14 December 2014

Eva Bartok

Beautiful Hungarian Eva Bartok (1926-1998) was a glamorous but talented actress whose roots were in classical theatre. During the 1950s she had a prolific film career in both the British and the German cinema. In Hollywood she was the leading lady of Burt Lancaster in the classic adventure film The Crimson Pirate (1952). However, she became more famous for her off camera antics than for her screen work.

Eva Bartok
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 235. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/50.

Eva Bartok
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. F 49. Photo: Ringpress.

Surviving Nazism and Communism

Eva Bartok was born as Eva Ivanova Szöke in Budapest, Hungary, in 1926 (some sources say 1927). Her father, a Jew who had married a Catholic lady, disappeared without a trace during the rise of Nazism in Europe.

As the daughter of a Jew, Eva escaped the German concentration by marrying a Nazi officer, Geza Kovacs, at age 15. After the war, the marriage was annulled on the grounds of coercion of a minor. She later described the marriage as a "series of brutal rapes worse than death."

Having survived Nazism and World War II, she found her vocation in acting. Eva Szöke made her stage debut in J.B. Priestley's Time and The Conways at the Belvàrosi Szinhàz theatre. On his tribute site for Bartok, Omar Martinez writes that “the newspapers reported that a new talent had appeared on the Budapest stage. All drama critics agreed that the newcomer was simply sensational and Eva's reputation grew with each performance.”

The play ran for three months at the theatre, very long at the time. Her next play would prove even a greater success and a turning point for Eva. The farce New God in Thebes was written by one of Hungary's most popular writers Áron Tamási. Tamási then wrote a play for her which was produced at the National Theater and was a great success on opening night, but the Communist-controlled publications were unanimous in panning both the play and the performances.

Tamási also wrote her first and only film in Hungary, the independent production Mezei próféta/Prophet of the Fields (Frigyes Bán, 1947). Communist censorship banned the film one day before the premiere, because author and star hadn’t become party members. It was a clear message they could no longer ignore.

Hollywood-based producer Alexander Paal helped her escape from Hungary by marrying her in 1948 and taking her to England. There she made her screen debut in Paal's production of A Tale of Five Cities/A Tale Of Five Women (Romolo Marcellini, Emil E. Reinert, Wolfgang, Montgomery Tully, and Géza von Cziffra, 1951) with Gina Lollobrigida. She changed her name into Eva Bartok. The production was filmed in 1948 but shelved for several years due to financial difficulties.

After divorcing Paal in 1950, Eva received valuable support from film mogul and fellow Hungarian expatriate Alexander Korda who was then president of MGM-England. He placed her under contract to London Films which provided a small salary, an English language coach and the opportunity to audition for developing film projects at the studio. In spite of this, Eva Bartok spent months without finding real work and was becoming quite desperate.

William Wordsworth, a public relations man who became her third husband in 1951, suggested that she attend as many premieres and theatre opening nights as possible in order to bring attention to herself. Unable to buy the proper wardrobe and accessories to make a decent showing at these social gatherings, Eva began designing and making her own gowns and hats from pieces of cheap materials. Soon the media took notice of this beautiful brunette dressed in weird costumes and Eva Bartok became a local celebrity.

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 853. Photo: NF. Publicity still for Der letzte Walzer/The Last Waltz (Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1953).

Eva Bartok, Curd Jürgens
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, no. 1180. Photo: Meteor Schorchtfilm. Still from Orient Express (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1954) with Curd Jürgens.

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Kunst und Bild Berlin, no. A 1143. Photo: Filipp / Sonor / Allianz. Publicity still for Viktoria und ihr Husar/Victoria and Her Hussar (Rudolf Schündler, 1954).

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 998. Photo: RKO-Radio Film. Publicity still for Rummelplatz der Liebe/Circus of Love (Kurt Neumann, 1954).

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. S 553. Photo: Sascha / Herzog-Film / Klimacsek. Publicity still for Dunja/Her Crime Was Love (Josef von Báky, 1955).

Glamorous Carefree Playgirl

The publicity caught the eye of an Italian promoter who offered Eva Bartok a contract to perform in a vaudeville show in Teatro Manzoni in Milan. With Korda's permission, Eva flew to Italy and had great success on the stages of Milan, Florence and Rome.

Meanwhile, in England, A Tale of Five Cities/A Tale Of Five Women had finally reached the cinemas and was seen by producer-actor Burt Lancaster who was looking for a leading lady for his next film The Crimson Pirate (Robert Siodmak, 1952). Impressed by Eva's beauty and talent, he wired her in Italy and she accepted promptly sensing the importance of the project.

After working in this film, Eva was perceived as a real movie queen but some of her next vehicles are not what you would expect from a rising superstar. She became more famous for her off camera antics as a glamorous carefree playgirl among the European rich than for her screen work. Although her filmography in the 1950s is prolific both in England and in Germany, it includes a lot of low budget turkeys, some decent vehicles and a few top productions.

She also made a series of films that paired her with Curd Jürgens, including Der letzte Walzer/The Last Waltz (Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1953) and Orient Express (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1954). The popular actor-director became her fourth husband in 1955.

Besides her work in films she appeared on London stages and television. After turning down a Hollywood contract in 1956, Bartok found herself in a serious health crisis. Bartok suffered a bout with ovarian cancer while she was pregnant. An Indonesian mystic helped her out of this predicament with a new spirituality called Subud. Bartok gave ‘miraculously’ birth to a baby girl in 1957, Deana Jürgens. From then on she seemed totally committed to Subud.

In later years she revealed that daughter Deana had been fathered by Frank Sinatra during a brief affair that Bartok and Sinatra had in 1956. The claim went ignored by Sinatra and family.

After publishing her kiss-and-tell autobiography Worth Living For in 1959, she would make a dozen more films including the Italian horror film Sei donne per l'assassino/Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964). She retired from the cinema in 1967 at age 40 and went to live in Indonesia. She taught philosophy in a school she opened in Honolulu, ran an arts centre in Los Angeles and a gallery in San Francisco.

In the early 1980s, she returned to London. She continued her Subud activities during residencies in Indonesia, Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London. In the 1980s she married for the fifth time, with producer Dag Moline.

Eva Bartok died in 1998 in London, UK of a heart failure.

Eva Bartok
Dutch postcard by D.R.C. Holland, no. 2119. Photo: Lilo / Sascha Herzog Film / Ufa.

Eva Bartok
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, Essen, no. 162. Retail price: 10 Pfg. Photo: Lilo / Sascha / Herzog-Film.

Eva Bartok
Austrian postcard by Verlag Hubmann, Wien, no. 729. Photo: Eichberg-Carlton-Film / International Film. Publicity still for Der letzte Walzer/The Last Waltz (Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1953).

Eva Bartok
German collectors card. Photo: Carlton / NF / Brünjes.

Eva Bartok
British postcard in the Celebrity Series, London, no. 336. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Publicity still for Operation Amsterdam (Michael McCarthy, 1959).

Long scene from The Crimson Pirate (1952). Source: GSMovieMoments (YouTube).

Italian trailer for Sei Sei donne per l'assassino/Blood and Black Lace (1964). Source: Neverlando (YouTube).

Sources: Omar Martinez (Eva Bartok: A Tribute), Mark Martin (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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