Bertolt Brecht's 100th Birthday Anniversary Exhibit

Bertolt Brecht's 100th Birthday Anniversary Exhibit

This exhibit was created by Marje Schuetze-Coburn, Feuchtwanger Librarian, at the University of Southern California. 





This exhibition celebrates the 100th birthday of Bertolt Brecht, one of the most influential playwrights  and German writers of the twentieth century.

The exhibit provides background information about Bertolt Brecht, explores some of his experiences between 1941 and 1947 when he lived in Southern California, and showcases archival materials in the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library.

The exhibition "Bertolt Brecht Turns 100" premiered on February 10th 1998 - Brecht's birthday and continued throughout 1998 as an ongoing celebration of Brecht's 100th anniversary year.

This photograph of Bertolt Brecht was taken in 1946 by Gerda Goedhart.

Brecht and Feuchtwanger

Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger met in March 1919, when Brecht was only 21 and Feuchtwanger already established as a well-respected playwright. In 1924 the two collaborated on the play Leben Eduards des Zweiten von England (Edward II in English translation); in 1925 they wrote Kalkutta, 4. Mai which was a revision of Feuchtwanger's play Warren Hastings originally written in 1915.

In 1942 when Brecht and Feuchtwanger were both living in Southern California, the two collaborated on a third play, titled The Visions of Simone Machard dealing with a young French girl active in the resistance. The two friends agreed that Brecht would hold the rights for the play and Feuchtwanger would retain rights for the novel that he intended to write about the main character. When Samuel Goldwyn read Feuchtwanger's novel Simone in 1944 he wanted the story for MGM. Due to both personal and global circumstances the film was never made - the actress, Theresa Wright, Goldwyn wanted to play the teen-aged protaganist became pregnant and before she could resume acting, France became liberated virtually eliminating interest in a French resistance movie. Luckily, both Feuchtwanger and Brecht were paid for the film rights, even though the film was never made. Generously, Feuchtwanger gave Brecht $20,000 of the $50,000 payment from MGM.

Simone Machard

In Brecht's journal entry for January 3, 1942, from he describes working with Lion Feuchtwanger on Simone Machard:

"work every morning with L[ion] F[euchtwanger] on the Visions of Simone Machard, the collaboration is going well and is like a holiday after the film work, although f[euchtwanger] wants to have nothing to do with technical and social aspects (epic portrayal, a-effect, characters made up of social rather than biological ingredients, class conflicts built into the story and so on), and tolerates all that merely as my personal style, after i had completed the structure of the play, with him keeping an eye on naturalistic probability (it ought to be a catering establishment, the cash value of the petrol was too little to be seriously worth fighting for etc), i wrote the scenes at home and then corrected them with him. he has a feeling for structure and appreciates linguistic refinements, is also capable of making poetic and dramaturgical suggestions, knows a lot about literature, pays attention to arguements and is pleasant to deal with, a good friend."

Bertolt Brecht Journals. Translated by Hugh Rorrison; edited by John Willett. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 275.





Brecht and Feuchtwanger's close friendship can be seen in their correspondence. Two examples of letters from Brecht to Feuchtwanger from the Feuchtwanger Archive are included in this exhibit.

In the first letter from November 1940, Brecht expresses his relief to receive Feuchtwanger's letter and learn of his successful escape from Europe. Brecht asks Feuchtwanger for his help to procure immigration visas to enter the United States for himself, his family, and collaborator, Grete Steffin.

The second letter was written in 1955 after Brecht has returned to Europe. In this letter Brecht tells Feuchtwanger that the English Stage Society has expressed interest in producing his Galileo. Brecht asks Feuchtwanger to call Charles Laughton to learn if the actor is interested in performing in a British production of Brecht's play.

Brecht and America

During the 1920s, like many other Europeans, he was fascinated by American pop culture that was portrayed by the media. At that time, he was an avid reader of crime novels and in his own works of the period he included elements depicting this mythical America.

Brecht arrived at the Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro on July 21, 1941. Brecht's first year in Southern California was one of depression and dislike for America as he saw it.

Brecht's lack of critical and financial success must have been an important factor in his attitudes and dislike of the United States. Even during his years of exile in Scandinavia, Brecht could afford a comfortable existance. In Southern California, the sitation worsten significantly, with Brecht living from monthly checks provided by the European Film Fund.

During his years in Southern California, Brecht wrote bitterly about the commericalism of the film industry.

The two newspaper clippings about Brecht appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner in 1947 and 1948.





Brecht and Hollywood Films

During his first year living in Southern California, Brecht sketched numerous ideas for films and wrote a number of film scripts, including Joe Fleischhacker which Brecht wrote in collaboration with established screenwriter Ferdinand Reyher.

None of his ideas during this first year interested directors or studios in Hollywood. It wasn't until Brecht collaborated with Fritz Lang about an anti-war movie, Hangmen Also Die, did his ideas attract the attention of those influential in Hollywood. Brecht worked first the Lang and then later with the well known screen writer, John Wexley, who had written the anti-fascist film Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). Brecht and Wexley worked tirelessly for two months on the final script. Much to Brecht's surprise and disgust, much of the best elements of the plot were removed from the film. In addition, his contributions to the plot did not appear in the film's credits. Music for the film was written by fellow exile Hanns Eisler. Hangmen Also Die was shot in just 52 days during November and December 1942. Hangmen was considered by critics as one of the best anti-fascist films made during the Second World War.

Bertolt Brecht's Galileo at the Coronet Theatre

Perhaps Bertolt Brecht's greatest literary success while living in Los Angeles was the production of his play Leben des Galilei (Galileo). He first began writing the play while living in Denmark in the late 1930s. After he met actor Charles Laughton in 1944 at Salka Viertel's home, he and Laughton began to collaborate on an English version of the play. Their work would take three and a half years. Together they translated the German text of the play, Laughton tending to embellish the language while Brecht strove to simplify. Brecht and Laughton spent many hours together at Laughton's home at 14954 Corona Del Mar in Pacific Palisades.

The play, Galileo, premiered at the Coronet Theatre at 366 N. La Cienega Boulevard near Hollywood. The play was scheduled to begin on July 24, 1947, but was postponed until July 31st. The play ran until August 17. Pelican Productions presented the play - it was produced by T. Edward Hambleton and directed by Joseph Losey. Music for the play was composed by Hanns Eisler. Five months after the Los Angeles production, Galileo was staged in New York at the Maxine Elliott's Theatre in December 1947.

Brecht did not wait to see the New York production of his play as he left the United States on October 31st the day following his testimony at the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Eisler appeared in spring 1947 in conjunction with the hearings about his brother Gerhart Eisler and again on Sept. 24, 1947.

Brecht's testimony before the HUAC took place on the morning of Oct. 30, 1947. The testimony lasted about an hour. He was included among the nineteen Hollywood witnesses who who joined forces and called themselves "unfriendly witnesses" in an effort to stop the Committee's witchhunt. Brecht was the only foreigner in this group and his main concern at the hearing was not to have his return trip to Europe delayed by the Committee. Brecht, too, was able to truthfully say he had never been a member of the Communist Party.

The reception of Galileo was mixed but the large number of reviews of the Los Angeles premiere (in both East and West coast newspapers) indicates the perceived significance of the event.

A manuscript version of Galileo from 1945 or 1946 with annotations by Brecht and Laughton is housed at the University of California, Los Angeles' Department Special Collections.

The photograph (taken by Gerda Goedhart) depicts a 1956 rehearsal of the German production of Galileo at the theater on Reinhartstrasse.




Bertolt Brecht's Appearance Before the HUAC

Bertolt Brecht's testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities took place on the morning of October 30, 1947. During his testimony, which lasted for about an hour, Brecht anwered questions ranging from his affiliation with the Communist Party to the underlying political ideology of his works. Brecht managed to appear willing to answer the questions put to him by the Committee, claiming that he was a "guest" in the United States and stating truthfully at the outset that he had never been a member of the Communist Party.

Brecht's testimony was included among those of nineteen Hollywood witnesses, all of whom except Brecht who had publically joined forces in an effort to stop the Committee's witchhunt. These witnesses became known as the "Hollywood nineteen." Though Brecht has some connection to Hollywood through his screenplays and acquaintances, he was an outsider to this group of successful screenwriters, directors and producers. Brecht was was the only foreigner in this group and his main concern at the hearing was not to have his return trip to Europe delayed by the Committee.

Brecht writes a few weeks later in a letter to his friend, Hanns Eisler, about his testimony with these words:

"By the way, I see from some newspaper clippings that certain journalists thought I behaved arrogantly in Washington; the truth is that I simply had to obey my six lawyers, who advised me to tell the truth and nothing else. Not being a citizen either, I could no more refuse to testify than you could."

Bertolt Brecht Letters. Translated by Ralph Manheim and edited with commentary and notes by John Willett. New York: Routledge, 1990, p. 441.

Brecht apparently rehearsed for his appearence before the HUAC, with his friend Hermann Budzislawski asking possible questions and helping Brecht consider evasive answers to potentially sticky questions about Brecht's political views. Brecht was greatly relieved that the Committee did not request him to stay in the country, allowing him to make his Air France flight to Europe on October 31, 1947.

This Oct. 31, 1947 newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Examiner (on the left) reports on Brecht's testimony before the HUAC.





Durs Grünbein reads Bertolt Brecht  

Durs Grünbein, renowned poet and winner of the 1995 Büchner Prize, was a fellow at Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. During his stay in the former home of Brecht's friend and fellow exile, Lion Feuchtwanger, Durs Grünbein reread some of Brecht's writings. Grünbein was particularly drawn to Brecht's works describing his experiences living in Southern California during the 1940s.


An die Nachgeborenen


Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!
Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn
Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende
Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
Nur noch nicht empfangen.

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!
Der dort ruhig über die Straße geht
Ist wohl nicht mehr erreichbar für seine Freunde
Die in Not sind?

Es ist wahr: ich verdiene noch meinen Unterhalt
Aber glaubt mir: das ist nur ein Zufall. Nichts
Von dem, was ich tue, berechtigt mich dazu, mich sattzuessen.
Zufällig bin ich verschont. (Wenn mein Glück aussetzt, bin ich verloren.)

Man sagt mir: Iß und trink du! Sei froh, daß du hast!
Aber wie kann ich essen und trinken, wenn
Ich dem Hungernden entreiße, was ich esse, und
Mein Glas Wasser einem Verdurstenden fehlt?
Und doch esse und trinke ich.

Ich wäre gerne auch weise.
In den alten Büchern steht, was weise ist:
Sich aus dem Streit der Welt halten und die kurze Zeit
Ohne Furcht verbringen
Auch ohne Gewalt auskommen
Böses mit Gutem vergelten
Seine Wünsche nicht erfüllen, sondern vergessen
Gilt für weise.
Alles das kann ich nicht:
Wirklich, ich lebe in finsteren Zeiten!


In die Städte kam ich zur Zeit der Unordnung
Als da Hunger herrschte.
Unter die Menschen kam ich zu der Zeit des Aufruhrs
Und ich empörte mich mit ihnen.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Mein Essen aß ich zwischen den Schlachten
Schlafen legte ich mich unter die Mörder
Der Liebe pflegte ich achtlos
Und die Natur sah ich ohne Geduld.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mich gegeben war.

Die Straßen führten in den Sumpf zu meiner Zeit.
Die Sprache verriet mich dem Schlächter.
Ich vermochte nur wenig. Aber die Herrschenden
Saßen ohne mich sicherer, das hoffte ich.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.

Die Kräfte waren gering. Das Ziel
Lag in großer Ferne
Es war deutlich sichtbar, wenn auch für mich
Kaum zu erreichen.
So verging meine Zeit
Die auf Erden mir gegeben war.


Ihr, die ihr auftauchen werdet aus der Flut
In der wir untergegangen sind
Wenn ihr von unseren Schwächen sprecht
Auch der finsteren Zeit
Der ihr entronnen seid.

Gingen wir doch, öfter als die Schuhe die Länder wechselnd
Durch die Kriege der Klassen, verzweifelt
Wenn da nur Unrecht war und keine Empörung.

Dabei wissen wir doch:
Auch der Haß gegen die Niedrigkeit
Verzerrt die Züge.
Auch der Zorn über das Unrecht
Macht die Stimme heiser. Ach, wir
Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit
Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein.

Ihr aber, wenn es so weit sein wird
Daß der Mensch dem Menschen ein Helfer ist
Gedenkt unsrer
Mit Nachsicht.

Bertolt Brecht Werke: Gedichte 2. Vol. 12. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1988; pp. 85-7.



Arbeitsjournal, entry for January 21, 1944: Bertolt Brecht Werke: Journale 2. Vol. 27. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1995; pp. 50-1.

"Wo ich wohne": Bertolt Brecht Werke: Schriften 3. Vol. 23. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1993; pp. 48-51.

"Die amerikanische Umgangssprache": Bertolt Brecht Werke: Schriften 3. Vol. 23. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1993; pp. 44-6.

"Briefe an einen erwachsenen Amerikaner": Bertolt Brecht Werke: Schriften 3. Vol. 23. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1993; pp. 46-7.

Lesebuch für Stadtbewohner: Bertolt Brecht Werke: Gedichte 1. Vol. 11. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1988; pp. 157, 163-4, 165.

"An die Nachgeborenen": Bertolt Brecht Werke: Gedichte 2. Vol. 12. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1988; pp. 85-7.



Bertolt Brecht: Broadway - the hard way: Sein Exil in den USA 1941-1947. Leipzig: Edition Suhrkamp, 1994.

James K. Lyon. Bertolt Brecht in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Bertolt Brecht Letters. Translated by Ralph Manheim and edited with commentary and notes by John Willett. New York: Routledge, 1990.

The Oxford Companion to German Literature. Edited by Henry and Mary Garland. 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Bertolt Brecht Journals. Translated by Hugh Rorrison, edited by John Willet. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Bertolt Brecht in Amerika. Edited by James K. Lyon. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1994.