Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

Book Cover


Sir Alexander Korda, Hungarian-born filmmaker who flourished as a producer in the United States and England.

Alexander Korda: Biography

Independent Profile

by J. A. Aberdeen

Alexander Korda was born Sandor Kellner September 16, 1893 on a settlement on the outskirts of Turkeve on the Great Hungarian Plain. He was the oldest of three sons in a family of assimilated Jews. As a young boy, Sandor's sight was damaged by the improper treatment of an eye condition. Throughout his life he always wore thick glasses. Despite this detriment, he was a voracious reader, and acquired a near-photographic memory. Throughout his life he also mastered about a half-dozen languages, and was known to be a brilliant (some say "hypnotic") conversationalist.

Alexander Korda.

Age age thirteen Sandor suffered the death of his father, and shortly thereafter Sandor left the capital Budapest. There he became a short story writer for a daily newspaper. Here he adopted the pseudonym "Korda," and became a full-time reporter at age sixteen. Sandor Korda also contributed crime stories and wrote reviews, and became the paper's night editor.

In 1911 he out to start a career in films and spent several months in Paris, doing odd jobs in the Pathé studio -- at the time, the most advanced film factory in the world. He returned to Hungary and joined a film company in Budapest.

Though the Hungarian film industry was in its infancy, the country would produce a surprisingly rich heritage of film. Influential filmmakers like Alexander Korda, Michael Curtiz, and George Cukor were Hungarian. The country also boasted the world's first film journal. And at this period, Korda became one of the most important figures in the formative years of Hungary's film community.

Maria Corda - vintage photo from Vienna circa 1919. (Aberdeen collection). 

To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

Korda located financing, and built his own studio called Corvin in a suburb of Budapest where the Mafilm Studios reside today. Though Korda served as director, he also served as executive producer by overseeing all production activity at his impressive company. In 1919, he assisted the Communist government (though Korda was not a member of the Communist party) when it made Hungary the first nationalized film industry in the world. When the Communist government fell and was replaced by the right-wing "White Terror" regime, Korda was briefly imprisoned. In November 1919, he left Hungary with his actress wife Maria. He would never again return to his homeland.

Now calling himself Alexander Korda, rather than Sandor, he journeyed to Vienna to join the Sascha Film Company. Desperately seeking his independence, he moved to Berlin to form his own company Korda-Film, directing film vehicles for his wife Maria Corda (who spelled her last name differently to differentiate from her husband). His films were well-received, and led to an offer from the First National studios in Hollywood for both Kordas to come to America.

In Los Angeles had directed at First National and Fox. The films were received half-heartedly by the public, and Korda was dissatisfied with the results. He petitioned Fox studios to release him from his contract, in 1930 -- thus ending his career as a Hollywood director.

Disillusioned, he returned to Europe, determined not to return to Hollywood, except as his own producer and studio boss. After making several important films in Paris and Germany, he moved to England in 1931. At the time the English film industry was in a depressed state, dominated by American films. Most English production companies made what were called "quota quickies." These films were often cheaply made movies used solely to fill screens at a time when the British government mandated that British theaters must show a certain percentage of British-mad films.

Merle Oberon, the year before she married Korda.

Korda felt that the only way to bring the English film industry to prominence would be by concentrating on quality films (a mantra shared in common with the future SIMPP founders in America). Alexander Korda organized London Film Productions, and risked everything on a deceptively-lavish movie The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) starring Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. The film became a worldwide blockbuster.

Following the success of this film, Korda was hailed as the savior of the British film industry. On the strength of this film, he was also able to land an American distribution deal with United Artists, where he became the peer of other independent producers like himself. In 1935, he was upgraded to full-fledged partner and stockholder alongside Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Sam Goldwyn. Korda constructed the stately Denham film studio on a 165-acre estate outside London. He also established his own roster of contract actors including Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon (who became the second Mrs. Korda in 1939), Wendy Barrie, Robert Donat, Maurice Evans, and Vivien Leigh.

Korda manufactuered custom jewelry for some of his films, given as gifts to employees and friends. The above example is from The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Some of his more ambitious films included Rembrandt (1936), which he also directed; Things to Come (1936) a $1.5 million adaptation of the H. G. Welles book; and The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

While Britain was war-torn in the early 1940s, Korda took up an extended residence in the United States. During this time he co-founded SIMPP.

Only a couple years later Alexander Korda became the first of the founding members to leave the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers. In March 1943, Korda entered into a merger between his independent company London Film Productions and MGM-British. Korda would become the new executive producer of the English division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He resigned from SIMPP, and returned to England. However, his dissatisfaction with the deal brought about his resignation in 1946.

He set about to revive London Film Productions, but suffered from setback caused by his poor health. He died in January 1956, and London Films folded soon thereafter.


SIMPP archiveSIMPP historyHollywood antitrust case | the authorsite map
the publisherpress room | contact usorder information

Copyright © 2005 Cobblestone Entertainment.
All rights reserved.