When I was poor and down on my luck during those early Berlin days, one thing sustained me through the bad times.
I sang a happy tune to make me feel better when I was hungry, dropped my voice to a husky tone to get through the maudlin times by singing a bluesy ballad, but I was never without a song on my lips. I had little else to keep up my spirits.
When I was preparing for this return trip to Berlin, I found some old gramophone records stashed away in my steamer truck. Provocative songs from Weimar Berlin that even today evoke passionate memories in me about “a naughty girl and her pianola,” songs about romantic interludes on the shores of the Krumme Lanke and the girl with the prettiest legs in Berlin. Songs that have since been forgotten..
But I shall never forget the gritty, bourgeois tunes of Bertolt Brecht .
Nor the remarkable actress who changed my life.
I was working as a server at a catered affair back in 1928, an elaborate party that required the girls to work nude except for high-heeled pumps and a pair of transparent knickers embroidered with a strategically placed satin fig leaf. I was thrilled when a cigar-chomping man noticed my legs and asked me to audition for a new musical.
The Threepenny Opera.
I got a job in the chorus, but the cigar-chomping man watched me from the wings at every rehearsal, his penetrating eyes making me uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one who noticed his attentions toward me. Lotte Lenya told me he had a reputation of pushing himself on the chorus girls and I should keep away from him.
I thanked her and watched her rehearse her role of Jenny. I was struck by her professionalism, how she came to Berlin as a dancer and worked her up in musical theatre.
Two days before opening night, the cigar-chomping man grabbed me backstage and put his hands down my knickers, poking my flesh with his dirty, grimy fingers. I pushed him away but he grabbed my wrist so hard he nearly broke it. I bit him, making him yell out.
“You’re fired, Fräulein.”
“You can’t do that,” I cried out, disbelieving.
“Get out. Now.”
“What’s going on here, mein Herr?” It was Lotte Lenya on her way to a costume fitting.
“This girl can’t do the routine,” the cigar-chomping man lied. “She’s out of the show.”
“She’s the best dancer in the chorus,” Lotte insisted. “You can’t fire her.”
“What your step, Frau Weill,” he said, emphasizing her married name. Lotte Lenya was married to the composer, Kurt Weill. “I happen to know the producers intend to fire you.”
“We’ll see about that…” she said with confidence.
I didn’t wait to hear the end of their conversation. I knew even if she convinced him to keep me in the show, he wouldn’t give up. I needed the money, but I also had my pride.
On opening night, I went backstage to congratulate Lotte. No one dared fire her after her magnificent triumph. I shall never forget what she said to me.
“Your time will come, Eve,” she told me, kissing me on both cheeks. “Believe in yourself and never give up.”
I took her advice and over the next two years I danced in shows and cabarets all over Berlin. But it wasn’t until years later in 1941 that I played the most important role of my life when–
I was sent to Berlin on a secret mission for the British Foreign Service.
A mission that could determine the outcome of the war.
Lady Eve Marlowe