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Lotte Lenya: A Detailed Chronology 1950-1959

This chronology lists Lenya's major performances, records key events in her life, and presents a skeletal picture of her movements and relationships. Only the most significant of her hundreds of appearances on radio and television are included. Doubtful dates are noted with a question mark.

May 1950
Lenya renews her friendship with writer and editor George Davis, whom she and Weill had known since the late 1930s. In the following months, he becomes her preferred companion. With Davis's help, she resolves to "fight for [Weill's] music, to keep it alive, to do everything within my power for it." She maintains this goal with great tenacity until her death. Her voluminous legal and business correspondence, starting in 1950, attests to her perseverance.

4 July 1950
Gives a television interview to Kathi Norris (network unknown).

10 July 1950
Attends a Kurt Weill Memorial Concert at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, along with 10,000 other people. Maxwell Anderson delivers a eulogy, as he did at the funeral.

7 August 1950
Attends the opening of Lost in the Stars in San Francisco with Mab Anderson.

3 February 1951
Performs in a "Kurt Weill Concert" at Town Hall in New York. The program is repeated 17 February at Town Hall and 31 March at the 92nd Street Y. She participates in the second half of the program, a concert version of Die Dreigroschenoper. In the role of Polly, Lenya sings most of the female characters' musical numbers. This is her first public performance since The Firebrand of Florence (and since Weill's death).

6 February 1951
Lenya's mother dies in Vienna at the age of 85.

7 July 1951
Marries George Davis in a civil ceremony witnessed by Maxwell Anderson and Milton Caniff in Rockland County.

31 October 1951
Opens as Xantippe in Maxwell Anderson's Barefoot in Athens at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York, directed by Alan Anderson. Although Lenya was briefly replaced during out-of-town tryouts, her performance generally wins praise from reviewers. The play, however, does not, and runs only 30 performances.

23 February 1952
Performs in a "Kurt Weill Concert," at Town Hall in New York. Although the first half of the program is quite different from that of the previous year, the second half is the same.

14 June 1952
Appears as Jenny in a concert performance of Marc Blitzstein's English adaptation of Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) at Brandeis University, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

22 March 1953
Discovers body of Maxwell Anderson's wife, Mab Anderson, who has committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning in the Andersons' garage in New City.

October 1953
Lenya and Blitzstein meet with two novice theater producers, Carmen Capalbo and Stanley Chase, who want to mount The Threepenny Opera. Their willingness to stick closely to the score and script (unlike other candidates) wins Lenya over. They also insist that she play Jenny.

Spring 1954?
With Marc Blitzstein, gives a television interview to publicize The Threepenny Opera. Lenya sings a verse of "Surabaya-Johnny" and "Mack the Knife" as Blitzstein accompanies her on the piano, and Blitzstein sings "Solomon Song."

10 March 1954
Opens as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera at the Theater de Lys in New York (off-Broadway), directed by Capalbo. The show is a hit, but closes after 96 performances because another play is contracted for the theater. The score is recorded by MGM Records (E3121) and released in July 1954 as the first off-Broadway cast recording.

20 July 1954
Opens as Mrs. Carroll in Martin Vale's play, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, at the Lakeside Summer Theatre in Lake Hopatcong, N.J., directed by Herbert Machiz. The show runs roughly ten performances.

3 April 1955
Lenya and Davis arrive in West Germany, her first visit since 1934. They are there to do research on Weill for a biography and to make recordings of Weill's music for Philips (which co-produces with Columbia Records in the U.S.). While in Berlin, Lenya crosses to East Berlin to visit Brecht; she also visits her family in Vienna in late May. She and Davis remain in Europe until mid-July. In addition to making a recording herself, Lenya supervises the first recording of Weill's and Brecht's opera Der Jasager (1930) for MGM Records (E3270); recorded in Dusseldorf in late April, it is released in 1956.

5-7 July 1955
Records Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill in Hamburg for Philips (B 07 039); released in the U.S. by Columbia (ML 5056) in November 1955 as Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theater Songs of Kurt Weill.

20 September 1955
Re-opens as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera at the Theater de Lys, and remains in the cast (with a brief hiatus) until April 1956. She wins a Tony Award in 1956 as Outstanding Supporting or Featured Musical Actress, and the production wins a special Tony the same year. The Threepenny Opera runs 2,611 performances, finally closing 17 December 1961, having broken the record at that time for the longest-running musical.

22 September 1955
Records "Theme from The Threepenny Opera" ("Mack the Knife") with jazzman Turk Murphy on Columbia. The record is not released commercially in the U.S. (though available for radio play), but is released in February 1956 and becomes a hit in Germany.

28 September 1955
Attends recording session for "Mack the Knife" with Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars, in New York. Armstrong includes Lenya's name in the lyrics, an innovation other singers will take up. "Mack the Knife" has already been recorded as a popular song, and it will be recorded several more times in the 1950s, by Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, among others. At the same session, the band makes another recording of "Mack the Knife" with Lenya singing; this recording is not issued until 1982 on Book-of-the-Month 21-6547.

October 1955
Stays in Maurice Grosser's apartment on West 14th Street before leasing an apartment at 994 2nd Avenue in New York, as a pied-à-terre she shares with Davis.

November 1955
Returns to Germany with Davis to publicize the release of Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill and to attend the German premiere of Weill's "Broadway opera" Street Scene (Die Strasse) in Dusseldorf. On 21 November, she gives a concert at the Atlantic Hotel in Hamburg to launch Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill. They return to the U.S. 14 December 1955.

1 April 1956
Wins Tony Award for her performance in The Threepenny Opera, even though it is an off-Broadway production.

14 August 1956
Lenya and Davis return to Germany for more recordings. Brecht dies in East Berlin at the age of 58.

16 August 1956
Davis suffers a heart attack, from which he quickly recovers.

1-8 September 1956
Records Die sieben Todsünden for Philips (B 07 186) in Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg; Columbia releases the recording in the U.S. (KL 5175) in March 1957.

7 October 1956
Broadcast of television program on Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Germany: "Lotte Lenya." Lenya sings, and the program features an interview conducted by Josef Müller-Marein.

3-11 November 1956
Records Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny for Philips (L 09 418-20) and Columbia (K3L 243) in Hamburg, conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. At some point during this trip, she and Davis meet Anna Krebs, who works for Philips, and who becomes one of Lenya's best friends.

February 1957
Release of Johnny Johnson on MGM Records (E3447). The recording, made in 1956, features Burgess Meredith and several members of the Threepenny Opera cast. Lenya supervises the recording and sings one song, "Mon Ami, My Friend."

August 1957
Records September Song and Other American Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill for Columbia (KL 5229), conducted by Maurice Levine; it is released in February 1958.

6 October 1957
Lenya and Davis attend the revival of Die Bürgschaft, in a version revised by director Carl Ebert and librettist Caspar Neher, in Berlin. Around this time, they meet David Drew, a young English musicologist who has expressed interest in writing a biography of Weill. He first made contact with Lenya in November 1956. Drew's extensive and varied research will help establish Weill as a major twentieth-century composer.

11 November 1957
Receives the Freiheitsglocke (Freedom Bell), the highest cultural award bestowed by the city of West Berlin.

25 November 1957
George Davis dies of a massive heart attack in Berlin, at the age of 51.

11-15 January 1958
Records Die Dreigroschenoper for Philips (L 09 421-22) and Columbia (O2L 257), conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. She is also contracted to record Das Berliner Requiem, but cancels the sessions after Davis's death. She returns to the U.S. in late March.

Spring 1958
Broadcast of "Night-Beat" on CBS Television. Lenya gives a brief interview and clips of pre-recorded songs are shown.

29 June 1958
Broadcast of "Camera Three" on CBS Television, an interview program in which Lenya also sings a few songs.

31 July 1958
Performs a "Kurt Weill Concert" at Lewisohn Stadium in New York.

August 1958
Records Invitation to German Poetry for Dover (IP-9892), reading a selection of 42 German lyric poems from Walther von der Vogelweide (13th century) to Brecht. The album is released in the autumn of 1959.

October 1958
Leases a small apartment at 316 E. 55th Street in New York, so that she does not have to stay alone at Brook House.

4 December 1958
Opens as Anna I in Die sieben Todsünden, in an English translation by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman (The Seven Deadly Sins). The production, choreographed once again by George Balanchine, remains in repertory at the New York City Ballet through January 1960, traveling to Los Angeles during the last week of July 1959. Lenya's performance gets rave reviews; she is now well established as the definitive interpreter of Weill's music.

15 February 1959
Appears in concert at Carnegie Hall, performing a tribute to Kurt Weill. The first half features a wide-ranging selection of Weill songs; the second half is a concert performance of Die Dreigroschenoper, conducted by Maurice Levine.

Spring 1959
Takes a romantic interest in U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Over the next year or so, she sees Hammarskjöld two or three times in social and personal situations, but he apparently lacks interest. The relationship does not develop.

27 April 1959
Appears in a City Center showcase dedicated to Tallulah Bankhead in New York. She sings two songs, "Moritat" and "September song," with the City Center Light Opera Company conducted by Maurice Levine. The "Ice cream sextet" from Street Scene is also performed by members of the New York City Opera (without Lenya), conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick.

Summer 1959
Records The Stories of Kafka ("A Hunger Artist," "An Imperial Message," "A Fratricide," "The Cares of a Family Man," "Up in the Gallery," "A Dream," and "The Bucket Rider," all read in English) for Caedmon (TC 1114). The recording is released in November 1962.

11 November 1959
Reads for a "Schiller-Festabend" at Town Hall in New York, sponsored by Deutsches Theater in New York and Literarische Verein Wien. Lenya reads "Der Handschuh," "Die Hoffnung," "Grabschrift eines gewissen Physionomen," and "Der Wirtenberger."

1935-1950 | 1960-1969