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The legendary puppeteer Henrik Kemény has died at the age of 87

Demons can come, ÁVH can destroy your puppet theater or it can burn up as it burns down by human evil, but you'll eventually win as long as a pancake pan exists in the world. As usual, we look forward to your encouragement and support from the Heaven too:

Hajrá pajtikák/Go for it buddy!

János Novák's tearful farewell to his friend.

7 December 2011

Family history

The Korngut family carried on the centuries-old folk tradition of puppetry. The grandfather, Solomon Korngut (1853 -1930), came from Galicia to Várpalota and worked as a shoemaker. The Ministry of Interior provided him with state permission to present magic shows in 1897. His grandfather was travelling by county fairs where he managed a circus first. Because of unpredictability in the company, however, he changed to perform puppet shows instead. Later, he built up a permanent theater in Buda. His 2 sons, Henrik (Henrik Kemény's father) and Dezső, were born after Solomon Korngut got married.

His father, Henrik Korgnut-Kemény(1888-1944) lived in New York and worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio. After he returned to Hungary in 1912, he founded the Columbia Hungarian Mechanical Theatre which went bankrupt in a year. After the First World War, which war devastated the family, Henrik's father was working in the Hungarian Film Studio. But he decided to give up his job and build up a new puppet stage on Hűvösvölgy Great meadow (district 2 in Budapest) in 1926. In 1927 Henrik's father and grandfather opened puppet theater in Népliget. Henrik Korngut's wife was Mária Kriflik (1898-1984) who was born in Pozsony (Bratislava) and change her family name from Kriflik to Keményi.

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He has started his puppet shows with these words "Szervusztok pajtikák! Szeretitek a csokoládét?" for 81 years. He was born on 29 January 1925 who was the first son of Henrik Korngut-Kemény. He was just 6 when he started to play in puppet theatre with Mickey Mouse received from his dad. Every afternoon Henrick and his brother, Mátyás(1926-2001), together helped their father behind the stage. In 1934 he carved his first puppet of Vitéz László. This poppet charachter is very similar to Austrian and German folk puppet figure Kasperle who also fight against the devil. Similar, but German Hanswurst is older centuries than Vitéz László. It is also possible that the origin of Vitéz László based on medieval poppet harachter Pulcinella. Vitéz László poppet show in Hungary is as traditional as Punch and Judy puppet show in the UK.

Yet Vitéz László is not classic hero. Thanks to his invetive creativtiy, big mouth and pancake pan (called "grand ma's hand fan for ball ceremony" in the show "nagyanyucikája báli legyezőjének") he alwasy pushes through his will and plans but less courage taken. He also runs into trouble with the secular authorities, judges, gendarmes and he is not afraid of the devil Lucifer either.(Cuclifer used in shows combinations of Lucifer and Hungarian word "cumi" = pacifier with symbolic meaning of suck). In this story, however, truth always wins, a god person is always rewarded while the wicked go to Hell.

Vitéz Lálszló evokes a little figure of jester who was not warmly welcomed by political dictatorships in the 20th century. After Hungarian Soviet Republic, the colour (the suit) was a serious problem: the character is not only dressed in red but also called "Vitéz" recalling Miklós Horthy (his full name is Vitéz Nagybányai Horty Miklós) and act as a soldier with outspoken truth. But the Horthy era, where Hungarian order of merit (Vitéz) was awarded as a state honour, did not tolerate a red Vitéz who could beat bourgeoisie with a pancake pan. That is why Vitéz László renamed as Paprika Jancsi (Jonny Paprika) at that time.

The Second World War radically changed the family life. Dad, Henrik Kemény-Korngut, who was playing for eighteen consecutive years in the puppet theatre, was disappeared during compulsory work service in 1944 while Mátyás, his brother, was in captivity. At the end of the summer of 1945 Mátyás come home from captivity, they played together in the Puppet Theatre on 20 August when Budapest was ruined. From 1947 puppet shows were banned, it was hard to get operating license. In 1948 Henrik Kemény stated that if he could not play his (grand)father's legacy , he would not play with glove puppet any more but marionette puppet show with music (without words) would be directed only. On the nationalization day of 21 August 1953 puppets were evacuated from Népliget and they were hidden for more than 10 years from the communist state's eyes which said exploiter capitalist's tool for dulling people's brain was to be elliminated.

In the 80s, the Hungarian State Television also contributed through puppet shows in the TV to make Henrik Kemény a popular artist in Hungary. Puppet shows like Hakapeszi Maki, Tücsök és Pamacs, Gyufa Gyuri, Sakk Matyi, Gesztenye Guszti, Süsü the dragon - he made all the puppets and the most he played on the shows.


 "As long as I can raise my hand, I want to play and end on the stage"


He received accolades by Hungarian folk puppetry from London to Berlin, Mexico to Taiwan, from Munich to Moscow. Henrik Kemény gave dozen of Vitéz László figures to museums and famous people. Stadtmuseum in Munich, UNIMA Festival Center in Dresden (Germany), National Puppet Museum in Mexico, Sergey Obrazcov in Moscow and François Mitterand in Paris.

In 1989 Kemény Puppet Theatre was reconstructed (supported by Soros Foundation) solemnly opened in Népliget when he played with Vitéz László first and last time on the stage of the renovated theatre. Népliget has not attracted the audience back Park has not given back since then.

My life from cradle to grave is puppetry - Book of Henrik Kemény was done in 2010 but it was planned to be published at his 87th Birthday in 2012. However, Henrik Kemény was shocked, and then dead in 2 months after Kemény Puppet Theatre burnt down due to arson on 2 October. Rest in Peace.


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Vitéz László