For other uses, see Liliom (disambiguation).
Joseph Schildkraut in the title role in the Theatre Guild production of Liliom (1921)

Liliom is a 1909 play by the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. It was very famous in its own right during the early to mid-20th century, but is best known today as the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.


Joseph Schildkraut (Liliom), Evelyn Chard (Louise) and Eva Le Gallienne (Julie) in the 1921 Theatre Guild production

The play takes place partly in Budapest, Hungary, and partly in a waiting area just outside Heaven. The story concerns Liliom, a tough, cocky carousel barker who falls in love with Julie, a young woman who works as a maid. When both lose their jobs, Liliom begins mistreating Julie out of bitterness — even slapping her once — although he loves her. When she discovers she is pregnant, he is deliriously happy, but, unbeknownst to Julie, he agrees to participate with his friend Ficsur, a criminal, in a hold-up to obtain money to provide for the child. Liliom is unwilling to leave Julie and return to his jealous former employer, the carousel owner Mrs. Muskat, and feels that the robbery is his only way left to obtain financial security. The hold-up is a disaster, but Ficsur escapes, and Liliom kills himself to avoid capture. He is sent to a fiery place, presumably Purgatory. Sixteen years later, he is allowed to return to Earth for one day to do a good deed for his now teenage daughter, Louise, whom he has never met. If he succeeds, he will be allowed to enter Heaven. He fails in the attempt, and is presumably sent to Hell. The ending, though, focuses on Julie, who obviously remembers Liliom fondly.

A contrasting subplot involves Julie's best friend, Marie, and Wolf Beifeld, a rather pompous hotel porter who marries Marie and finally becomes the wealthy owner of the hotel at which he once worked. The two eventually have seven children, who never appear onstage in Molnár's play. There is also a Carpenter in Liliom who is in unrequited love with Julie, and who, in contrast to Liliom, has a stable job.


"A star—please, my dear—I must do something good." Liliom (Joseph Schildkraut) offers Louise (Evelyn Chard) the star he stole, in this scene from the 1921 Theatre Guild production.

Liliom was a failure in Hungary when it was staged there in 1909, but not when it was staged on Broadway in an English translation by Benjamin Glazer in 1921. The production starred Joseph Schildkraut (his role originally offered to John Barrymore), and Eva Le Gallienne, with supporting roles played by such actors as Dudley Digges and Helen Westley.[1]

Ivor Novello starred as Liliom in 1926 in London, with Charles Laughton, in one of his first stage roles, as Ficsur. Schildkraut and Le Gallienne repeated their roles, and Sayre Crawley played the Magistrate in the first Broadway revival of the play, in 1932.[2]

Stage and radio adaptations

In 1939, Orson Welles directed and played the title role in a one-hour radio adaptation for his CBS Campbell Playhouse program; the production costarred Helen Hayes as Julie and Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Muskat, the carousel owner who is infatuated with Lilliom. It was broadcast live on October 10, 1939. The recording made from the broadcast still exists and can even be heard online.[3]

In 1940, a second American stage revival, starring Burgess Meredith and Ingrid Bergman, with Elia Kazan as Ficsur and Joan Tetzel as Louise, played in New York.

In 1945, at the suggestion of the Theatre Guild (which had produced the 1921 and 1932 productions of Liliom as well as the original Oklahoma!), Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote Carousel, an American musical adaptation of the play. This was also produced by the Theatre Guild and became one of the great classics of musical theatre. Even though the musical adaptation took liberties with Molnár's play, changing the ending so that the ex-barker is successful in trying to help Louise upon his return to Earth, Molnár applauded Carousel. The character of Louise is made more poignant in the musical, in which she is snobbishly taunted and rejected because her father was a thief. It is the Liliom character who finally gives her the confidence she needs to face life. In Carousel, the characters of Marie and Wolf Beifeld in Liliom become Carrie Pipperidge and Mr. Snow who, a fisherman in the musical, is made even more pompous than in the original play. His children are the ones who so viciously taunt Louise, although, in order to keep Carrie a sympathetic character, Hammerstein keeps her totally unaware of this; in contrast to Mr. Snow, she is even supportive of a potential budding romantic relationship between their eldest son and Louise. (The relationship is quickly cut short, however, when Mr. Snow's son insults Louise by stating outright that marrying her would be "beneath his station.") Both Carrie and Mr. Snow are made into rather comical figures (especially the feather-brained Carrie) in the musical, in contrast to the completely serious Marie and Wolf Beifeld in Liliom.

Carousel also Americanizes the story, setting it in Maine during the last part of the nineteenth century, and including a New England clam bake as the setting for some of the more cheerful songs in the show. The names of most of the other characters were changed as well. Liliom became Billy Bigelow, the criminal Fiscúr became Jigger Craigin, and Mother Hollunder, the boarding house keeper, became Julie's cousin Nettie. There is no Carpenter in Carousel.

There is an added layer of social commentary in Liliom which is deliberately omitted from Carousel. The intended holdup victim in Molnar's play, a payroll clerk named Linzman, is Jewish, as is Wolf Beifeld. In Carousel, Linzman becomes Mr. Bascombe, the wealthy owner of the cotton mill at which Julie once worked.

In Liliom, Liliom encounters Linzman only once, during the robbery. In Carousel, Billy Bigelow has met Bascombe much earlier during the play. Bascombe finds him and Julie together and kindly offers not to fire Julie, who has stayed out past the mill workers' curfew, if she allows him (Bascombe) to take her back to the mill. She gently refuses.

However, many elements of Liliom are retained faithfully in Carousel, an unusual step in the 1940s for a musical play based on such a serious drama. Molnár's basic plotline for Liliom and Julie is largely adhered to, as is much of his dialogue (although Hammerstein makes it more colloquial and gives it a New England flavor). Billy Bigelow is a womanizer and an abusive husband, as is Liliom in the non-musical play; however, both the Molnar play and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical are careful to stress that he has hit his wife only once, and that other characters erroneously believe that he is a habitual wife-beater.

Carousel also retains the attempted robbery scene however in the film, Billy falls on his knife while trying to get away and doesn't commit suicide like Liliom does in the original play.

In December 2011, a ballet adaptation of Liliom, with music by Oscar-winning composer Michel Legrand, was premiered by the Hamburg Ballet, and starred Alina Cojocaru as Julie.[4] In this version, Liliom's child is changed from being a girl to a boy (Louis instead of Louise).[5]

In 2014 Galin Stoev directed the play in Theatre de Liege.

Film adaptations

Liliom has been filmed several times, beginning in the silent era:

Main article: Liliom (1934 film)

These first two talking film versions of Molnar's original play also alter the ending to make it more hopeful, though not as drastically as Carousel does. (A Trip to Paradise also featured a happy ending.) In the 1934 French film, Liliom finally does gain entry into Heaven, not because he has successfully done something good for his daughter, but because of Julie's forgiveness and love for him. Likewise, in the 1930 American film version, Liliom feels that he has failed, but the Heavenly Magistrate (H. B. Warner) reassures him that he has not, because Julie clearly still loves him. But it is never revealed in this version whether or not Liliom actually enters Heaven.

By contrast, in the original stage play, Liliom is ominously and sternly led offstage after he fails in his heavenly mission and is never seen or heard from again, although Julie still remembers him fondly.

Major characters in Liliom


  1. The Broadway League. "Liliom - IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information".
  2. The Broadway League. "Liliom - IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information".
  3. "The Mercury Theatre on the Air".
  4. "ALINA COJOCARU - What / When / Where..".
  5. "John Neumeier's new "Liliom" - danceviewtimes".
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