Volume 76, Number 50 | May 9 -15, 2007


Alex Szogyi, 77, polymath on chocolate to Chekhov

By Albert Amateau

Alex Szogyi, a retired professor and Village resident whose expertise and enthusiasms included French literature, theater, film, the plays of Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky, astrology and chocolate, died April 23 after six months of declining health at the age of 77.

A resident of Jane St. for 45 years, he taught at various times at Yale University, Wesleyan College, Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center and served as chairperson of the department of romance languages at Hunter from 1970 to 1977. He wrote many scholarly articles and a novel, translated plays and was an expert graphologist and an astrology consultant whose clients included actors Whoopi Goldberg, Candice Bergen and the food critic Ruth Reichl.

“You don’t ask what Alex did. You ask what he didn’t do,” recalled his partner of 46 years, Philip Thompson, who met Alex when both were involved in a theatrical production.

Alex Szogyi (pronounced zer-nee) was an expert in 17th-century French literature, especially the plays of Molière. He translated all the plays of Anton Chekhov from Russian to English and one of them, “A Country Scandal,” was presented at the Greenwich Mews Theater in 1961. He was a co-founder of APA Repertory with Rosemary Harris and Ellis Rabb. His English translation of Maxim Gorky’s “The Lower Depths” had an APA production at the APA Phoenix Theater on Second Ave. in 1964.

“Alex translated directly from the original Russian and found the rhythm of the language. His ‘Lower Depths’ is still performed around the country,” Thompson said.

Alex Szogyi was a member of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and acted in “Balzac,” a French film starring his friends, Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Depardieu. He also translated the fables of La Fontaine, with a preface by Moreau and illustrations by Claudine Suret-Canale.

He was a founder of the New York chapter of the George Sand Society.

“He brought the world of George Sand to light and to life,” said Natalie Datloff, the society’s secretary.

Szogyi wrote a novel, “Carnaval,” and was an expert on the 17th-century Italian painter Caravaggio. He was also a member of The Century Club in Manhattan.

A food critic, he contributed articles to Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines and edited a book of scholarly and popular essays, “Chocolate: Food of the Gods,” which included a selection of his own chocolate recipes.

He was born in New York, the son of Arpad and Vera Szogyi, immigrants from Hungary. His father was an architect and tried to steer his son to the profession. Alex went to Brooklyn College, took a degree in mathematics, but went on to Yale to study French. He began teaching at Yale in 1952 and earned a Ph.D. there in 1958. He taught at Wesleyan from 1955 to 1961, when he joined the CUNY faculty. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and served for a time as president of Phi Beta Kappa, the scholastic honor society.

A memorial service is being planned for the fall.

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