LENYA by Donald Spoto
Kirkus Star


A Life
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The first full-dress life of Lotte Lenya reveals with deep warmth a story few biographers could ruin, and Spoto does his best work since 1983's The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. The famed widow of composer Kurt Weill re-created her abysmal childhood repeatedly throughout adult life. Her mother spent her youth and middle age caring for alcoholic, abusive husbands who were emotionally distant. Little Linnerl (Lenya) was often beaten by the worst of these, and became a Viennese prostitute at 12, wound up starving in Berlin as a teen-age actress, and for a while was mistress to a wealthy Czech refugee. Her early marriage to struggling musical genius Kurt Weill, an introverted intellectual, was a mixed blessing for both. She made the very serious, solitude-seeking Weill a playful, charming, sensuous mate, but nonetheless openly carried on affairs with young men and with famed dancer Tilly Losch, which Weill put up with rather than lose her. Their lives improved when Weill fell in with Bertold Brecht and began composing the smash operatic hits The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, The Threepenny Opera, and The Seven Deadly Sins, which also featured Lenya and made her a star. Then the rise of Nazism drove all three to America, where Weill had one great Broadway success after another (sans Brecht). After he died in his early 50's, Lenya dedicated the rest of her life (30 years) to marrying Weill's German shows to his Broadway fame. Her own concerts of Weill songs led to the Greenwich Village revival of The Threepenny Opera, a dazzling success, to more Weill revivals, to her own appearances on Broadway in Cabaret and in movies (From Russia with Love, etc.). She married three more times, each to an alcoholic homosexual who predeceased her but for whom she could care. Says Spoto: ". . .she had become, onstage and off, a digest of much that a woman can be, fears to be and longs to be in contemporary society." Lenya's sheer, habitual courage and charm shine from the page.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1989
ISBN: 316-08725-7
Publisher: Little, Brown
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