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Biography

Katalin Karády (December 8, 1910, Budapest - February 8, 1990, New York) was a Hungarian actress and singer. A leading actress in Hungarian movies made between 1939–1945, she is best known outside Hungary as an awardee of the Righteous among the Nations honorific for rescuing a number of Hungarian Jews.

Katalin Karády was born as Katalin Kanczler, on 8 December 1910 in Budapest. She spent her childhood in Kőbánya district with seven siblings in great poverty. Her parents were Rozália Lőrinc and Ferenc Kanczler, a shoemaker, who Katalin remembered as an aggressive person. Helped by a charity organization, she spent five years in Switzerland and the Netherlands. After returning home, she studied in a Women's Marketing school, already famed for her beauty. With the language knowledge from previous years, her simple clothing and vigorous demand for cleanness she already stood out from her classmates. After her father's death in 1931 she married Rezső Varga, a customs official, 30 years older than herself, but they divorced after a few months.

She started acting in 1936, taking classes from Ernő Tarnay, and Artúr Bárdos. After gaining the attention of journalist Zoltán Egyed in a bar in Buda (who also proposed the name Karády) she was introduced to Ilona Aczél, a former actress, in whose acting school she learned the basics of the profession in the following three years, including singing. Karády's first performance was at the end of the 30s, in the Joób Dániel theatre. Between 1931-41 she appeared in the Pesti and Vígszínház theatre in various roles.

Her first movie role, Halálos Tavasz (Deadly Spring) gave her instant fame as a diva and sex-symbol, supported by her unusual, humming voice, and "femme fatale" character. In the next nine years, she appeared in 20 movies. Zoltán Egyed became her manager, and successfully created a Hollywood-like image around her, as a result, thousands of fans tried to mimic her clothing, hairstyle and behavior throughout the country. Karády's personal life was a constant topic of gossip, conflicting rumors came and gone about she being a man-eater, or lesbian. The theories were stirred up even more as she had intimate relationship with Regent Miklós Horthy's chief of secret service, István Ujszászy, who also proposed her, and bought her a villa.

After the German invasion of Hungary, authorities put a pressure on Karády with banning her songs from the National Radio, her new film Machita from theatres, and stopping the ongoing production of Gazdátlan Asszony (later the crew finished the movie with Erzsi Simor). In 1944 she was arrested with allegations that she spied for the Allied Forces. Karády was in prison for 3 months, during which she was tortured, and nearly beaten to death. She was rescued by friends of major general Ujszászy, in dire condition both physically and emotionally. But despite this, she remained strong, rescuing numerous families at the bank of the Danube waiting to be shot by Arrow Cross guards, with personal belongings and gold, saved from her robbed apartment. She took a number of children home to care for them until the fighting stopped. In the summer of 1945 came the news from Moscow that general Ujszaszy was dead (later evidence showed that at that time he was still alive). Suffering from nervous breakdown, she lay in bed for the following nine months.

After the war, Karády became increasingly disregarded. Between 1945-48 she appeared in the Operettszínház in a few leading roles, the restarting Hungarian film production did not count on her (besides two movies, Forró mezők being her last). Being a popular star of the Horthy era, there was no place for her under the new communist rule. In 1949 all of her films were banned along with her theater appearances. Only being able to work at small venues in the countryside, often with a drunk audience, she left the country in 1951 permanently. First she lived in Salzburg, Austria, then moved to Switzerland, and after a year to Brussels. From 1953 she lived in São Paulo, Brazil, opening a fashion shop. In 1968, finally receiving a visa after Ted and Robert Kennedy intervened, she moved to New York, opening a hat salon. Performed rarely for friends, she lived in retirement, refusing to appear in the media. Receiving an invitation at her 70th birthday to return to Hungary, she only sent a hat, baffling officials. She died on 8 February 1990. At 19 February her body was transferred to Hungary, a memorial service was held in Budapest at the St. Stephen's Basilica, after she was buried in the Farkasréti Cemetery.

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