Perhaps Bertolt Brecht's greatest literary success while living in Los Angeles was the production of his play Leben des Galilei (Galileo). He first began writing the play while living in Denmark in the late 1930s. After he met actor Charles Laughton in 1944 at Salka Viertel's home, he and Laughton began to collaborate on an English version of the play. Their work would take three and a half years. Together they translated the German text of the play, Laughton tending to embellish the language while Brecht strove to simplify. Brecht and Laughton spent many hours together at Laughton's home at 14954 Corona Del Mar in Pacific Palisades.
The play, Galileo, premiered at the Coronet Theatre at 366 N. La Cienega Boulevard near Hollywood. The play was scheduled to begin on July 24, 1947, but was postponed until July 31st. The play ran until August 17. Pelican Productions presented the play - it was produced by T. Edward Hambleton and directed by Joseph Losey. Music for the play was composed by Hanns Eisler. Five months after the Los Angeles production, Galileo was staged in New York at the Maxine Elliott's Theatre in December 1947.
Brecht did not wait to see the New York production of his play as he left the United States on October 31st the day following his testimony at the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Eisler appeared in spring 1947 in conjunction with the hearings about his brother Gerhart Eisler and again on Sept. 24, 1947.
Brecht's testimony before the HUAC took place on the morning of Oct. 30, 1947. The testimony lasted about an hour. He was included among the nineteen Hollywood witnesses who who joined forces and called themselves "unfriendly witnesses" in an effort to stop the Committee's witchhunt. Brecht was the only foreigner in this group and his main concern at the hearing was not to have his return trip to Europe delayed by the Committee. Brecht, too, was able to truthfully say he had never been a member of the Communist Party.
The reception of Galileo was mixed but the large number of reviews of the Los Angeles premiere (in both East and West coast newspapers) indicates the perceived significance of the event.
A manuscript version of Galileo from 1945 or 1946 with annotations by Brecht and Laughton is housed at the University of California, Los Angeles' Department of Special Collections.
The photograph (taken by Gerda Goedhart) depicts a 1956 rehearsal of the German production of Galileo at the theater on Reinhartstrasse.
This exhibit was created by Marje Schuetze-Coburn, Feuchtwanger Librarian, at the University of Southern California.