Vincenti, Paul (1899 – ?)

The ‘Hungarian Rudolph Valentino’ who started out as a Hollywood actor and became a UFA star photographer.

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Tibor Mindszenty, Tibor Mindszenthy, Tibor von Mindszenty, Paul Vincenti
actor
1899, ?
?, ?

It’s not exactly a typical career start to draw attention to yourself by being the spitting image of another person. The career of Tibor Mindszenty, or Paul Vincenti as he later became known in Hollywood, was by no means conventional, his story is full of legends in which it is extremely difficult to untangle truth from exaggeration, and which could equally be the products of a lively imagination as a well-planned marketing campaign.

Mindszenty himself claimed that he was born in 1899 and spent his childhood in Italy, Vienna and Budapest. He was enlisted into the army at the age of 17 and served in the First World War as an artillery lieutenant. His greatest passion was sports but in order to have a civilian position after he was discharged, he took a managerial post in his brother-in-law’s business.

From a boating excursion on the Danube to Hollywood

Luck in the person of celebrated actress Sári Fedák smiled on him during a boat trip on the Danube.

When the renowned artiste first caught sight of the handsome, sporty young man, she could hardly believe her eyes. Mindszenty was the spitting image of the recently deceased mega-star of silent films, Rudolph Valentino, adored by millions of fans the world over.

Valentino, who personified the first screen ideal of the Latin heart-throb, died unexpectedly of peritonitis at the age of 31 in August 1926. His death was a massive shock to filmgoers the world over and his funeral was attended by unprecedented scenes of mass hysteria. Hungarians, too, mourned for the apparently invincible, dashing hero; they knew his work well because Hungarian Vilma Bánky, the Hollywood film star, partnered him in several movies. In autumn 1926, the burning question of the day was: who can step into the shoes of Valentino, who will occupy his place on the screen and in the hearts of audiences?

Fedák was thrilled to take on the challenge of building a star and clinch a lucrative deal by selling the Americans this Rudolph Valentino doppelgänger.

Sparing neither time nor money, she bought and studied all of Valentino’s films, she had screen tests made of Mindszenty at Corvin studio, and she took him to Angelo, the famous star photographer in Pest. A series of portraits published in Színházi Élet are ample proof that Mindszenty, and only Mindszenty, could be the next Valentino. Fedák spoke enthusiastically about her plans to reporters of the magazine: “Mindszenty must be managed adroitly and with ability. The remarkable similarity represents a huge business opportunity and this must be exploited! Who else could I have entrusted the management to? The whole thing is only worth anything if one does it all, from beginning to end. Anyway, I have never been a manager. I am not taking Mindszenty to Hollywood as though he couldn’t go by himself, but because I am interested in success, in business. Because I want to be a part of it as well!”

The ‘Hungarian Valentino’

In November 1926, the two of them set off for a tour of America in the hope of dazzling contracts and a new career. They didn’t have long to wait for the first offer because Mindszenty was initially contracted to First National film studio in New York, then in 1929 he joined Fox for a short time. It is not clear when and how his path diverged from that of Sári Fedák, nor is it evident whether Mindszenty lived up to the actress-manager’s expectations. First National’s PR team started to build the image of the new star. One of the most important elements of the campaign was that the actor was heralded as the scion of an ‘ancient Hungarian hussar family’. It is no mere coincidence that his first minor role was in the 1927 Hungarian-themed film The Stolen Bride directed by Alexander Korda. Later on he appeared in George Fitzmaurice’s The Love Mart (1927) and he took the lead in the melodrama The Veiled Woman (director: Emmett J. Flynn, 1929). Mindszenty worked under the stage name of Paul Vincenti from 1927. We don’t know exactly why they chose this name for him but it sounded quite international, it was catchy, added to which it rhymed with his original name.

UFA star photographer

Paul Vincenti (left) in a scene from Kennst du das kleine Haus am Michigansee?

However, Mindszenty was one of those artists who simply couldn’t make their way in Hollywood, which is why when his contract expired he returned to Europe. He settled in Berlin where he appeared in six films between 1929 and 1934. One of these was the Czech-German coproduced late silent movie Kennst du das kleine Haus am Michigansee? (Do You Know That Little House on Lake Michigan?, 1929), directed by Viktor Brumlík and Max W. Kimmich, who was also back from America and who would later become the brother-in-law of Joseph Goebbels.1 The story is set in the United States but scenes around the picturesque Lake Michigan were actually shot in the High Tatras. In the film, Vincenti is a bored playboy whose only passion is watersports until he meets a pretty girl. Critics of the time praised the romantic atmosphere given by nature and Vincenti was deemed to be convincing as the handsome, tough character who was considered by Siegfried Kracauer, critic of Frankfurter Zeitung, to be “both sporty and erotic”.2

All his other films from the Berlin period have some Hungarian connection, either as regards the cast and crew or the subject matter. Director of both Ein Tango für Dich (1930) and Der Raub der Mona Lisa (1931) was Géza Bolváry; Ernő Verebes and Tibor Halmay also played in the former movie. Seitensprünge (1931), the second film directed by István Székely, was made on the basis of the screenplay by Károly Nóti and Lajos Bíró, screenwriters of the musical romance Mein Herz ruft nach Dir (director: Carmine Gallone, 1934) were Ernst Marischka and Emeric Pressburger, and the editor was Eduard von Borsody. Mein Herz ruft nach Dir is about an opera company and it became famous because Márta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura – one of the most famous actor lover couples of the period – played together in it for the first time. Hilde von Stolz, who was born in Sighișoara (then part of Hungary), also had a supporting role.

Kennst du das kleine Haus am Michigansee? – featuring Tibor von Halmay (slow foxtrot, music: Werner R. Heymann, lyrics: Marcellus Schiffer, 1928)

Vincenti also played in Die Csikósbaroness (directors: Jacob Fleck, Luise Fleck, 1930), one of the typical Hungarian themed German films of the early talkies era. It tells the story of a love affair between a German baroness and a Hungarian hussar officer. The musical film shot in Hunnia Film Studio, Budapest, in Debrecen and on the Hortobágy, in which Ernő Verebes and Gretl Theimer play the other two lead roles, received mixed reviews from Hungarian audiences and critics. Its subject matter was considered stereotyped and its realization weak; one reviewer condemned the production built on false notions and stuck under the spell of “fokosch, gullasch, paprikasch, tzigany” as early as when shooting was underway.3

Perhaps this reception contributed to the fact that in the second half of the 1930s, Paul Vincenti decided to open a totally new chapter in his life. Having studied photography in America, he found that he preferred to work behind the camera in the German capital. He opened a photography studio and became a star photographer specializing in the fashionable trend of the era. Maybe he never forgot how much he owed photographer Angelo in Budapest because he also took his new profession extremely seriously. He worked on studio portraits and commercial photos primarily for UFA film stars and magazines, and it is interesting that he signed off his works once again as ‘Mindszenty’ and ‘T. v. Mindszenty’. Soon he had trained himself as a true expert of the European star system and his photographs served as references for the studios. In 1943, at the request of UFA, he returned to Hungary to make a photo series of local stars and he also received orders that if he came across suitable young talents, he should notify the Berlin centre.

Unfortunately, we lose all trace of Paul Vincenti in the 1940s. In an interview made in 1943, he said that he belonged to the circle of friends of directors Géza Bolváry and József Baky in Berlin4, but we know nothing of his private life or what happened to him after the Second World War. Although the story of his life dotted with name- and career changes is currently not complete, still his constantly-morphing career spanning three countries and three decades is certainly of great fascination.

IMDb
Filmportal.de

Notes

[1] Max W. Kimmich 1938-ban elvette Maria Goebbelst, Joseph Goebbels propagandaminiszter húgát, és a Harmadik Birodalom egyik termékeny filmese lett.
[2] „Paul Vincenti ist ein echter, sportlich und erotisch gleich versierter Schlagerjünling” Kennst du das kleine Haus am Michigansee…? In: Gero Gandert (Hg.): Der Film der Weimarer Republik 1929. Ein Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Kritik. Berlin – New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993. 100.
[3] A németek megint megkezdték az álmagyar filmek készítését. Uj Nemzedék. 1930. június 11. 10.
[4] Mindszenty Tibor, az UFA magyar sztárfényképésze. Képes Sport, 1943. szeptember 28.

Sources

Váró Andor: Fedák Sári Hollywoodba utazik a magyar Valentinoval. Színházi Élet 1926/42., 6–11.
Paul Vincenti az amerikai színészneve Mindszenthy Tibornak, akinek fényképét ezerszámra küldik szét a világlapoknak. Színházi Élet, 1927/21., 67.
Mindszenthy – Vincenti. Ujság, 1927. május 18., 10.
Kis helyreigazítás tíz Mindszenthy-cilkkhez. Színházi Élet, 1928/46. 58–59.
Huszonegy „házibarát” miatt akar elválni feleségétől egy német rendező. Színházi Élet, 1929/46., 60–61.
Német filmszínészek a Hortobágyon. Budapesti Hírlap, 1930. június 6. 10.
A németek megint megkezdték az álmagyar filmek készítését. Uj Nemzedék. 1930. június 11. 10.
Paul Vincenti. In: Frank Arnau (ed.): Universal Filmlexikon. Berlin – London: Universal Filmlexikon G. m. b. H., London General Press, 1932. 211.
Mindszenty Tibor, az UFA magyar sztárfényképésze. Képes Sport, 1943. szeptember 28.
Kennst du das kleine Haus am Michigansee…? In: Gero Gandert (Hg.): Der Film der Weimarer Republik 1929. Ein Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Kritik. Berlin – New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1993. 100–101.

Barkóczi Janka