Massey, Ilona (1910–1974)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Massey, Ilona (1910–1974)

Hungarian-born American actress . Name variations: Ilona Hajmassy. Born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 16, 1910 (some sources cite 1912); died in Bethesda, Maryland, on August 20, 1974; married Alan Curtis (an actor), in 1941 (divorced 1942); married Charles Walker (a jeweler); married Donald S. Dawson (an air force general); married one other time; became a U.S. citizen in 1946.

Selected filmography:

Knox aus die lustigen Vagabonden (1935); Der Himmel auf Erden (1935); Rosalie (1937); Balalaika (1939); International Lady (1941); New Wine (1941); Invisible Agent (1942); Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943); Holiday in Mexico (1946); The Gentleman Misbehaves (1946); Northwest Outpost (1947); The Plunderers (1948); Love Happy (1950); Jet Over the Atlantic (1959).

A native of Budapest, Ilona Massey began her career in the music halls of Vienna under her real name, Ilona Hajmassy, probably in the early 1930s. She made two films in Austria, Knox ausdie lustigen Vagabonden and Der Himmel auf Erden, both released in 1935, and was discovered by an overseas scout employed by the American film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She signed a contract and was brought to Hollywood, where she changed her surname to Massey. During this era, MGM was enjoying box-office success with the Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald musicals, but the saccharine on-screen romance of the famous couple was rumored to be equaled by a real-life hostility towards one another, and MGM executives liked to keep a "back-up" star ready in case things disintegrated on the studio lot. In possession of an excellent singing voice and a credible presence in outlandish period costumes, Massey for a time waited in the wings as that back-up star before teaming up with Eddy in the 1937 picture Rosalie. They also made Balalaika, released in 1939, but neither film achieved commercial success, in part because of the public's shock at seeing Eddy crooning love songs to an interloper; some had thought that Eddy and MacDonald were actually married in real life.

Massey starred in some of the international espionage tales that were a staple of the World War II years, including International Lady (1941) and Invisible Agent (1942). In 1943, she made a Frankenstein movie, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., and also appeared on Broadway opposite Arthur Treacher and Milton Berle in Ziegfeld Follies. Massey teamed once more with Nelson Eddy in Northwest Outpost (1947), and made a 1950 film with the Marx Brothers, Love Happy.

After the war, Massey obtained entry visas for some of her family members, and because of what she learned from them and other emigrés became intensely involved in anti-Communist political circles in Southern California. She even testified before a U.S. House Committee on Eastern Europe about the treatment of Hungarians by Soviet forces in the wake of World War II, when the Communist power was an occupying force there. She picketed Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev on his 1959 visit to the U.S., and had her picture in the newspapers at one demonstration next to a sign proclaiming him "The Butcher of Bucharest."

Massey was married four times, the fourth to an American military officer, General Donald Dawson. After making her last film, Jet Over the Atlantic, in 1959, she retired to the Maryland area with her husband and remained active in the Hungarian expatriate community. She died in 1974.

sources:

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1994.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of … ? 2nd series. New York, NY: Crown, 1968.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan