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May 20, 1903
|Died||April 19, 1973 (aged 69)|
Astoria, Queens, New York, U.S.
|Nationality||Naturalized American citizen|
(m. 1939; his death 1973)
Miklós László (May 20, 1903 – April 19, 1973; born Nicholaus Leitner) was a playwright and naturalized American citizen born in Budapest, Hungary. He is best known for his play Illatszertár, also known as Parfumerie, which was later used as the storyline for three movies, The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and, most recently, You've Got Mail. The play was also adapted for the Broadway stage as the musical She Loves Me.
Leitner (László) was born in Budapest, Hungary on May 20th,1903 to a family of German Jewish descent. Emperor Franz Josef ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Great War was still a few years away. The name "László" was chosen for the Leitner family. No particular reason is known other than that it was a well-known Hungarian name and that it was similar (vaguely) to the original family name "Leitner". Henrik and Ilona Fischer Leitner therefore gave to their infant son on his birth certificate the name Leitner László Nicholaus, last name first as is the custom in Hungary.
Nicholaus grew up in Budapest. His family was in the entertainment business, and he naturally gravitated toward a career in entertainment as well. He was a clever and witty lad, always amusing friends and family with his quips and characterizations. He rubbed elbows with the Hungarian literati of the day including the playwright Ferenc Molnár, whose most famous work Liliom is known to English-speaking audiences as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. It only made sense then that Niki was encouraged to put pen to paper and as a young adult began to produce his own little one-scene plays for the various small theatres and cabarets around the city. These “little plays” became his fame and provided spare income to support his “young man with possibilities” lifestyle. It even afforded him the time to work on some larger more comprehensive works which he would eventually complete as full multi-act plays.
Money was no issue for the young László. His father continued to do very well with his own business endeavours and at one point, anecdotal information describes the father as one of the wealthiest men in Hungary. But tragically, poor management, high living and wild spending brought the family to total destitution. And then unexpectedly his father died and Nicholas was left as the sole provider for his mother and eight siblings. Writing was not sufficient to feed a family and pay the bills, so Niki turned to a host of jobs, none too small to earn the pay that was necessary to keep the family afloat. As he told it, he worked as a candy-maker, collar salesman, necktie agent, script typist, clerk and even worked as a laborer in a petroleum factory while siblings grew up and gradually took responsibility for their own lives and livelihoods.
It came then as a great satisfaction that his first three-act play, A legboldogabb ember, The Happiest Man, a play about an embittered factory worker and the dreamworld to which he escapes for solace, won him the prestigious Hungarian Royal Academy Award for Literature in 1934, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Pulitzer Prize – quite an achievement for a man barely into his 30s.
Immigration to America
László could have stayed in Hungary, but World War II was approaching, and Hungarians of Jewish extraction knew that the smart money was on leaving the old world behind and heading to America. So in 1938, Nicholaus László pulled up his stakes and embarked for the USA.
He quickly established himself in the local Hungarian community on the Lower East Side of New York City, bringing his charm and reputation to an immigrant audience clamoring for all things Hungarian and, as everyone else, for relief from the Great Depression that was gripping the nation. He was, for a time, the "toast of the town", locally at least. He now called himself Miklós László, a purely Hungarian name giving him full acceptance and cachet within the community. But fame in the insular Hungarian language-speaking community of Yorkville, Manhattan, New York is not the same as making it as a playwright to a larger English-speaking American audience.
Miklós, that is "Miki", would need to further pursue his opportunities. In the fall of 1939 he married Florence Herrman, an aspiring young actress and the daughter of a successful local entrepreneur, a Cunard Line travel agent, landlord and financial exchange merchant. On December 28, 1944 he completed the transition and became a fully naturalized American citizen and officially adopted the single name now most frequently referenced, Miklós László.
During his lifetime he had numerous writing contracts with MGM. A few projects became major motion pictures, most did not. The writing experiments and the accompanying advances though kept Miki and wife Florence able to make ends meet, barely. Again, other jobs became a necessity.
Miklós László died in New York City in 1973 at the age of 69. His wife Florence died in 1987.
Most famous of all the plays that became produced as a motion picture during this time was Illatszertár, known in English as Parfumerie. It had premiered at the Pest Theatre in Budapest in 1937, and shortly after László came to New York, the play was adapted as a movie script by Samson Raphaelson and became the Ernst Lubitsch motion picture The Shop Around the Corner (1940), with James Stewart, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Sullavan. A few years later it was re-filmed as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a semi-musical showcase for Judy Garland, starring Garland, Van Johnson, and S. Z. Sakall.
In 1963, the play was produced as a full Broadway musical called She Loves Me; with book by Joe Masteroff and was titled She Loves Me. She Loves Me had music by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (Fiorello!, Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree) and was nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Musical, with Jack Cassidy winning for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. She Loves Me is also often referred to as the "Ice Cream Musical" because of a signature song and performance by Barbara Cook. She Loves Me was revived in 1993 by the Roundabout Theatre Company and ran for 354 performances. It was nominated for 9 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical as well as in all four acting categories, with Boyd Gaines winning for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. It was revived again in 2016 for a limited run at Studio 54 from February to July and was nominated for 8 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, with David Rockwell winning for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.
In 2001, the László/Raphaelson MGM script was adapted for the stage in France and was produced as a straight play La Boutique au Coin de la Rue ("The Shop at the Corner of the Street"). This production was a faithful adaptation of the MGM movie script The Shop Around the Corner and ran for the 2002 season in Paris at the Théâtre Montparnasse winning top honors. The production garnered five Molière Awards, the French equivalent of the American Tony Award — for Best New Play, Best Adaptation of a Foreign Work, Best Director, Best Set Design, and Best Lighting.
In June 2004 Parfumerie was produced for the first time as an English-language play by the theater department of the University of Illinois, after James Berton Harris, the director of the department's Summerfest, found a translation of the original script in papers donated by Samson Raphaelson to the university's Rare Book and Special Collections Library.
A new adaptation of the play by E. P. Dowdall, a nephew of Miklós László, premiered in December 2009 as The Perfume Shop at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. Almost simultaneously, a script adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins was produced by the Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto.
Other plays and screenplays
In the early 1940s he also wrote a screenplay Katherine which was picked up by MGM and became the motion picture The Big City (1948) starring Margaret O'Brien, Robert Preston, Danny Thomas and George Murphy. The screenplay examined the diversity and underlying unity of human cultures in the microcosm of a New York City adoption.
Only one other of Miklós László's plays was ever widely produced in the Americas. Entitled St. Lazar's Pharmacy it is the story of a man learning the lessons of the true value of “home” as compared to the many lures of a false and deceiving world of empty promises. The play starred famed actress Miriam Hopkins and toured all over Canada and the United States. (The Juilliard library lists a handwritten manuscript of "St. Lazar's Pharmacy" in its catalogue of collections.)
Perhaps the reason we have not seen very many of the plays Miklós László wrote in his early career and during his life is because they were never effectively translated from Hungarian to English and as such have never really had an opportunity to be viewed by American audiences as they were viewed in the country of his birth.[original research?] Translations exist for many of his works in French and even German, but few in English. The original Hungarian works continue to be performed to this day throughout Hungary on an ongoing basis.
- "Miklos Laszlo, 69, Playwright, is Dead". The New York Times. 20 April 1973.
- Papiruszportal.hu: László Miklós: Illatszertár Linked 2014-01-05
- Julie Kistler, "North American Premiere of PARFUMERIE?", AFollowSpot.com Linked 2019-07-11.
- Susie An, "Summerfest at Krannert," Buzz, 2004-06-17, page 6, Linked 2019-07-11.
- Jay Handelman, "Asolo's 'Perfume Shop' delivers sweet scent", Sarasota Herald Tribune, 2009-12-05 Linked 2019-07-11.
- Christopher Hoile, "Review: Parfumerie", Stage-Door.com Linked 2019-07-11.