I’d wager if folks today recognize the name Lotte Lenya at all, it’s probably from Bobby Darin or Louis Armstrong singing “Mack the Knife” and maybe you’d remember her face as that of Rosa Klebb’s in “From Russia with Love” but there’s a whole generation to whom Lotte Lenya is just a name in an old song.
Born in Austria in 1898, Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer (hey, I’d change my name to Lotte, too) was an actress and singer who defined the role of Pirate Jenny in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Harking back to an earlier Friday Fierceness, Nina Simone recorded a chilling live version of Pirate Jenny’s song that is well worth a listen. It gives me the creeps every time.
Lenya married Kurt Weill in 1926 and after her initial Pirate Jenny triumph continued to have enormous cabaret and stage success. Her English-language film career was limited, not just because of lingering sentiments from WWII but because she was what you’d call a handsome woman.
and okay, I’m just putting it out there, girlfriend looked like a muppet.
After marrying Kurt Weill (twice) and being widowed by him (once) she launched a brief but admirable career in marrying gay guys, most notably genius editor, Algonquin Round Table regular and big ole ‘mo; George Davis, who had a Very Special Relationship with poet W.H. Auden.
Towards the end of her career she found Hollywood fame in From Russia With Love and earned an Academy Award nomination for her turn as The Contessa –proprietress of an upscale stud farm for wealthy female expats looking for a little company– in the vastly underrated Tennessee Williams’ film, “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone“alongside Vivian Leigh and a 24-year old Warren Beatty.
If you’re not familiar with Miss Lotte Lenya, do yourself a favor and spend a rainy weekend listening to her cabaret, watching her films and of course singing along in your underwear to this:
and if you’d like to hear Lotte’s original here you go!