Pascal c. 1938
|Died||6 July 1954 (aged 60)|
New York City, New York, United States
Caesar and Cleopatra
|Spouse(s)||Valerie Pascal [born: Hídvéghy Valéria, Hungarian]|
A follower of Meher Baba, Pascal was the first film producer to successfully bring the plays of George Bernard Shaw to the screen. His most successful production was Pygmalion, for which Pascal received an Academy Award nomination as its producer. Later adaptations of Shaw plays included Major Barbara (1941) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).
Pascal was born Gábor Lehel on June 4, 1894 in Arad, Transylvania, Austria-Hungary (now Romania). His wife wrote in her book on Pascal's relationship with Shaw that her husband's "origin was shrouded in a mystery which, I often suspected, he enjoyed thickening with contradictory remarks. When people tried to probe into his past, he had a tailor-made answer for each inquirer." 
He claimed to have been an orphan taken from a burning building as a child and raised first by Gypsies before being put into an orphanage. He also claimed that the Gypsies taught him to beg, steal, and do acrobatic tricks. It is unclear what parts of his fabulous account of his childhood are true as there are no formal records of him prior to the age of 17, when he was enlisted in military school in Holics, Hungary (now Holíč, Slovakia), by a mysterious Jesuit priest.
Pascal, who was decidedly unfit for military life, became interested in theatre and studied at the Academy of the Hofburgtheater in Vienna. Later, his interest expanded into the newly burgeoning cinema, and he made films in Germany and Italy with sporadic success. Becoming a teetotaler at an early age, he smoked cigars prodigiously, later provoking admonishments from George Bernard Shaw that he would ruin his voice.
Pascal had one son, Peter, conceived in Germany with his landlady's sister Elsie, during the delirium of a fever. Unable to care even for himself, Pascal fled to the Netherlands. After WW II ended, Pascal returned to Germany to search for his son Peter, but he was listed among the missing Hitler-Jugend. Elsie had been killed by a bomb.
As a young man, Pascal found a job tending horses in Hungary. Leading the horses through the forest to a stream each day, Pascal developed the habit of riding naked and bareback through the Hungarian countryside. One day he accidentally rode stark naked through the outdoor set of a silent movie in production and was "discovered". The film's director asked him to repeat the ride for the cameras, and he joined the group. Soon he was making his own movies.
Pascal had another auspicious encounter when he was young, while walking along the shore of the Mediterranean. A much older man, George Bernard Shaw, was swimming naked holding onto a buoy. A conversation ensued and Shaw dared the young Pascal on the shore to take off his clothes and join him in the water. He was impressed when Pascal immediately did so, and this began their friendship. Shaw enjoyed Pascal's youthful enthusiasm for art and his bravado, and invited him to come visit him one day when he was entirely broke. This chance meeting was to play a major role in Pascal's later career.
Pascal began his producing career making silent movies in Italy for German distribution through UFA Studios in Berlin. His directorial debut was Populi Morituri, in which he also starred. He later produced comedies in Germany.
Meher Baba and India
In 1934, during a trip to Hollywood, Pascal was contacted by Princess Norina Matchabelli (wife of the perfume manufacturer) about a film project based on the teachings of Meher Baba. Pascal became very interested in this project, bringing writers Hy Kraft and Karl Vollmöller into helping him work up treatments and even making a trip to India to discuss the project further with Meher Baba. By the time Pascal arrived in India, however, Meher Baba did not seem in any hurry to complete the film, saying it could wait. He invited Pascal to travel with him in India. Most ordinary men would have been discouraged, but Pascal took energetically to the austere life of an eastern ascetic, even shedding his western garb for eastern clothing. He took a liking to Meher Baba and maintained a correspondence with him for the rest of his life. Meher Baba nicknamed Pascal as his "Phoenix" and alternately, his "Black Panther." Pascal was one of the few people Meher Baba named as a genius, a short list which included Friedrich Nietzsche and the Dutch filmmaker Louis van Gasteren.
Pascal remained in close correspondence with his master Meher Baba until the end of his life; he met with him for the last time in 1952 in Scarsdale, New York. Even in this final meeting, they discussed films which Pascal planned to produce for Meher Baba.
Collaborations with Shaw
Pascal took a ship back from India to the United States, penniless but undaunted. He landed in San Francisco where he spent some time deciding what to do next. He decided to approach playwright George Bernard Shaw, whom he had met many years earlier. During that earlier meeting Shaw, who had been impressed with the young Pascal's passion for art and cinema, had told him to pay him a visit when he was entirely penniless. Pascal was now exactly that. He sought out Shaw, first by going to New York City hidden in the toilet of a railroad train, then convincing a sea captain to give him a lift to England.
Somehow he convinced Shaw to give him the rights to his plays, beginning with Pygmalion (1938), which he released as a film. It was an enormous international hit, both critically and financially. Pascal tried to convince Shaw to let Pygmalion be turned into a musical, but the outraged Shaw explicitly forbade it, having had a bad experience with the operetta The Chocolate Soldier (based on Shaw's Arms and the Man). Pascal was the only person to convince Shaw to adjust his scripts to the new medium of cinema, gaining concessions from Shaw that no one else could. Pascal created the line for Pygmalion (later used by Lerner and Loewe in their musical version, My Fair Lady) "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain." Shaw, who was publicly referring to Pascal as a genius, added the line into the script.
In 1938 Pascal was named as one of the world's most famous men by Time magazine, along with Adolf Hitler and the Pope. He followed the film Pygmalion with Major Barbara (1941), which he directed as well as produced. Major Barbara was filmed in London during aerial bombing by the Nazis. During air raids the crew and cast had to dodge into bomb shelters. Pascal never stopped the production, and the film was completed on schedule. But Pascal became more and more extravagant, Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), the next Pascal film of a Shaw play, was the most expensive British movie ever made at that time. It was a major financial and critical flop. Pascal insisted on importing sand from Egypt to achieve the right cinematic colors for the film. In this period, Shaw had become more difficult to work with. After the success of Pygmalion, which was shortened in its transition from stage to screen, the playwright increasingly refused to let his plays be cut.
Shaw heightened his praise of Pascal during this period. He wrote in 1946:
Gabriel Pascal is one of those extraordinary men who turn up occasionally – say once in a century – and may be called godsends in the arts to which they are devoted. Pascal is doing for films what Diaghileff did for the Russian Ballet. . . He shocks me by his utter indifference to cost; but the result justifies him; and Hollywood, which always values a director in proportion to the money he throws away, is now at his feet: for he throws it away like water. The man is a genius: That is all I have to say about him.
Pascal produced one more movie, Androcles and the Lion (1952), but by this time he was suffering from cancer. Pascal was the only producer ever to have major movie deals with seven separate countries on three continents: Hungary, Italy, Germany, China, India, England, and the US.
Death and estate trial
In the spring of 1954, in New York City, just before his death, Pascal had planned a trip to India to see Meher Baba for the last time. He was having an affair and divorcing his wife at the time. One day he impulsively wrote on a piece of hotel stationery to his mistress, "If I die on my trip to India I leave my entire estate to you." He signed and dated it before two witnesses, a cook and a maid in the hotel who did not speak English but only Chinese. This was an absurd gesture since Pascal was totally in debt. Pascal had told his wife Valerie (Hídvéghy Valéria) that he would leave her millions.
He died within a short time of this letter in July 1954. Briefly surfacing from a coma, Pascal's last words were, "I see". Within two years of his death, the musical My Fair Lady, which Pascal had managed to retain an option on by borrowing $7,000 from a Baba follower named Margaret Scott, opened on Broadway. Soon after his death, his estate, which had been worth nothing at his death, increased to an estimated value of $2,000,000, as the movie rights for My Fair Lady (which was filmed in 1964) were quickly optioned.
His widow Valerie (from whom he was not fully divorced at the time of his death) and mistress went to court over the rights to his estate. His odd last will and testament on the hotel stationery was entered as evidence in support of his mistress, and the case was well publicized. Several Meher Baba followers were involved in his life at the end, including Harold Rudd, who testified at his trial. The result of the trial was an even split of Pascal's royalties from My Fair Lady between the mistress and Pascal's estranged widow, each receiving well over one million dollars in settlement.
His widow Valerie attempted to pay back the borrowed option money to Margaret Scott, who had also paid off Pascal's debt to his mistress and his hospital bills. But by the time she received the settlement, Scott had fallen to her death from a New York apartment building window, two years after Pascal died. Valerie paid the money to Margaret's daughter instead.
After Pascal's death, Valerie married the publisher and philanthropist George T. Delacorte, Jr. She became a philanthropist, supporting charitable foundations under the name Valerie Delacorte. The Disciple and His Devil, her biography of Pascal, was published by McGraw-Hill in 1970 and reissued by iUniverse in 2004.
- Dukore, Bernard F., editor. Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw: Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996. p. xv. ISBN 0-8020-3002-5
- Pascal, Valerie, The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. p. 59. LCCN 79-119827
- Pascal, Valerie, The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. p. 60
- Pascal, Valerie, The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. p. 64
- Pascal, Valerie, The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. p. 67
- Pascal (1970), The Disciple ... p. 70
- Pascal (1970), The Disciple ..., p. 69–70
- Pascal (1970), The Disciple..., p. 70
- Kalchuri, Bhau. Meher Prabhu: Lord Meher, The Biography of the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba. Manifestation, 1986. p. 1890
- Awaken Magazine, Volume 18 Number 1, 1978
- Kalchuri (1986) Meher Prabhu, p. 3877
- See Pascal, Valerie (1970). The disciple and his devil: Gabriel Pascal, Bernard Shaw. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-595-33772-9. Page 219 states that "Nehru had given his consent, which he confirmed later in a letter to Gabriel: 'I feel... that you are the man who can produce something worthwhile. I was greatly interested in what you told me about this subject [the Gandhi film] and your whole approach to it."
- Pascal (1970) The Disciple..., p. 83
- Deans, Marjorie. Meeting at the Sphinx: Gabriel Pascal's Production of Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, with forewords by both the author and producer, Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal. London: MacDonald, 1946, Prologue. LCCN 46-6464
- Credit line on artwork on museum website
- Pascal (1970), The Disciple ..., pp. 339–356
- Donald P. Costello. The Serpent's Eye, Shaw and the Cinema. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965.
- Marjorie Deans. Meeting at the Sphinx – Gabriel Pascal's Production of Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. London: MacDonald, 1946. LCCN 46-6464
- Bhau Kalchuri. Lord Meher: The Biography of the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba. North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Manifestation, 1986.
- Valerie Pascal. The Disciple and His Devil. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970. LCCN 79-119827. Reprinted by iUniverse in 2004. ISBN 0-595-33772-4
- Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal. Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal (Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw). Bernard F. Dukore (Editor). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8020-3002-5.