A married couple on the stage of heaven – Gyula Böszörményi remembers

Dear Mari and Gábor, you are both passed on now. It will be a personal and therefore subjective, or – let’s say – affecting necrology; please forgive me!

Mari Simon, actress, and Gábor Mészöly, writer and dramaturg, have slipped away.

Dear Mari, you were only 63 when, after a long illness, signed up for the celestial troupe on 29 July 2021. You graduated from the Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in 1983, where you studied in László Marton’s class, and then joined the Vígszínház. Before continuing to work as a freelancer you had played at the Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen, the Móricz Zsigmond Theatre in Nyíregyháza and the Gárdonyi Géza Theatre in Eger. You gave us excellent performances, we saw you on stage playing Hazel (O’Neill: American Elektra); Ophelia (Shakespeare: Hamlet); Tünde (M. Vörösmarty: Csongor and Tünde); Andromache (Euripides-Sartre: Trojan Women), and in the cinema in Cha-Cha-Cha, Elcserélt szerelem, A kör négyszögesítése, Szeleburdi vakáció and Szomszédok. Few people know that you have also composed the music for two vaudeville musicals (Szollogub: A tender heart is trouble, Grigoryev: The Russian actor’s daughter). But what all your friends knew about you was that you you lived life with heart and soul, with total devotion and how terribly you were tormented by the illness you had battled for years with your husband, Gábor, by your side.

Gyula Böszörményi, Gábor Mészöly, Gyula Radó and a moderator of an event at the 2019 Week of the Book Budapest

I first met you, my Gábor (I always called you Gábor, as you always called me Gyuszika, “little Gyula”) in 1990. At that time, I was living in the social home in Erdőkertes, where I had written my first short novel, Kucó. You got in touch with me after a mutual friend had sent you the manuscript.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about. I didn’t know that your great-grandfather was Mór Ditrói, the founding artistic director of the Vígszínház, nor that your father was Tibor Mészöly, an actor, dramaturg and theatre director, and your mother was Ilona Ditrói, an actress. It was only later that you told me that there was always a great artistic scene in your apartment, a wide range of artist was swarming there,  which is how it happened that you, little Gábor, were ridden on the knee by Miklós Radnóti. I also didn’t know that you started your life as a loader and later lathe worker, then became dramaturg of the Mafilm Military Studio, later dramaturg and head of the acting section of the Honvéd Ensemble, while you also worked as the founding artistic director of the renewed Esztergom Castle Theatre and artistic director of the Buda Castle Summer. I had no idea that you were involved in countless major TV productions, but you also wrote cabaret sketches for the Vígszínház and several major plays and TV series.

All I saw was a very kind and direct person who told me that the novel I had written was good, although it needed a little work, but he willingly helped me to gring out the best in that. And you did! You came regularly to the social home and then to my mother’s flat in Óbuda during the Christmas holidays and spent long hours kneading, torturing, pulling and making my text better, asking me with every word if I thought it would be good enough. In those days, there were no computers, and we used scissors to cut the text into sentences and then applied Technokoll to glue them in the right order on another sheet of paper. Those were legendary times, Gabor!

1990: Gábor Mészöly and Zoltán Zemlényi at the premiere of Hoppárézimi

Later that year, you invited me to the Madách Chamber Theatre for the premiere of your new play. It was Hoppárézimi, a work based on the diary novel by Zoltán Zemlényi (ZZ), directed by Péter Huszti and immortalised by the sad yet brilliantly remembered Zoltán Ternyák in his ingenious performance. Like me, you discovered Zemlényi Zoli, Gábor! You believed in us, and so we began to believe in ourselves. Hoppárézimi became a huge success, as did our 1997 play, a collaboration between us, based on my first short novel, Kucó, directed by Gyula Radó, with Péter Molnár Kálloy in the Komédium Theatre.

The years have gone by and you have never forgotten me. You got me into television where, together with the writing team you led, we created the series Űrgammák – which was hugely popular in its days. You always came to Vörösmarty Square when I signed books, you cheered my new books, and were a guest at my literary evenings. The last time we met was on 15 November 2019 in Tiszakécske: the talk you gave the audience that day was a gift that will accompany us relentlessly.

My collection of short stories, Kucó és más életszilánkok, was also published that year, and you and Gyula Radó came to the book launch during the Week of the Book Budapest. That was the first time you told me that my short story A Túra, which appeared in the book, could be turned into a great play. I felt being in over my head, but encouraged you to write it. Months went by and you finally got around to it. You wrote an impressive two-character play called A Túra, which you sent to the actress Kriszta Szalai, who loved it, but the pandemic has not spared it…

The piece is still on my computer – it will probably never be performed again.

In the last days we only kept in touch via Messenger. On 5 July, you were delighted to write that Spirit Theatre would be presenting Hoppárézimi again. Of course, the joy was mixed with some sadness. You wrote: “Unfortunately I can’t be there. Pity… Gus, nice, eh?: instead of a theatre show, we’re looking for a hospice. “ˮ Your last message, on 21 August, read: “Gyuszika, I’m in a hospice house. A bed, a nightstand and half a closet have become my FINAL home. /…/ bye-bye Gyuszika – that’s it. “Konec filma “ˮ

I replied, “But what a film, Gábor, what a film!ˮ – but you didn’t read that; on 23 September you followed Mari to conquer the heavenly stages/celestial threatlical troupe.

As they say before the premiere: break a leg, but try not to hurt those boots while doing it, dear Mari and Gábor!

Article: Gyula Böszörményi

Translation: Nóra Fehér