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1960-1969: Stardom at Last

29 November 1960: Arrives in London to film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, based on a novel by Tennessee Williams, directed by José Quintero, and distributed by Warner Brothers. Lenya plays Countess Magda Terribili-Gonzales, a procuress. She is nominated both for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award as best supporting actress, although she does not win either. Filming continues until March 1961. Lenya returns to the U.S. early in April, after a visit to Vienna.

Early 1961: Broadcast of a half-hour program in the “Monitor” series on BBC Television, directed by Ken Russell. The program includes Lenya’s performances of several Weill songs and an interview.

August 1961: Returns to Great Britain to meet with David Drew and to begin rehearsals for a new production of The Seven Deadly Sins at the Edinburgh Festival, but she decides not to perform due to artistic differences with director Kenneth McMillan. She is replaced by Cleo Laine.

14 November 1961: Appears in the first performance of Brecht on Brecht at the Theater de Lys in New York. The show, part of the ANTA matinee series, is repeated 20 November 1961.

3 January 1962: Appears in the premiere of Brecht on Brecht at the Theater de Lys, the first show to play there after The Threepenny Opera. Poet and translator George Tabori has assembled a collection of poems, songs, and scenes delivered by the six cast members (the others are Dane Clark, Anne Jackson, Viveca Lindfors, George Voskovec, and Michael Wager); Gene Frankel directs. The original cast soundtrack is recorded by Columbia. Originally scheduled for a limited six-week run, the show logs over 200 performances.

Spring 1962: Meets American painter Russell Detwiler at a party given by W.H. Auden in New York and feels an immediate attraction, unaware that he is an alcoholic.

26 May 1962: Presents the Obie Awards in New York.

16 August 1962: Forms the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music as a non-profit corporation on the advice of her attorney John Wharton.

11 September 1962: Appears in the U.K. premiere of Brecht on Brecht at the Royal Court Theatre in London for a four-week limited engagement. Detwiler travels to London separately for the opening.

2 November 1962: Marries Russell Detwiler in London. They take a honeymoon in Germany and return to New York on 29 November.

January 1963: Travels to London to attend the U.K. premiere at Covent Garden of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, translated into English by David Drew and Michael Geliot and conducted by Colin Davis.

April-July 1963: Films From Russia with Love, the second James Bond film, at various locations in Europe. She plays Rosa Klebb, a Russian agent. Her memorable scene at the end of the film, in which she tries to kill Bond (Sean Connery) with a poisoned knife blade projecting from the toe of her shoe, introduces her to her widest audience yet.

Autumn 1963: It is reported that Lenya will play Mother Courage in a production at the Theater de Lys, due to open in January 1964. The production does not materialize.

Autumn 1963: Broadcast of a “Personal Report” interview with John Simon on Channel 13, New York City.

October 1963: Learns of a performance of “Das kleine Mahagonny” given by the Berliner Ensemble at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin from a report by David Drew, who writes Lenya that “Kurt is simply annihilated.” Acting on Drew’s outrage at the piece, which is basically a pastiche (with extensively altered music) of the original Songspiel and the later full-length opera, Lenya defends her interest in both works and forbids further performances of the new adaptation, acquiescing only to Helene Weigel’s plea to allow the Berliner Ensemble to record it and keep it in repertory.

13 October 1963: Embarks on a U.S. tour with Brecht on Brecht, mostly at colleges and universities. In Detroit, she meets the 16-year-old Ted Mitchell, who becomes a close friend and photographs her many times.

February 1964: Takes a two-week vacation in the Bahamas with Russell Detwiler.

9 May 1964: Suffers back injuries in a car accident, which forces her to cancel an engagement in Berlin

28 October 1964: Broadcast of “Lotte Lenya: The Broadway Years of Kurt Weill” as part of the “Stage 2” series on CBS-TV. The program is directed by Jack Landau and co-stars Russell Nype.

8 January 1965: Gives her third Carnegie Hall concert, with a similar program to the first two and many of the same collaborators. It is a smashing success; years later, a pirated recording is released on the Rococo label. She described her performance in a letter to friends: “How I did it, nobody including me will ever know. Some unknown strength took hold of me and I was never as good as that evening. . . . I am sure Kurt Weill was sitting on my shoulder to watch over me.”

April-May 1965: Lenya and Detwiler travel to Germany for rehearsals of Brecht’s Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder. Lenya, having increasing difficulty with Detwiler’s drinking problem, first sends him to her friend Anna Krebs (who has graciously agreed to look after him so Lenya can rehearse in peace), then is forced to send him back to the U.S.

12 June 1965: Plays Mother Courage in the premiere of Brecht’s play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder at the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, directed by Harry Buckwitz. The limited engagement runs about six weeks. For the first time in many years, Lenya gets predominantly negative reviews; her characterization is not well-received by German drama critics, who are accustomed to the interpretation of Brecht’s widow, Helene Weigel. The performance is televised 25 July 1965 on 2. Programm in Germany.

15 July 1965: Broadcast on WGBH-TV (Boston) of “Music in the Twenties: New Movements in Opera,” hosted by Aaron Copland. Lenya has recorded “Havanna-Lied” and “Surabaya Johnny” for the program.

30-31 July 1965: Performs a concert of Weill songs at the Sporthalle in Cologne.

May 1966: Tapes a one-hour program, “The World of Kurt Weill,” with George Voskovec and others, for broadcast later on WGBH in Boston.

Summer 1966: Harold Prince offers Lenya the part of Fräulein Schneider in the Kander-Ebb-Masteroff musical Cabaret, which she accepts.

30 August 1966: Broadcast of “Interregnum” on New York’s WNDT (Channel 13). Lenya narrates the program about George Grosz and Germany between the wars. The program was made in 1960 in both English and German versions.

7 October 1966: Broadcast of Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play, on National Educational Television. Lenya plays the Gypsy, a fortuneteller.

10 October 1966: Plays Fräulein Schneider in the first performance of Cabaret (Boston tryout).

20 November 1966: Plays Fräulein Schneider in the premiere of the musical Cabaret by Joe Masteroff, John Kander, and Fred Ebb, at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, directed by Harold Prince. She remains in the cast for most of the three-year run and is nominated for a Tony Award (Best Actress in a Musical) in 1967, though she loses to Barbara Harris from The Apple Tree. Cabaret wins eight Tonys overall.

23 November 1966: Appears on the Today Show (CBS television) to plug Cabaret.

21 February 1967: Broadcast of Das Berliner Requiem on CBC-TV (CBC Showcase) in Canada. Lenya reads poetry between numbers.

2 March 1967: Severely injures her shoulder but remains in the cast of Cabaret. Detwiler’s alcohol problems continue; Lenya is forced to commit him to Bellevue Hospital for treatment; he is transferred to a sanatorium in Connecticut in June. He is released in July and succeeds in staying sober for about a year.

2 May 1967: Awarded a citation by the Aegis Theatre Club for achievement in theater, specifically her performance in Cabaret.

August-September 1967: Films “Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill” in New York for UFA. An English version is also made. The program is broadcast on Westdeutsches Werbefernsehen in 1969.

April-May 1968: Films The Appointment in Rome, directed by Sidney Lumet. Lenya plays Emma Valadier, a procuress. The film flops in its first screening in Cannes in 1969 and is never released in the U.S. Lenya returns to Cabaret in May.

27 September 1968: Transfers the American rights in most of Weill’s music to The Richmond Organization and receives an advance of $250,000.

February 1969: Records “Welcome Home” and “Young Blood” by John Cacavas and Charles O. Wood (also known as Charles Osgood) for Metromedia Records (MM-165). The recording sells few copies due to its topical nature.

11 April 1969: Films “13 Stars for 13,” for WNDT-TV (Educational Broadcasting Corporation) in New York.

May 1969: Leaves the cast of Cabaret a few months before it closes. Within a few months, Alan Jay Lerner offers her the title role in his musical, Coco, based on the life of Coco Chanel. She declines, and Katherine Hepburn takes the part.

27 June 1969: Awarded “Das grosse Verdienstkreuz” (Great Service Cross) by the West German government in New York.

30 October 1969: Russell Detwiler dies at Brook House from a fall caused by an alcoholic seizure. Although his alcoholism had been a thorn in her side and even a source of despair, Lenya, now a three-time widow, is devastated. She buries him near Kurt Weill in Mount Repose Cemetery. While trying to honor previous commitments, she goes into a period of inactivity and depression which lasts for about a year.

9 November 1969: Despite her grief, Lenya participates as planned in a Weill concert at Lincoln Center, where she sings “Bilbao-Song” and “Surabaya-Johnny.” The second half of the program is a performance of the complete score of Lady in the Dark starring Angela Lansbury.


Up Next: Passing the Torch (1970 – 1981)

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