The Triumphs and Tragedy of Marc Blitzstein, Born Today in Phildelphia

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 6:38 pm

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He gave the world the revolutionary show THE CRADLE WILL ROCK (1937), his friend Leonard Bernstein lifted a theme from REGINA (1949), his operatic adaptation of THE LITTLE FOXES, which wound up being SOMEWHERE in WEST SIDE STORY, followed by JUNO (1959), inspired by Sean O’Casey’s JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK.


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He lived openly as a gay man, but unfortunately this courage was accompanied by self-hatred as he wrote to his sister,  “It is absurd to assume 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.”


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His first lover was the conductor Alexander Smallens, traveling to Europe with him in 1924. However, in 1933, he married novelist Eva Gildbeck, whose mother was the Berlin-born opera singer, Lina Arbanell*. The couple was childless,  although he dedicated a number of his works to his wife. She died of anorexia in 1936, spurring him to write THE CRADLE WILL ROCK. He also did the adaptaion of THREEPENNY OPERA with Lotte Lenya which enjoyed a long run at what is now the Lucille Lortel theater on Christopher Street. He and his wife were longtime residents of the West Village.


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While vacationing in Martinique  in 1964,  Blitzstein, 58,  was murdered by three sailors he had picked up in a bar, one of whom he was said to have propositioned, and left naked and dead, in an alley. A letter from Bernstein’s archive from him states: ““Marc is dead, & I’ve lost an arm. Felicia [Mrs. Bernstein] can’t stop crying.”

He is buried at Chelton Hills Cemetery in Phildelphia.

*Arbanell was a real stage star, credited with bringing the Viennese style of performance to operetta in America, THE MERRY WDOW being one of her most popular roles. She was pictured on the sheet music for the song Every Little Movement, which she popularized. After her husband died in 1934, she retired from singing but became a powerful casting director, with credits including  I Married an Angel, Street Scene, the world tour of Porgy and Bess in the early 1950s, and the film version of Carmen Jones, as well as Blitzstein’s Regina and Juno when she was in her 80s, working until she died in 1963

Marc Blitzstein and Abarbanell remained close friends long after Eva, Blitzstein’s wife and Abarbanell’s daughter, died in 1936. Abarbanell cast Blitzstein’s opera Regina in 1949 and his musical Juno in 1959, when she had already passed the age of eighty.

Lina Abarbanell continued working in the theater almost until the day she died, on January 6, 1963.

Blitzstein’s horrific end has – like every gay murder – obsessed me my whole life. The best account is from the book, Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World, by Howard Pollack:


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