Ferenc Molnar, a Hungarian Jew, was one of his country’s “great literary figures through the first half of the 20th century,” according to today’s New York Times, and in the 1920s he and his actress-wife partied with the Gershwins and Vanderbilts on a trip. Yet the fog that descended over Eastern European Jews in the 1930s—when Molnar and his wife fled Hungary for the United States—did a number on his legacy here, where his work survives in large part only through the musical Carousel, which was adapted from one of his novels. That fog has blurred his familial legacy, too, leading to a battle between two of his alleged heirs over almost a quarter of a million dollars in Holocaust restitution money.
First reported a few weeks ago by the Forward, the battle pits a woman claiming to be the great-granddaughter of Molnar’s half-brother (got all that?), who has actually received the money, some $225,000, against Molnar’s great-grandson, an official heir who receives royalty checks from Molnar’s estate each year. He had never heard of her; she claims, pricelessly, that her side of the family cut ties with Molnar’s after her grandparents were received by Molnar’s wife in her dressing-room in the nude. (Quelle horreur!)
But forget the he said/she said. The real service Molnar’s heirs will have done for their ancestor, and for the rest of us, will be if the publicity their squabbling attracts prompts a rediscovery of this great, lost artist.