cultic punk rock band “The Ramones’

George Pataki, former three-term governor of New York

Michael “Flea” Balzary, founding member and bassist of rock band Red Hot Chilli Peppers

The greatest war photographer in the world, Robert Capa

Victor Vasarely, Hungarian-French painter known as the grandfather of the “op-art” movement

Monica Seles, former world-class tennis player

Mark Knopfler, frontman of rock band dire straits

Nimród E. Antal, film director, screenwriter and actor from LA

Joseph Pulitzer, the father of the world famous award

Nicholas Sarkozy France 23rd President from 2007-2012

American Fashion King, Calvin Klein

Michael Kovats de Fabriczy the founding father of the U.S. Cavalry

Charles Simonyi, the inventor of Microsoft Excel and Word and the second Hungarian who traveled in the space


via: wikipedia.hu; cartoonbrew.com; imdb.com; britannica.co

photos: cartoonbrew.com; colemanzone.com; awn.com; britannica.co