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Alexander Korda

Alexander Korda

Born on Sept. 16, 1893 in Turkeve, Hungary, Korda moved to Budapest in 1906 after the death of his father, and later left school in 1909 to work fulltime as a journalist. Five years later, he founded the film magazine, MOZIHET, before joining Pedagogical Studios to direct films for various schools. In 1917, he bought the Corvin production company and began making films throughout Europe as a director and producer, turning out such silent titles as "Herren Der Meere" (1922), "Das Unbekannte Morgen" (1923) and "Madame Wunscht Keine Kinder" (1924), which was a showcase for his first wife, actress Maria Corda, whom he married in 1919. He moved to Austria after the overthrow of the Bela Kun regime and formed the Corda Film Consortium with Maria, only to move to Berlin in 1923. He soon attracted the attention of Hollywood in 1927 after signing a contract with First National, but soon realized that his wife's talents were in greater demand than his own. He made a number of inconsequential movies for First National like "Private Life of Helen of Troy" (1927), "The Night Watch" (1928) and his first talkie, "The Squall" (1929), before moving over to 20th Century Fox for "The Princess and the Plummer" (1930) and "Women Everywhere" (1930).Korda's lack of success in America - along with his divorce from Maria - prompted a move back across the pond to England, where he not only hit his stride as a director and producer, but also became the guiding force behind British cinema for the next three decades. He established his own company, London Films, in 1932 and within two years he was being hailed as the most important figure in British film. Korda directed and produced his first hit, the lavish costume drama, "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1932), which starred Charles Laughton in his Academy Award-winning performance as Henry. The film also became the first British production to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Korda stepped into a strict producer's role for successes like "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1934) and "The Ghost Goes West" (1935), before directing Laughton in "Rembrandt" (1936), a stark look at the 17th century Dutch artist that has long stood as one of the all-time classic biopics. As a producer, he found further acclaim with the adaptation of the H.G. Wells essay, "Things to Come" (1936), "Knight Without Armour" (1937), starring Marlene Dietrich, and the lavish Technicolor epic "Drums" (1938), directed by his brother, Zoltan Korda.In the late 1930s, Korda's patriotic feelings for his adopted country expressed themselves in filmed warnings of imminent threats from abroad, which was brilliant expressed in the lavish epic, "The Four Feathers" (1939). Released before the outbreak of war in Europe, the film was one of the last flag-waving British Empire films before the Nazis ran rampant across the continent. The war actually forced Korda back to Hollywood in order for him to complete "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940), an extraordinary children's fantasy adventure that had it all - lavish production values, exemplary performances, top-notch storytelling - and served as inspiration for generations of similar films. During the war, Korda maintained his British patriotism by personally financing a propaganda film about the Royal Air Force and allegedly making his North American offices available to members of Britain's intelligence organizations. He stuck around Hollywood for a couple of more years to direct the historical drama, "That Hamilton Woman" (1941), starring Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh, and producing the live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" (1942), directed by brother Zoltan. But his most significant Hollywood production was undoubtedly "To Be or Not to Be" (1942), a biting Nazi satire that was comedienne Carole Lombard's final film appearance before her tragic death in a plane crash that same year.In 1942, Korda returned to England and became head of the newly-formed alliance between London Films and MGM-British, only to resign just a few years later. He returned to directing with "Vacation from Marriage" (1945), with Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr, and an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's sophisticated satire, "An Ideal Husband" (1947), before stepping back exclusively to producing duties for "Anna Karenina" (1948), starring Vivian Leigh in the titular role. Korda had his greatest critical acclaim in his later years with the Cold War espionage classic "The Third Man" (1949), starring Joseph Cotten as a third-rate pulp writer newly arrived in post-war Vienna, who goes in search of the enigmatic and presumably dead Harry Lime (Orson Welles). The film won a BAFTA for Best British Film. After buying a controlling share of British Lion Films, he produced a number of classics that included "Cry, the Beloved Country" (1952), "The Sound Barrier" (1952), "The Heart of the Matter" (1954), and "Summertime" (1955), starring Katherine Hepburn and directed by David Lean. He had one of his final great successes with "Richard III" (1955), which starred Laurence Olivier as the malicious Richard, who takes out those obstructing his path to the throne, only to suffer a tragic fall when he finally becomes king. On Jan. 23, 1956, Korda suffered a fatal heart attack in London at the age of 61. He died as the first producer to ever be knighted and left behind the considerable legacy of putting British cinema on the international map.By Shawn Dwyer
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