The 1950s star whose light was suffocated by the regime
The communist party needed people in the period prior to 1956 who would fit the propaganda mold of growing up in abject poverty only to later become successful in life. The creation of celebrity under the regime worked in the same way, so that people could see that nothing was impossible, and that people could rise up from the most disadvantaged backgrounds through generous support from the state. This, of course, was barely true, for aside from the leading politicians, very few were allowed to achieve any amount of fame. Among the few was the actor Imre Soós, who gradually found himself increasingly in conflict with the regime.
As one of Hungary’s most famous actors in the 1950s, Soós came from a family that was allegedly so poor that one of his grandparents couldn’t even write or read, and he himself only finished a few years of school. Soós came to Budapest for the first time at the age of 17 when he applied to the Academy of Drama, performing his admissions test barefoot. Following his test, one of the members of the admissions committee gave the young man shoes and trousers.
His years at college were made more difficult by the political pressure to “practice self-criticism”, which of course today looks absurd, but at the time meant that he had to reveal everything about himself and say to his fellow students why he did not meet the communist regime’s expectations. Even those who were died-in-the-wool communists had to take part, enduring sharp criticism from others while they said their “confession.” These dreaded meetings naturally had a negative impact on Soós, which for some resulted in either expulsion or even imprisonment. Of Soós, his teachers wrote: “he neglects his duties, does not train himself ideologically, nor does he carry out work for the movement”. For the time being, however, he avoided any significant repercussions.
Soós could not, however, avoid the punishment of being exiled to a theatre in the countryside following his graduation in 1952 because he and one of his colleagues were overheard criticizing the regime in their apartment. Allegedly, they even went so far as to say that Hungary would never be a good place as long as Rákosi was in power. The neighbor who overheard them notified the authorities, and Soós had to appear before the Minister of Education, after which he was banned from the theatres in Budapest. The neighbor who reported them in turn received the apartment where they had lived.
At times his name would frequently appear in the media, at other times his person went completely unmentioned, all due to Rákosi’s personal instructions. The exile and the pressure eventually resulted in Soós’s mental breakdown. His most famous film, Körhinta was successful internationally and nominated for a prize at Cannes, but Soós was not permitted to travel abroad, being told that he would not be able to behave appropriately since he was a peasant. The suppression of the 1956 Revolution also made a deep impression on him, for his unrequited love, the actress Violetta Ferrari left the country, after which he began taking prescription drugs and drinking. Although he married not long after the revolution, his life would take a turn. Under circumstances that remain unclear to this day, he died together with his new bride in 1957, after only a few weeks of marriage. Imre Soós’s death at the age of 27 meant that Hungary lost one of her finest actors, and is another example of what could have been in a different world.