February 1, 2014

A Few Lines on Pete Seeger by Louise Hirschfeld

It was the summer of 1963.  Leo and I came back from an exciting eight months in Berlin.  THE DEPUTY had its world premiere, and was a tremendous success.  Directed by Erwin Piscator and designed by my first husband Leo Kerz, it ignited a controversy about the silence of the Catholic Church during WW ll.
In New York, Leo prepared a new project for Broadway: a political cabaret with material from various writers such as B. Brecht, Karl Kraus, James Jones and Eric Bentley.  The subject was world politics, the current Washington administration, and Viet Nam. For part of the stage design a large TV screen with images of President Kennedy would play throughout.
For the music Leo engaged the renowned folk singer and composer Pete Seeger.  It was a controversial choice because Pete had been named by the Un-American Activities Committee, black-listed and restrained from appearing on radio, TV and film. But Leo took chances. He gave Zero Mostel the leading role in RHINOCEROS which led to Zero’s great triumphs on Broadway.
Pete and his wife came over for lunch to our apartment at 333 E. 69th St. He brought a 12 string guitar and played and sang the songs for the show.  TURN, TURN, TURN,  (I already wept at the music) THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE, and WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE. It was a memorable moment and quite thrilling.  He liked the lunch too. Afterwards Leo and I just knew the show would be very special.
But history intervened.  The tragedy on Nov. 22, 1963 meant that a political satire was no longer proper.  We all mourned. Leo abandoned CUT LOOSE, but a script and tape recording is at The Harvard Theatre Collection.
The memory of Pete Seeger singing in our living room is indelible.    


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