top of page

Hollywood Blues

Brecht was a large fish out of water in the United States.  The cultural and intellectual atmosphere in which he found so much acceptance in Germany of the 'twenties, was utterly lacking in this new setting.  True, he had a large circle of ready made contacts among the the emigre community, but among the commercial sorts of the studios, he found few takers for his ideas for films and plays. He worked on over fifty projects, only one of which came to fruition, Hangmen Also Die!


He expresses his dissapointment in the dark terms, and sees Hollywood much as Lorca did New York, as a good model for hell.


Eventually, the war turned in the Allies favor and was won in early 1945.  For Brecht, the deeper problem remained intact, namely, the character of the German people.  It was this that was to preoccupy him in the decade beyond to the end of his life.  It was the intention of his plays to cultivate a critical and intellectual attitude in its audience, an attitude based on reason, impervious to the emotional pleas of politicians.

Film Premiere, Chinese Theater, Hollywood 1940's

spell your name

Click on title for German original


Chased from my own land,  I must look for where
There is a shop or market where ideas are bought  
For buyers interested in the products of my thought.
Now I’m forced to walk the same old thoroughfare
Worn smooth by the hopeless walking to their fate!
Underway, I have no idea to whom. It’s all the same:
Go where I may, they tell me, ‘Spell your name!’*
Alas, this ‘name’ once was ranked among the great!

In fact, I’m glad they don’t know what it might mean
Like a wanted man whose ID had best be checked
If they knew me after all, they wouldn’t be too keen.

I’ve had business before with types like these.
Quite possibly they more and more suspect
They, too, would not be too well served, nor pleased.  

*Brecht uses the English phrase here.

(Second half of 1941)

Click on title for German original



Hollywood Elegies (1942)


The village of Hollywood was designed on the concept
That people here have about heaven.  Here
They have figured out that God
Needing both heaven and hell, did not
Have to design two establishments, rather
Just a single one, namely heaven.  For those
Of little means and the unsuccessful this would serve
As hell.


The oil derricks stand at the sea.  In bones of the gold
Seekers are bleaching in the gullies.  Their sons
Built the dream factories of Hollywood.
The four cities
Are filled with the oil smell
Of their films.


The city is named after the angels
And one encounters angels everywhere.
They smell of oil and carry golden pessaries.
And with blue rings under their eyes
Every morning, they feed the writers in their swimming pools.


Beneath the green pepper trees
Musicians walk the strip, two by two
With the writers. Bach
has a string quartet in his pocketbook. Dante swivels
his skinny ass.


The angels of Los Angles
Are tired of smiling.  In the evening,
Desperate, behind the fruit markets,
They buy little bottles
Of the smell of sex.  


Fighter planes circle over the four cities,
Defenders at enormous heights,
Preventing the stink of greed and misery
From rising all the way up to them.


Click on title for German original


With my literary works
I have attracted some voluntary guardians
Who protect me in this City of Sell, Sell, Sell.  

Expensive houses and houses with an exotic streak
Are off limits.  I’m only allowed
To see certain people when I can show
That I have legitimate business with them. I’m not allowed
To invite them to my table. When I talked about buying a well-wrought table,
All I encountered was laughter.  If I got the notion of  buying a pair of pants
I would certainly hear, ’you have one pair already, don’t you?’


Thus they watch over me in this city
So that they can say, they know one man
Who is not for sale. 


Click on title for German original


I ask myself, why I should talk with them?
They buy knowledge in order to sell it.
They want to hear where there is cheap knowledge
That can be sold for better money.  Why
Would they want to know
Countervailing arguments to buying and selling?

They want to win
They do not want to know anything contrary to winning
They do not want to be oppressed
They want to do the oppressing.
They do not want progress
They want a winning advantage.

They are submissive to anyone
Who promises they that they can be in charge.
They will sacrifice themselves
To maintain the sacrificial altar.

What shall I say to them, I thought.  This
Is what I shall say to them.




tell them

Click on title for German original
I, the Survivor

I know of course it’s only by luck
Have I survived so many friends.  But last night in a dream,
I heard those friends say of me, “Only the strong survive.”
And I hated myself.


Click on title for German original

A Film by the Comedian Chaplin

On a rainy autumn evening a young artist stepped
Into a bistro on Boulevard Saint Michel
Drank four or five chartreuse and started babbling
To the bored billiard players about a shattering rendevous
He had with a one-time lover, a dear sweet thing
Now the wife of a well-to-do butcher.
“Quick, Gents,” he adjured the players, “Please !
A piece of your cue chalk!” and kneeling on the floor
With a trembling hand he tried to draw her picture
She, his beloved of by-gone days, desperately
Erasing what he had drawn and trying over,
He drew another face with different features, stalled
And muttered, “I could still draw her yesterday.”  
The regulars cursed as they stumbled over him, so the barkeep
Took him by the collar and threw him out; still restive on the sidewalk
Shaking his head, he kept drawing with the chalk,
Pursuing the melting features of her face.

(1944) Brecht met Charlie Chaplin several times and was a great admirer of his films.

Chaplin film
Moldau song

Click on title for German original

The Song of the Moldau

On the Moldau’s bed the stones shift and fall,  
In Prague three emperors rest in their tombs,
The great do not stay so, and neither the small,        
The night has twelve hours and then daylight looms.

Times makes her changes. The colossal plans   
Of the mighty will finally stand stock still.      
And if the fighting cocks spatter blood on the land,
Time makes her changes, and force comes to nil.

On the Moldau’s bed the stones shift and fall,  
In Prague three emperors rest in their tombs,
The great do not stay so, and neither the small,        
The night has twelve hours and then daylight looms.


Click on title for German original

The Son’s Return

How shall I find the city of my fathers?
Following the swarms of bombers
I come home.
Where is it to be found?  It lies in
The fires below the monstrous
Mountains of ascending smoke.

How will it receive me, the city of my fathers?
Bombers precede me.  Deadly swarms
Announce my return.  Fire storms
Herald the returning son.



disgraced war

Click on title for German original



As I hear it, in the better circles the discussion has it
That the Second World War in a moral regard
Did not attain at the same standard as the First. The Wehrmacht
Is said to regret the methods by which the eradication
Of certain peoples was carried out by the SS. The captains of the Ruhr
It is said, complain about the bloody forced drives
That filled their mines and factories with slave laborers, the intelligentsia
From what I hear, condemn the demand for slave laborers on the part of the
Industrialists, as well as their cruel treatment.  Even the Bishops
Distance themselves from the way in which the war was conducted. The feeling
Now predominates in every quarter, that the Nazis unfortunately
Did the Fatherland a disservice and though war
In and of itself natural and necessary, due
To the total severity and virtually inhumane
Manner in which this one was conducted, war will for some time to come
Be discredited.


(1945) at war's end

Brecht before HUAC, late October 1947



bottom of page