But Eliot Fremont-Smith, writing in The New York Times, found merit in the work.
“If ‘In Praise of Older Women’ goes not much of anywhere as a novel,” he wrote, “as an essay on erotics it is refreshing.”
The book inspired two films: a Hollywood version in 1978 whose stars included Tom Berenger and Karen Black, and a Spanish movie in 1997 with Juan Diego Botto as the central character and Faye Dunaway as one of the love interests. Its title became something of a cultural catchphrase, and by the time Penguin Classics republished it in 2010, it was said to have sold five million copies in 21 countries.
The Penguin edition came out when much was being written about the cougar-and-boy-toy phenomenon — older women, including some A-list celebrities, who were romantically involved with much younger men. In interviews at the time, Mr. Vizinczey rejected the idea that his novel was a forerunner of that trend; those relationships seemed merely physical, he said, whereas the ones he wrote about were something more.
“In the world I grew up in, sex was never just sex,” he told The Independent Extra of Britain in 2010. “It started with some kind of connection. The older women wanted to give something — not money, not a loan — to give something of themselves. You were friends, you had some point of unity. Intelligence was very important.”
Stephen Vizinczei — he later changed the spelling — was born on May 12, 1933, in Kaloz, Hungary, southwest of Budapest. When he was 2 his father, a Roman Catholic schoolteacher and antifascist, was murdered by the Nazis, who were ascendant in Hungary at the time.
As a young man he wrote plays, some of which displeased the Soviet-backed government that had taken control of the country after World War II. By the time of the 1956 uprising against that government, he was 23 and in the thick of the revolt; he was part of a group that pulled down a statue of Stalin in Budapest that October.
“We had no technical knowledge and hoped to pull down the colossal bronze statue with steel cables tied to the tractors,” he wrote in 2006 in a remembrance published in The National Post of Canada. “We were surprised that the cables snapped. But eventually someone with a blow torch came around and cut off Stalin’s feet at the boots.”