Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh, The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear ...

Recognize this woman?
Yes? No?

I’ll give you a clue. She’s a famous actress – world famous, in fact. Here’s another clue. Her husband was also in show business, and he was more famous than she was, and their greatest successes were when they worked together.

Got it yet?

So it’s an old picture. (I believe it was taken in or around the year 1928.) A little before your time, maybe. Certainly a little before MY time.

Okay. Another clue. In 1958 Bobby Darrin sang about her. In Mack The Knife Darrin claims she was one of the “girl friends” of the title character.

“Jenny Diver, Sukey Tawdry,
Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown.
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe,
now that Macky’s back in town.”

She is Lotte Lenya, married to the composer of The Threepenny Opera, Kurt Weill. As famous as they both were, this is the only picture I could find of them together.

For someone I stumbled across by accident, Lotte Lenya has proven to be a truly fascinating individual. Not only did she cross back and forth easily between stage and screen, but she also was exactly the right age to go through the evolution to modern theatre. She starred in Threepenny Opera when it first opened in Germany in 1928. Later – much later – she had featured roles in such popular films as the James Bond thriller From Russia With Love, and three years later she won a tony award for her role in the Broadway musical Cabaret.

But this gifted artist caught my attention for another reason. She survived. She went through some of the worst that the world could throw at her. (She and her husband went through a severe depression in Germany, escaped that country with Adolf Hitler hot on their heels, and landed in New York City just in time to face another depression.) They encountered open hostility and suspicion because they were German and Jewish at a time when neither was popular in this country.

Even when her husband died in 1950, Lotte not only survived, she prospered. She just refused to quit.

I admire that quality. It has occurred to me that most of my true friends are that way. Artistic people, they went through a period of adversity and came out the other side – sadder, wiser, maybe the walking wounded. But they kept going, and the world has been the better for it.

Am I talking about you? You know I am. Go back to the top of this post, take another look at the picture – another look deep into the eyes of a survivor.

See yourself there?

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