Tuesday 25 August 2015

The Shop Around the Corner Based on Hungarian Play Parfumerie

Jimmy Stewart plays a character named Alfred who works in a leather goods shop in Budapest, Hungary.  Margaret Sullavan plays Alfred's co-worker Klara who takes an immediate dislike to him.  Each day, between customers, the pair argues over petty things.  At home, Alfred writes letters to a secret admirer; so too, does Klara.

One day Alfred plans to meet his admirer at a cafe.  Klara also plays to meet her beau at a cafe. Alfred says he'll wear a flower pinned to his lapel.  Klara is disappointed that her admirer is not at the cafe.  She spots Alfred and strikes up a conversation.  After several minutes, Alfred uncovers a flower, pinned to his lapel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shop_Around_the_Corner).

The Shop Around the Corner is based on the play Parfumerie, written by Hungarian born playwright Mislo Laszlow.  Born to German Jewish parents as Nicholaus Leitner, he was forced to change his name to Mislo Laszlow to appear Hungarian rather than German, in the country's attempt at "cultural unification".

Mislo grew up in the hustle and bustle of wartime Budapest.  His family was in the entertainment business.  He "rubbed elbows with the Hungarian literati, including Ferenc Molnar, the playwright for Liliom, better known as Carousel.

After many years of high living and poor management, Mislow's father became destitute.  Mislow, who had never wanted for anything, became a surrogate father overnight to his seven siblings.  He tried his hand at candy making, collar sales, a necktie agent and a petrol factory worker.  But his heart remained in the world of entertainment.

In 1934, Mislow wrote his first script for a play called A Legboldogabb Ember, which won a Hungarian Academy Award, the equilavent of the Pulitzer Prize in the United States.  In 1936, he penned the script for Parfumerie, which was performed at the Pest Theatre a year later.

But things were getting rough for Jews in Europe.  The Anschluss was only a year away, uniting Germany and Austria.  Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, during which Jewish shop windows were shattered and businesses robbed, was fast approaching.  Hitler was bent on occupying neighbouring countries.  Would Hungary be far behind?  Mislow chose to immigrate to the United States in 1938.

Once in America, Mislow struck a deal with Hollywood.  The Shop Around the Corner, starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan premiered on the silver screen on January 12, 1940.  The romantic comedy was remade in 1999 as You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

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