‘Dreiser, Nyiregyhazi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain
See downloadable Word document, which contains the complete text of this post, above.
Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi, a child prodigy, emigrated to the United States in 1920.
In 1927, Theodore Dreiser and his mistress Helen Richardson were invited to a Nyiregyházi concert in Manhattan. The pianist became friends with the couple. Nyiregyházi and Helen began an affair which lasted for about two months. Dreiser found out about it, causing a rupture of his friendship with Nyiregyházi. Dreiser insisted that Helen break completely with the pianist. He demanded absolute liberty for himself to have affairs, but would not grant this to Helen.
Nyiregyházi tried to maintain the relationship with Dreiser. Dreiser rebuffed him. But in 1930, Nyiregyházi gave his girlfriend Marie Pergain a letter of introduction to Dreiser. Dreiser and Pergain commenced an affair.
Both Dreiser and Nyiregyházi were sex addicts and compulsive womanizers.
The relationship between Dreiser and Marie Pergain was a stormy one. Dreiser abused her.
Dreiser and Pergain traveled together to Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931 when Dreiser was heading up a committee investigating conditions of striking miners there. Dreiser had until that time kept his relationship with Pergain secret; he explained that she was one of his literary secretaries.
Dreiser and Pergain were indicted for adultery by Kentucky authorities, but they were never arrested and the charges were eventually dropped.
Dreiser and Pergain broke up shortly thereafter. Pergain moved to Hungary and lived with her former lover Nyiregyházi before breaking up with him.
Nyiregyházi and Pergain both returned to the United States. Near the end of Dreiser’s life, the pianist visited Dreiser and Helen in Los Angeles without renewal of the friendship with Dreiser or intimacy with Helen.
Marie Pergain has long been a “mystery woman.” She was an accomplished pianist and an actress with minor roles in several silent films during the 1920’s.
The affair between Dreiser’s mistress Helen and Ervin Nyiregyházi was not revealed until very recently, in a biography of Nyiregyházi that was published in 2007. The article by Roger W. Smith contained in the above attachment reveals hitherto unknown details about the affair and about Marie Pergain. The focus is on the incidents in this complicated story that involved Theodore Dreiser, directly or indirectly.
— Roger W. Smith
March 2016; updated October 2022