(First published on We Love Budapest, 17 December 2014)
Film and entertainment
Famous Hungarian actors include Tony Curtis a film actor most popular in the 50s and 60s; Rachel Weisz an Academy Award winning actress; and world-famous Hollywood star Drew Barrymore who has Hungarian heritage on her mother's side. Actor Adrien Brody is also of Hungarian descent on his mother's side, and interestingly he recently played Harry Houdini in a mini-series about the master illusionist. Houdini himself had Hungarian origins and was actually born in Budapest. Other Hungarian actors include Peter Falk best known for his role in the Columbo TV series; actor Mickey Hargitay who was born in Budapest and was also crowned Mr Universe in 1955; Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn; Béla Lugosi famous for his role as Count Dracula in the original 1931 film; and Mariska Hargitay most famous for her role as Detective Olivia Benson in Law and Order: SVU. The list just goes on and on but we can't not mention Joaquin Phoenix who had some Hungarian ancestry on his mother's side, and Jerry Seinfeld who had Hungarian heritage on his father's side. We also can't forget Zsa Zsa Gabor either who was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936 before moving to the US where she was an actress and socialite. She married 9 times (!!) including once to Conrad Hilton. We must also mention Johnny Weissmüller who was a champion swimmer in the 1920s who won 5 Olympic gold medals, but was also a famous actor playing the role of Tarzan in 12 different Tarzan films in the 30s and 40s.
But Hungarians have also been successful behind-the-scenes, especially in Hollywood. Famous Hungarians include film producer Andy Vajna, producer and director Sir Alexander Korda and his brother Zoltán Korda, director George Cukor, film mogul and founder of Paramount Pictures Adolph Zukor, and film executive and founder of Fox Film Corporation, William Fox. Although William Fox sold this business to settle a debt, his name lives on in the form of Fox News and 20th Century Fox.
Of course world-famous composers Kodály, Liszt, Bartók, Lehár and Erkel are widely known to be Hungarian, but did you know that there are Hungarians across many other genres? For example, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is Hungarian; Paul Simon a Grammy Award winning guitarist has Hungarian parents; Alanis Morissette has a Hungarian mum; rocker-brothers Mark Knopfler and David Knofler of Dire Straits have a Hungarian dad; and punk-rocker, Zoli Téglás, of the bands Pennywise and Ignite is also a proud Hungarian. Of course behind the iconic facepaint Gene Simmons from KISS is also Hungarian.
Famous in the world of creative arts, Hungarians include the photographers Robert Capa, André Kertész, Lucien Hervé, Brassaï, Martin Munkácsi and Moholy-Nagy László. Also Hungarian are artists Victor Vasarely and Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry. In the fashion world Calvin Klein has Hungarian parents, as does the founder of the eponymous cosmetics giant Estée Lauder. In ceramics, Miklós Zsolnay founded the world-famous Zsolnay factory in the 1850s. Modernist, architect and furniture designer Breuer Marcell also has Hungarian roots.
Former world number 1 tennis player Monica Seles is also Hungarian (although she played for Yugoslavia and the United States) and she speaks Hungarian too! Formula 1 driver for Jordan and Minardi, Zsolt Baumgartner, is also Hungarian and was Hungary's first F1 driver. World-famous Hungarian football player Ferenc Puskás is considered one of the best footballers of all time. Meanwhile, famous soccer commentator in Australia, Les Murray, is also Hungarian. On another note one of the world's most successful Thoroughbred racehorses is also Hungarian: Kincsem.
Business and politics
Governor of New York from 1995 to 2006, George Pataki, has Hungarian origins on his father's side and can also speak a little Hungarian. Newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, whose name is most famous for the Pulitzer prizes was also Hungarian andborn in Hungary. The prizes were established in 1917 by money he bequeathed to Columbia University. Charles Simonyi is a well-known computer software executive who we also wrote about as the famous Hungarian inventor behind Microsoft programs Word and Excel. Business magnate, investor and philanthropist George Soros is of course Hungarian and gave a huge higher education endowment to the Central European University right here in Budapest. Hungarian-born Andrew Grove is a pioneer in the semiconductor industry and former CEO of Intel. And it might surprise many that even a French President has been Hungarian! Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy has Hungarian ancestry on his father's side.