Partner Philip Thompson

Queer Places:
1711 Morris Ave, The Bronx, NY 10457
Yale University (Ivy League), 38 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520
61 Jane St, New York, NY 10014

Alexander William "Alex" Szogyi (January 27, 1929 - April 23, 2007) was a professor and Greenwich Village resident whose expertise and enthusiasms included French literature, theater, film, the plays of Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky, astrology and chocolate.

Alexander William Szogyi 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. Szogyi 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.

Szogyi 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 (born June 16, 1929), who met Alex when both were involved in a theatrical production.

Alex Szogyi 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.

Philip Thompson, Alex Szogyi’s longtime partner, had a disquieting experience at a dinner party in Patricia Highsmith’s house in Moncourt in the 1970s. Alex and Philip were visiting Highsmith in France, and Highsmith, unusually, was cooking a real home-style Southern meal for them with chicken and biscuits, gravy, and mashed potatoes. She hated cooking, said Szogyi, and when she did cook it was “sort of”—he paused politely to find the right term; he was a food writer—“Texan.” The other guests at Highsmith’s house, all women, were speaking French with Szogyi. Thompson, who didn’t speak French and who, anyway, had a rather tetchy relationship with Highsmith, was listening uncomfortably to the conversation, trying to catch a word here and there. Finally, Thompson went into the kitchen and said to Highsmith, “Gee I wish they would speak English, I can’t understand a word.” And Highsmith turned on him immediately. “What a pity,” she retorted coldly. That, Thompson thought, was when the trouble began. Also present at the dinner party was a “charming young journalist from London”—Madeleine Harmsworth—and Thompson and Harmsworth began talking and getting along wonderfully, and Highsmith didn’t much like that, Thompson felt. At some point during the evening, Highsmith’s “Confederate” swords were taken down from the wall, and Thompson and Highsmith posed for a picture “en garde,” which, Thompson thought, was quite symbolic of their relationship. At the end of the evening, and after eating the dinner Highsmith had prepared, Philip Thompson became violently ill. He was the only person at the dinner party who did so, and it’s a measure of the uneasy possibilities Highsmith’s character could evoke for her friends that it crossed the minds of both Szogyi and Thompson that Highsmith might have had something to do with Thompson’s illness, that she might have “poisoned” Thompson: put something in the food on his plate to make him sick. Szogyi, enormously sympathetic to Highsmith in every respect and unreservedly complimentary of her work, said he was worried about this. Szogyi and Thompson laughed about it, but ever after they continued to refer to that dinner party in Moncourt as “the night of the poisoning.”

Alex Szogyi died April 23, 2007, after six months of declining health at the age of 77. Philip Thompson and Alex Szogyi lived on Jane Street since 1965. Thompson's name appears on a bench in Abingdon Square: He dedicated a plaque to his longtime partner, Alex Szogyi. They used to sit there together, and in recent years, Thompson said, the green space has provided solace.

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