Friday, January 15, 2010

Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton

A few weeks ago, I purchased a used book, The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht.  The softcover book was published in London in 1964 by Methuen & Co Ltd.  The cover is a photograph from a scene in the play which shows Galileo (played by Laughton) with his hands clasped behind his head as he sits conversing with a pupil sitting at a telescope.
Until now, I was unaware that Charles Laughton had performed any Brechtian dramas.  (Mea culpa)  It was interesting to find the book contains Author's Notes on the play which comment on the message, on the best production of the play, and on Laughton's contribution.
There is one paragraph in the Notes titled Laughton's Galileo and I reproduce it here:

"The novelty of Galileo in his day was brought out by Laughton letting him gaze with a stranger's eyes at the world around him, as if it were something requiring an explanation.  His laughing observation of the monks in te Collegium Romanum made fossils of them.  Here, incidentally, he displayed pleasure in their primitive argumentation.
"A few people raised objections to L. delivering the first-scene speech about the new astronomy with his torso bare;  they said the public might be confused by hearing such inrtellectual utterances from a half-naked man.  But just that very mixture of spiritual and physical interested L.   'Galileo's physical pleasure', when the boy rubbed his back, was transmuted into intellectual creativeness.  Thus L. emphasised that Galileo is once more enjoying his wine when, in Scene 9, he hears that the reactionary Pope lies dying.  His relaxed way of walking up and down, and the play of his hands in his breeches pockets when planning new researches, verged on the shocking.  Whenever Galileo is in a creative mood, L.  displayed a contradictory mixture of aggressiveness and defenseless softness and vulnerability."

Are there two such creative artists today as these two?  And, if there were, would they collaborate in translation and production to mount such a play briefly in two cities only?  And would the play be about the world and life and man instead of personal problems or family issues?  Call me nostalgic, but I don't think so.


  1. No "Mea Culpa", Lincoln... The misperception is to blame to those in the theatrical establishment who neglected ackowledging Laughton's work on stage, which was no second to his film work. Laughton was, for instance, blamed by some colleagues for working in a number of not-very-good Hollywood films... Laughton in fact did work in them, but because those helped him afford to choose what he could do on stage (like his joint work with Brecht). The funny thing is that those colleagues would eventually sell themselves to films moore poorly, and without ever collaborating with people of Brecht's category.

    Some recommended reading if you're further interested in their collaboration:
    "Charles Laughton, A Difficult Actor" by Simon Callow which is, most probably, the best biography on the man. Mr. Callow devotes a full chapter to analyze Laughton and Brecht's collaboration.

    "Bertolt Brecht in America" by James K. Lyon: a very thorough, and deeply researched, book on Brecht's American exile and, of course, Galileo and Laughton.

    BTW, if you're interested in Laughton, feel free to drop by my blog:

  2. Gloria" thank you for tips on best biographies to read. I'll check them out.
    I visited your site. Really good one. You work on Laughton is serious and important.
    C. L. was an open generous man, centered in his work, was unafraid of innovation or using all forms of media. Played for his audience, not the critics.
    Been trying to think of similar actor. Best I can do, right now, is Peter Ustinov.
    Thanks again for your comments.