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Vajda, Ernest

VAJDA, Ernest

Writer. Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Ernö Vajda in Romaron, 27 May 1887. Education: Attended the College of the Benedictine Monks, Paps, Hungary, degree in electrochemistry 1904; Peter Pazmany University, Budapest, Ph.D. 1908. Career: secretary to Thalia Theatre Company: first play produced, 1909; editor of A Het, and founder-editor of Kepes Ujsag; editorial writer, Hirlap; several other plays produced in Hungary and New York: later plays include The Crown Prince, 1923, Grounds for Divorce, 1924, The Littlest Angel, 1924, Bottom of the Pile, 1951, and Royal Suite, 1954; 1925–31—contract writer with Paramount: first film as writer The Crown of Lies, 1926; 1929—first of several films for Ernst Lubitsch; 1931–38—worked for MGM, often collaborating with Claudine West; 1942—retired from screenwriting. Died: In Woodland Hills, California, 3 April 1954.

Films as Writer:


The Crown of Lies (Buchowetzki); The Cat's Pajamas (Wellman); You Never Know Women (Wellman)


Service for Ladies (D'Arrast); Serenade (D'Arrast)


A Night of Mystery (Mendes); His Tiger Lady (Henley); Loves of an Actress (Lee); Manhattan Cowboy (McGowan); His Private Life (Tuttle); Manhattan Cocktail (Arzner)


Innocents of Paris (Wallace); The Love Parade (Lubitsch); Marquis Preferred (Tuttle)


Such Men Are Dangerous (Hawks and Burke); Monte Carlo (Lubitsch)


The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch); Tonight or Never (Le-Roy); Son of India (Feyder); The Guardsman (Franklin)


Smilin' Through (Franklin); Payment Deferred (Mendes); Service for Ladies (Reserved for Ladies) (A. Korda); Broken Lullaby (The Man I Killed) (Lubitsch)


Reunion in Vienna (Franklin)


The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); The Merry Widow (Lubitsch)


A Woman Rebels (Sandrich)


Personal Property (Van Dyke); The Great Garrick (Whale)


Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke); Dramatic School (Sinclair)


He Stayed for Breakfast (Hell)


They Dare Not Love (Whale)


By VAJDA: plays—

Rozmarin Neni [Aunt Rose Marie], Budapest, 1909.

Mister Bobby, Budapest, 1912.

A váratlan vendég [The Unexpected Guest], Budapest, 1915.

Szerelem Vására, Budapest, 1920.

Délibáb, Budapest, 1922, as Fata Morgana, New York, 1924.

The Harem, New York, 1924.

By VAJDA: book—

The Monkey Man and the Man Monkey (fiction), Budapest, 1916.

On VAJDA: article—

Kupferberg, Audrey, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series, edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

* * *

Ernest Vajda was one of the hundreds of talented Europeans lured to Hollywood during the 1920s. Vajda had constructed a major career as a playwright in Budapest prior to his coming to America. Although writing popular plays offered a first-rate career, Hollywood dangled its lures in front of many Europeans who were caught up in an era of high inflation and political chaos.

Vajda's career in Hollywood can be divided into two distinct periods. In the first, Vajda made his way through the complicated transition to talkies. At Paramount he became associated with witty comedies starring Adolph Menjou. Although these have not made their way into the pantheon of American movie classics of the late silent era, they did make money for what was then Hollywood's most powerful movie company. Service for Ladies may have been the best of these, in part because it was directed by a first-rate talent, Harry D'Arrast.

There is no question that Vajda's career peaked at Paramount once he commenced his association with the noted director and fellow emigré Ernst Lubitsch. The Berlin-born Lubitsch and Vajda could exchange their ideas for comedies from the continent in German and English. And some of Hollywood's best early sound films came about as a result. Their initial collaboration, The Love Parade, is now considered a classic of the early sound era. Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier represented a new style of comedy actor for movie-goers, and box-office results indicated fans throughout the world loved their films. Before he left for MGM Vajda collaborated with Lubitsch on three more films. None were as good as The Love Parade, but all stood among the better products of that early era of talkies: Monte Carlo, The Smiling Lieutenant, and The Man I Killed.

At this point Ernest Vajda moved to MGM where he remained until 1938. As might be expected, during his first three years there the studio tried to use him to create Lubitsch-like comedies. The results were acceptable at the box office, but will be remembered by few today. Only when Lubitsch was lured to MGM to direct The Merry Widow, again with MacDonald and Chevalier, did a fine movie result.

In the mid-1930s the genre of the European light musical comedy faded, replaced by other forms of comedy. With it Vajda's career also came to a close. MGM dropped him in 1939, and after a few efforts elsewhere, he retired. Vajda helped write many a great film, but only in a genre which lasted from the late 1920s through the mid-1930s.

—Douglas Gomery

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