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Katalin Karády, Hungary’s Femme Fatale Died 30 Years Ago

Fanni Kaszás 2020.02.08.

oActress and singer Katalin Karády is known as the Hungarian femme fatale. First celebrated across the country as an icon, she was later known for saving Jews from deportation during World War II. She left Hungary in 1951 and never returned. Upon receiving a governmental invitation on her 70th birthday to return to Hungary, she only sent a hat, baffling officials. The unique talent died exactly 30 years ago, on February 8, 1990 in New York. 

Karády was born as Katalin Kanczler on December 8, 1910; however, similarly to other celebrated actresses of the era, the date of her birth is still subject to debate. She was raised poor, but due to the help of a charity organization, she was able to spend five years studying abroad in Switzerland and the Netherlands. After returning home, she swiftly attracted attention with both her language skills and her looks.

In the early 1940s, she became one of the most celebrated movie stars in Hungary. She began using the name Katalin Karády at the recommendation of Zoltán Egyed, a theater journalist who helped her at the start of her career. With her sultry looks, unusual voice, and femme fatale persona, she became a celebrated diva and sex symbol of her age, a ‘Hungarian Marlene Dietrich.’

Karády’s anti-German stance was well known and, as a result, she was constantly being attacked by the extremist right-wing press, and during the Second World War, Karády was gradually blacklisted. Her songs were blocked from the Hungarian Radio and her films were no longer played in the cinemas. The Gestapo later arrested and held her captive for three months.

She saved a great number of Jews from deportation: in the winter of 1944, during the Arrow Cross reign of terror, Karády saved a group of about 20 Jewish children from being murdered on the bank of the Danube.

In 1951, she immigrated to Austria. She then relocated to Switzerland, Brussels, and finally to Sao Paulo, Brazil where she opened a millinery. After spending 15 years in South America, she finally chose to start a new life in New York.

She died on February 8, 1990. In 2004, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem recognized Katalin Karády as Righteous Among the Nations for her rescue efforts during the Second World War.

A year ago, the Nemzeti Színház premiered a jazz-story of her life, titled Opium Waltz.

‘Opium Waltz’ Honors Katalin Karády, the Hungarian Femme Fatale

The jazz-story based on the actress’ life by Ferenc Lengyel, starred Szilvia Pataki, who performed Katalin Karády’s songs in Gábor Subicz and the Modern Art Orchestra’s special jazz-infused adaptation. The play consisted of 12 acts with 12 monologues and 13 songs – about success, loyalty, humanity, home, and love in the life of a mysterious woman who experienced a difficult life.