Friday, March 2, 2012

Born On This Day- March 2nd... Marc Blitzstein

Born On this day in 1905, Marc Blitzstein was a composer and lyricist of enormous innovation & influence. Blitzstein remains one of the most versatile & fascinating figures in the history of American music, his creations included films scores, Broadway musicals, operas, art songs & chamber pieces. A prominent leftist and social maverick, Blitzstein constantly pushed at the edges of convention in mid-20th century America in both his work & his life.

With Bernstein

Despite being open about his homosexuality, Blitzstein married when he was 23. He & his wife- Eva Goldbeck, stayed married, united deeply by love & loyalty to leftist causes, until Goldbeck's death in 1936. Because of the era, he needed to be publicly closeted, but Blitzstein was honest about his homosexuality with friends & colleagues. His erotic life seems was exclusively gay. His homosexuality provided the sympathy for outsiders that motivated & inspired his political activism. Goldbeck’s death affected Blitzstein deeply & prompted him to do The Cradle Will Rock.

Interest in Blitzstein & his work declined in the 1960s and 1970s, I have met few people, even in the theatre, who know of him, but he was a significant figure in the history of American musical theater. Some attention to Blitzstein resulted from Tim Robbins' film Cradle Will Rock (1999), which centered on the creation of the original staging of The Cradle Will Rock. In the film, Blitzstein is played by Hank Azaria & is portrayed as gaining inspiration through the ghosts of Bertolt Brecht & Eva Goldbeck. Her death affected Blitzstein deeply & prompted him to dive into the production of The Cradle Will Rock (1936-7), which was cancelled before it even opened because of its anti-establishment, pro-union sentiments. However, it opened Off-Broadway later that season.

In 1958, Blitzstein received a subpoena to appear before the House Committee On Un-American Activities. Testifying in a closed session, Blitzstein admitted his membership of the Communist Party that had ended in 1949, & challenging the right of HUAC to question him at all, refusing to name names. He was recalled for a further public session, but after a day  sitting in a waiting room, he was not called. By 1959, the McCarthy Hearings were running out of steam, but the strain that the experience dipped Blitzstein into despair & deep depression.

Blitzstein's life was troubled & he suffered. He would hang out in dangerous spots, approach the rough trade for rough sex, & ending up in situations that more prudent gay men might have avoided. I have been there myself.
In 1963, Blitzstein decided to spend the winter in Martinique. In January 1964, Blitzstein found himself, 58 years old (the same as I am now), in ill health, in a Martinique waterfront bar, late at night, with large amounts of cash, drinking too much, & trying to pick up 3 sailors, & who amongst us has not? After leaving a bar, one slipped into a nearby alley with Blitzstein to have sex. The others followed & all 3 robbed him, beat him & stripped him of all his clothes except his shirt & socks.

The police found him crying in the middle of the night, & took him to a hospital. He bled to death from internal contusions & he died the next evening.

Leonard Bernstein: "He was so close a personal friend that I cannot even begin to measure our loss of him as a composer. I can only think that I have lost a part of me, but I know also that music has lost an invaluable servant. His special position in musical theatre is irreplaceable.”

In my research if found this, part of a letter to Blitzstein’s sister, dated 1924:

“I am nearing an adjustment which will be productive of many things. I think I have often given the impression (even to people who are close to me, like you) of a mental Organization so in control that the emotional aspect had gone sterile or wasn't born yet. That has been a very small part of the truth. What actually went on was a mechanism, built up of fear, which tried to douse the emotional urge; but which was much less powerful than that urge. I knew it was bad for me; I lacked courage to express the emotional - sexual aux Fond - thing. I think you guess - you know - what all this is about. It has become imperative at last that I cut out the "balance," the "control" (I am a pretty good actor, I project well, nearly everybody thought it was the real thing", and let out what has been secret and furtive in me for so long. Shame is the single largest enemy; the sense of being sick, of living a diseased life, is another. Now, I accept what I, really, know all it involves. In this light, it is absurd to assert that there are no sins; there are definitely Cardinal sins - sins against oneself, against one's law. My sin is, has been ... the willingness to corrupt my nature."


  1. I was actually in a production of "Cradle Will rock" about 8 years ago. I played Mister Mister. It's an interesting, if dated piece. It doesn't hold up as well as Brecht & Weil, but it certainly has its place in theatrical history.

  2. Stories like this and that of Ramon Navarro need to be known. Film maybe, at least documentaries. Men looking for love and finding violence, and yes, we have all been in situations like that, admittedly or not....I often wonder about the current state of "hook-ups" and why there are not more horror stories than there already are.
    This is the gay equivalent to back alley abortions.


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