Korda was born Sándor László Kellner on September
16, 1893 on a settlement on the outskirts of Turkeve on the Great
Hungarian Plain in Pusztatúrpásztó in Austria-Hungary
The elder brother of future filmmakers Zoltán Korda and Vincent
Korda. He was the oldest of three sons in a family of assimilated
Jews. As a young boy, Sandor's sight was damaged by the improper treatment
of an eye condition. Throughout his life he always wore thick glasses.
Despite this detriment, he was a voracious reader, and acquired a
13, Sandor suffered the death of his father, and shortly thereafter
he left for the capital Budapest. There he became a short story writer
for a daily newspaper. Here he adopted the pseudonym ‘Korda’,
and became a full-time reporter at age sixteen. Sandor Korda also
contributed crime stories and wrote reviews, and became the paper's
1911 he out to start a career in films and spent several months in
Paris, doing odd jobs in the Pathé studio -- at the time, the
most advanced film factory in the world. He returned to Hungary and
joined a film company in Budapest.
1919, he assisted the Communist government (though Korda was not a
member of the Communist party) when it made Hungary the first nationalized
film industry in the world. When the Communist government fell and
was replaced by the right-wing "White Terror" regime, Korda
was briefly imprisoned. In November 1919, he left Hungary with his
actress wife Maria. He would never again return to his homeland.
calling himself Alexander Korda, rather than Sandor, he journeyed
to Vienna to join the Sascha Film Company. Desperately seeking his
independence, he moved to Berlin to form his own company Korda-Film,
directing film vehicles for his wife Maria Corda (who spelled her
last name differently to differentiate from her husband). His films
were well-received, and led to an offer from the First National studios
in Hollywood for both Kordas to come to America.
Korda located financing, and built his own studio called Corvin in
a suburb of Budapest where the Mafilm Studios reside today. Though
Korda served as director, he also served as executive producer by
overseeing all production activity at his impressive company. He eventually
fell out with the main distributors in Hollywood and decided it would
be in Britain where he would make his mark.
felt that the only way to bring the English film industry to prominence
would be by concentrating on quality films. In 1932 he founded London
Films and the studios at Denham which eventually became a part of
the Rank Organisation. He then risked everything on a deceptively-lavish
movie 'The Private Life of Henry VIII' (1933) starring Charles Laughton
and Elsa Lanchester. The film became a worldwide blockbuster.
constructed the stately Denham film studio on a 165-acre estate outside
London. He also established his own roster of contract actors including
Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon (who became the second Mrs. Korda in 1939),
Wendy Barrie, Robert Donat, Maurice Evans, and Vivien Leigh.
manufactured custom jewellery for some of his films, given as gifts
to employees and friends. The above example is from The Thief of Bagdad
(1940). While Britain was war-torn in the early 1940s, Korda took
up an extended residence in the United States. During this time he
co-founded SIMPP. He took some flak for spending a lot of time in
the U.S. during World War II, but it now appears that he was (amongst
other things) acting as a courier for Winston Churchill.
a couple years later Alexander Korda became the first of the founding
members to leave the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.
In 1942, Korda became the first film director ever to be knighted.
In March 1943, Korda entered into a merger between his independent
company London Film Productions and MGM-British. Korda would become
the new executive producer of the English division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
He resigned from SIMPP, and returned to England. However, his dissatisfaction
with the deal brought about his resignation in 1946.
Korda was married three times, the first to Hungarian actress María
Corda in 1919. They had one son and divorced in 1930. In 1939, he
married Anglo-American film star, Merle Oberon but the marriage ended
in divorce in 1945. His last marriage was in 1953 to Alexandra Boycun
with whom he remained until his death three years later. He died at
the age of 62 in London and was cremated, his ashes at Golders Green
Crematorium in London.
Alexander Korda Award for the 'Outstanding British Film of the Year'
is given in his honor by the British Academy of Film and Television