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Alexander Korda (1893–1956)

Author of That Hamilton Woman (1941 film)

Includes the names: Alexander Korda, Alexandre Korda, Sir Alexander Korda

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Alexander Korda was born Sandor Kellner on a settlement near Turkeve in what is now Hungary, the eldest of three sons in a family of assimilated Jews. All three brothers eventually worked in the film industry. He was a voracious reader from a young age, and acquired a near-photographic memory. He mastered numerous languages, and was known as a brilliant conversationalist. His father died when Alexander was 13, and soon after he went to Budapest, where he worked for a daily newspaper. At this time, he adopted the name "Korda," and became a full-time reporter at age 16. In 1911 he went to Paris seeking a career in the film industry. He did odd jobs in the Pathé studio, the most advanced film factory in the world at that. He returned to Hungary and started the film magazines Pesti Mozi and Mozihet, which led to invitations to write screenplays. At the outbreak of World War I, Korda was excused from military service in the Austrian Army because of his poor eyesight, and during this time co-directed three films. Korda established a film company named Corvin Film, building it into one of the largest in Hungary, but left the country in the terror and chaos that followed the end of the war. He went to Vienna and Berlin to make films with his first wife, actress Maria Corda, that led to an invitation from Hollywood. In the USA, he directed films at First National and Fox and brought in his brothers Zoltan and Vincent to work with him. Korda was unhappy with the lackluster reception of his films and returned to Europe determined to become his own studo boss. In the UK, he organized London Film Productions, and risked everything on The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), which became a worldwide blockbuster. On the strength of this success, Korda landed an American distribution deal with United Artists, becoming an independent producer. He built the Denham film studio on a 165-acre estate outside London and established his own roster of contract actors including Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon (who became his second wife in 1939), Robert Donat, and Vivien Leigh. The outbreak of World War II sent Korda back to the USA for an extended stay. He produced and directed That Hamilton Woman (1941). The following year, he was knighted for his contributions to the war effort, the first film director to be so honored. He merged his company with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and returned to the UK in 1943 as the new production chief of MGM-London films. He bought a controlling interest in British Lion Films, which produced such films as The Third Man (1949). He continued to produce movies until his death at age 62.
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