Monday, October 18, 2010

Remembering... Lotte Lenya

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As a young girl (born on this day in 1898) it was Lotte Lenya's goal in life to be a dancer; after a few years swinging it around in the chorus-lines of Berlin she met a piano player by the name of Kurt Weill and ended up settling for being a Muse instead. She was cast in his show Die Dreigroschenoper, and a star was born...

The couple married in 1926 and soon became a part of an unparalleled artistic community in Germany in the dying days of the Weimar Republic; by the time Lenya fled the Nazi threat and decamped to Paris in 1933, though, they had become estranged, and she divorced him. Again, though, she found herself singing his songs, this time in The Seven Deadly Sins. In 1935 Lenya and Weill were reunited and together they emigrated to the United States; they remarried in 1937 and would remain together until Weill's death in 1950.

Yet even after Weill's death it is for her performances of his works that she is best-known. In 1956 she won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, the role that had first made her famous in 1928. A decade later she originated the role of Fräulein Schneider in Kander and Ebb's original Broadway production on Cabaret, whose music was a spot-on homage to that of Brecht and Weill.

Her movie roles proved she had her funny side as well; playing the Contessa in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) - based on a novel written by Tennessee Williams, and for which she was nominated for an Oscar - she got a chance to procure young men for wealthy older clients, namely Warren Beatty for Vivien Leigh, as well as be the first person in the American cinema to call herself a 'chicken-hawk'. Though not a comedy the movie is nevertheless a laugh-a-minute. Similarly, as Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love (1963) she's so camp she could have changed her name to KOA.
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