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.