09 December 2011

Irén Biller

Hungarian stage actress Irén Biller (1897-1989) had a brief film career in Hungary and Hollywood during the early 1930s.

Irén Biller
Hungarian postcard. Publisher: Globus, Budapest. Photo: Angelo Photos. Collection: Didier Hanson.

The Man Who Dared


Irén Biller was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1897. Her parents were Lajos Biller and Klara Eger Biller.

In 1914, Biller got her diploma at the National Actor's School, and she made her stage debut in Székesfehérvár. In 1915 she played under director Ödön Faragó. The two married in 1917, but the marriage ended in a divorce in 1925.

In 1923, she was a huge success as Marietta, one of the three graces in the Hungarian version of the Franz Lehár operetta Libellentanz, A három grácia. There were 300 performances at the Budapesti Operettszínház (the Budapest Operetta Theatre). In 1925-1926, she performed at Vígszínház, the Comedy Theatre of Budapest.

In 1929, Irén Biller probably made her film debut in the silent short Mulat (Hans Pebal, 1929) with Sándor Pethes. Only a poster of the film remains.

In 1930 she had a great success on stage in Vienna, Austria. In 1931, she married Fengel Sámuel, a corporate president, in Budapest, but this second marriage also did not last. She moved to the USA where she appeared in two Hollywood films.

The first was the Fox production The Man Who Dared (Hamilton MacFadden, 1933). This was an ‘imaginative biography’ of Anton Cermak (Preston Forster), mayor of Chicago and son of East European immigrants, who was killed in the line of fire during an assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami in 1933. Biller played Cermak’s sister Tereza, a logical choice seen her Hungarian background.

However her accent probably did not help her to continue a career in Hollywood. She only made one more American film, As Husbands Go (Hamilton MacFadden, 1934) in which she had only an uncredited part as a singer.

Biller made another film in Hungary, the comedy Lila akác/Purple Lilacs (Steve Sekely, 1934), in which she played the female lead again opposite Sándor Pethes.

Back in the US, Irén Biller played on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles between 1934 and 1938. In December 1935, she married hotel owner Ashton Alberger Stanley and this marriage would last.

In 1938 she made a come-back at the Magyar Színházban (Hungarian Theatre) in Budapest but afterwards, she retired. The following decades, she lived quitely in the USA, and in 1967 she visited her home country.

Irén Biller Stanley died in 1989 in Monterey County, California. She was 92.


Lila akác/Purple Lilacs (Steve Sekely, 1934). Sorry, no English subtitles! Source: Ágnes Remport (YouTube).

Sources: C.J. Biller (Find A Grave), CITWF, Wikipedia (Hungarian) and IMDb.

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