HELTAI, JENŐ (originally Herzl ; 1871–1957), Hungarian poet, playwright, and novelist. A cousin of Theodor *Herzl, Heltai studied law in his native Budapest but became a journalist. Between 1914 and 1918 he was the director of a Budapest theater and from 1916 was chairman of the Association of Hungarian Playwrights. A leading figure on the Hungarian literary scene during the first half of the 20th century, Heltai (who converted to Christianity) published his first verse anthology Modern dalok ("Modern Poems") in 1892. His themes were taken from urban life – an innovation in Hungarian poetry, which until then had been a rustic, folk type – and his poetry is a synthesis of the French chanson and Hungarian folk poetry. Heltai's plays include the comedy A néma levente (1936; English adaptation by Humbert *Wolfe, The Silent Knight, 1937) and Egy fillér ("One Penny," 1940), based on the life of Ferenc *Molnár. Heltai voiced his criticism of contemporary Hungarian society in a number of humorous plays and short stories. Several of his works, including the novel Csárdás, have been translated into English, Hebrew, and other languages.
Magyar Irodalmi Lexikon, i (1963).