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Brecht, Laughton, Galileo


Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton translated Brecht's Galileo from the German, as a vehicle for Laughton. Brecht called the process "a bit of fun that lasted two years." The result was the only great Brecht translation; you can hear Laughton's voice in every line. It must have been a wonderful production..

Unfortunately, the House Un-American Activities Committee was in full swing at the time of the production and subpoenaed the two foreigners.

When Brecht testified, butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. And the next day, in an echo of his earlier sudden flight from Nazifying Germany, he caught a plane for East Germany, where he established a celebrated acting company, and entered on the last phase of his life-- a life whose rhythms moved in a fashion not unlike those of his plays.

Galileo closed, a brilliant "flop," like Laughton's other great 50s project, Night of the Hunter.

Laughton took some of his experiences in preparing for the play-- he had read aloud to the delighted Brecht, for hours and days at a time, from whatever struck his fancy, including Shakespeare and the Bible-- and worked his way through the fifties by reading aloud and telling stories to women's clubs throughout the American Midwest. There is a book he put out on McGraw Hill, Tell Me A Story, now out of print; it's mostly just the texts of the stories, but he includes a few enlightening comments on what to do with them. I saw him "read" the Bible on Ed Sullivan-- he was very good; funny and scandalous in his a black cape, he stood at the podium with nothing but Good Book & attitude.

Tim Jennings


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