Thursday, December 29, 2011

These are program notes I've written for CATCO/PHOENIX's production of James Phillipp's play The Rubenstein Kiss-based on the trial and execution of Julius an d Ethel Rosenberg. See



By Christopher Purdy

“I was with Ethel in the women’s house of detention. When the van came to take us to court, Ethel and Julius would be in there. It was pitch black. One time a prisoner lit a cigarette, from the flare we could see Ethel and Julie trying to kiss between the gate.”—Miriam Moskowitz

At first glance, there was nothing remarkable about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They married in 1939, and lived a lower middle-class existence not far from where they each grew up on New York’s lower east side. Both sets of parents were immigrants from the pale of Eastern Europe. Families grew up in unheated tenements with toilets down the hall. It was a crowded life, and a poor life.

Julius Rosenberg disappointed his parents who hoped he’d be a rabbi. He graduated City College in electrical engineering, near the bottom of his class. Morton Sobell, a classmate and later a co defendant with the Rosenbergs, said, “As an engineer, Julius would have made a very good rabbi”.

The high point of Julius’s life was his first meeting with Ethel Greenglass in early 1936. Ethel worked as a secretary in a Manhattan shipping firm. But the stage was her passion. She dreamed of a career in opera-and her heart was not with shipping but with the amateur dramatic societies she joined, and with New York’s prestigious Schola Cantorum, to which she aspired. There no encouragement at home. “There’s no room in life for arty people”, sniffed her mother.

But there was Ethel, pacing a corridor before going on at an amateur night to sing ‘Ciribiribin”. And there was Julius, introducing himself and talking quietly to encourage her. The two were an item from that night. They married in 1939. There were two children, Michael born in 1943, and Robert in 1947. The young family eventually moved to a three room apartment at 10 Monroe St. Ethel’s dreams of the stage receded (she never stopped trying). Julius went to work in the U.S. Army Civilian Signal Corps.

In 1942, Julius was fired. It was discovered he had been a member of the Young Communist League at City College. Ethel had joined before their marriage. Julius for years told everyone how proud he was that Ethel, then 18, had led a strike at her job, which left her unemployed.

If Julius and Ethel were penalized for membership in the YCL, so most of half the lower east side must have been indicted. Julius went further, and the couple moved from the hum drum to the dangerous. Julius was recruited by a Soviet agent early in the 1940s. He was chosen as a “friend of the party” and because he had one important recourse, Ethel’s kid brother, David Greenglass.

“Doovey” was adored by his older sister and was the pet of the family. He married Ruth Prinz in 1942. The army sent David to the machine shops at the nuclear testing facilities in Los Alamos. There he made sketches of fission lenses which were passed to Julius who presumably passed them on. Julius was arrested by the FBI on June 17, 1950; Ethel was arrested seven weeks later. They never left prison.

The charges were “Conspiracy to commit espionage”. Over the years it’s been argued that the Russians received from Julius nothing they didn’t already have. David Greenglass was told by the authorities, confess or you and your wife both will be prosecuted-1950 was not a time to be a political radical in the United Sates. A deal was made. David testified of Julius’s involvement and went on to say that Ethel was present and typed his notes. This testimony was crucial to the government’s case. The Rosenbergs were convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair. David Greenglass got ten years and served seven. Ruth was never prosecuted. Appeals for the Rosenbergs ran out in the summer of 1953. Pablo Picasso and the Pope were among those who asked for clemency. Pro Rosenberg rallies were held all over the world. There was a vigil in New York’s Foley Square on the night of June 19, 1953. It was the Rosenberg’s 14th wedding anniversary. At Sing-Sing there was a last mintue appeal. The executions had been scheduled for 11 PM. But it was Friday. Honor the Jewish Sabbath and give them one more day. Instead the executions were moved forward to 8 PM. Julius and Ethel were allowed to spend thirty minutes together, with a heavy mesh screen between them. The guards came for Julius and he touched Ethel’s finger through the mesh-until they both bled. Thirty minutes later the couple was dead. Their sons had been sent to live with a kindly foster family. Michael was playing outside on that terrible night. He knew about the 8 PM deadline. “I stayed outside until it was two dark to see the ball. Went I went in I was told the television stations all said the same thing.”

Debate over the couple's guilt never stopped. In 1995 the VENONA report was released. These were encrypted cables between the U.S, and the Soviet Union. From these we learn that Julius Rosenberg was indeed a spy for the Russians and had involved David and Ruth Greenglass. Ethel’s role was considered minimal. She may have been put to death for typing.

Not surprisingly, the Rosenberg case has long encouraged writers, composers, film makers and dramatists. Ethel comes back to haunt Roy Cohn on his deathbed in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. E.L. Doctorow’s 1971 novel The Book of Daniel tells the story from the point of view of the Rosenberg children. Sidney Lumet directed the 1983 film Daniel, with Timothy Hutton, Mandy Patinkin and Lindsay Crouse. Donald Freed’s play Inquest starred George Grizzard and Anne Jackson on Broadway in 1970. Billy Joel references the case his song, We Didn’t Start the Fire. The Rubinstein Kiss by James Phillips was first performed in London, in 2005.

David Greenglass has lived under an assumed name since 1960. He surfaced briefly in 2001 on 60 Minutes II, (disguised) where he contradicted his trial testimony against his sister, but expressed no remorse to her fate. Sam Roberts’s book The Brother tells the tale form David’s perspective. Ruth Greenglass died in 2008. Neither had any contact with the Rosenberg sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol. The brothers co-authored We Are Your Sons in 1975; Robert’s memoir An Execution in the Family was published in 2003. That same year a video indispensible to anyone wishing to know more about the Rosenberg case, Heir to an Execution, was produced by Michael’s daughter, Ivy Meeropol.

Most recently, Walter Schneir has updated Invitation to an Inquest, co- authored with his wife Miriam in 1965, with Final Verdict, What Really Happened in the Rosenberg Case, published shortly after Walter’s death in 2009. This book discusses the Venona cables at length, and admits to Julius’s role as a spy-but makes clear that Ethel’s involvement was minimal, and argues that in neither case did the terrible punishment fit the crime.

The Love Goddess and The Piano Player

Question: What movie siren tamed up with a piano player to develop a new radio controlled device used to guide torpedoes? Mae West and Paderewski? Marilyn Monroe and Horowitz? Nope. The answer is Hedy Lamar and George Antheil. And okay, the youtube clip probably gave it away.

The Lamar Antheil partnership and the resulting patents are discussed in a fascinating new book, Hedy's Folly by Richard Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes has written extensively on nuclear warfare. Even so, a discussion of the love goddess and an esoteric composer must have been a departure for him. His is a fascinating blend of high science and show business.

Hedy Lamar was born Hedy Kiesler in Vienna. She began in the theater and in 1931 appeared in a film produced in Czechoslovakia, Ecstasy. You bet. The film became infamous for Hedy's limbs and considerable charms and attributes. It was banned in the States. Rhodes goes so far as to quote Louis B Mayer, who on his first meeting with the actress told her, "You'd never get away with that stuff in Hollywood. Never. A women's ass is for her husband, not theatergoers. You're lovely, but I have the family point of view. I don't like what people would think about a girl who flits bare-assed around a sixteen."

Nice. God got him. Hedy was rechristened and went to MGM and was a name in pictures for 20 years. She was not a star of the first rank, but she was good enough for Clark Gable and Charles Boyer.

Meanwhile, composer George Antheil and his wife Boski were living in Paris upstairs from Sylvia Beach's bookstore. His Ballet mechanique required sixteen synchronized player pianos-and when he couldn't get them to run properly the performance of this , well, different work became infamous. There's no such thing a bad publicity. Antheil too arrived in Hollywood to write film music-but the studios were slim pickings for him. He composed, he taught and he wrote-about the effects a man's glands have on his sex drive-and he wrote a book which accurately predicted World War II.

Hedy had been married to an Austrian weapons baron called Friederich Mandl. She was the trophy wife and the marriage was a gilded prison. Nevertheless, she listening carefully to the dinner table conversations as the munitions big wigs were helping birth Nazi Germany. She got away, but between takes at MGM-plus five more marriages and two kids-Hedy remembered everything. She had a penchant for invention. A cube morphing into soda pop with a little water was an early flop.

George Antheil was at loose ends in Hollywood but he knew his way around mechanics and physics. Hedy Lamar was bored. The two got together. It is suggested that Antheil,while quite the horndog, was never romantically involved with Hedy Lamar. They spent their time together drawing and designing a device to guide torpedoes-there was 60% failure rate, and this along with the wartime death of Antheil's beloved kid brother, motivated the two towards invention. Patents were awarded to Hedy Kiesler Markey (a quickie marriage) and George Antheil in 1942. And the patents were buried, though the navy held on to them. Hedy's film career continued. George's music began to attract a lot of notice. Patents ran out in 1959, a year after George Antheil's death.

Hedy retired and lived on to 2000-she died at 85. Toward the end of her life the story of her invention was reintroduced by scientist/army colonel Dave Hughes. Hedy was awarded a medal from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Great movie beauties do not parade around in their 80s. She sent a recording to the awards banquet, "I hope you feel good as well as I feel good about it, and it was not done in vain. Thank you."

But there was more. "Never a letter. Never a thank you. Never money. I don't know. I guess they just take and forget about a person."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Who's Woody Hayes or How I Learned to Spell TBDBITL


This is Script Ohio, originated in 1936 at The Ohio State University. The precision is killing and the effect sensational, for those lucky enough to score OSU tickets and their friends in TV land.

When I first came to Columbus twenty years ago I recall driving around The Ohio State University campus. I work on campus now, I'm an OSU alumnus-in my dotage, taking classes with my 'grandchildren'-and I live two miles from the 'Shoe.' I can hear the band warming up from my front yard. That's today. In 1991 when I crossed Woody Hayes Boulevard I thought, Oh yes, I can live here. They must love music. They've named a street after a big-band leader.

(A digression: I've worn a beard since I was 17. My beloved Grandmother, when she first saw more than peach fuzz-an orchard, a dirty one!- on my face, said, "Oh no. You look like Gabby Hayes." So that name remained iconic for me even though I didn't know who the ---- was Gabby Hayes. He was a character actor in Westerns, much loved. He died in 1969 and never led a band in his life.)

Woody Hayes was the sainted coach of The Ohio State University football team. You loved him or hated him. You can have all the block Os and scarlet and gray you like but Woody Hayes was and is the "brand" of The Ohio State University. He was forced to resign in 1976 for striking a player. May not have been the first time. He died in 1987. If there is a God, at least in college football, his name is Woody Hayes. And I'm confusing him with Gabby Hayes, who was never a big-band leader. Sheesh.

Al ll the more reason then for me to try and make it right. Dr. Jon Woods, the beloved Director of The Ohio State University Marching Band, is retiring in April.

I've produced a broadcast special in his honor-to air on New Year's Day at 3 p.m. I don't know if Woody Hayes goes second to The Best Damned Band in the Land (hence TBDBITL) but its really, really close. The band is sensational. Woody or Gabby, the band is great. Dr. Woods is an inspiring leader and music educator. Mrs. Woods came on the show to add some pepper. There are tributes from a few (very) high profilers in the community-and Dave Carwile, The Voice of TBDBITL, provides insight and continuity. I enjoyed meeting Dr. woods and I really enjoyed, after 20 years, immersing myself in the band, on CD and on Youtube. Script Ohio is nothing if not operatic. But that's another story.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

O Holy Night - Leontyne Price

This is my idea of Christmas! Enjoy. God bless.

MUSIC THERAPY: In memoriam: Clive Robbins 1927-2011 - Nordoff Robbins - Music Transforming Lives

I'm placing the obit here because I had not known of Mr Robbins-I'm way late to the party, having become fascinated by his work on the basis of his obituary! I want to learn more. Music therapy study is a goal for me.

In memoriam: Clive Robbins 1927-2011 - Nordoff Robbins - Music Transforming Lives

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

RIP Tony Amato and Amato Opera

The wonderful Amato opera went on for sixty years on the Bowery in New York. The tiny theater held maybe 80 people, 100 if you don't mind laps-and few did. Tony Amato was the founder and artistic director. He staged and all the operas-and he knew them cold: Handel, Mozart, Bizet, Puccini and of course Verdi..Donizetti, Rossini-he could sing all the parts in all the operas and often he did!

People who came to laugh got over themselves quickly. People pay good money today to hear many artists who began at Amato Opera. Mrs. Sally Amato was the business person..Maestro Tony did the rest. It was not always so. Sally met her husband in the 1940s when she was singing Madame Butterfly on the Lower East Side Side. New York is so great!

I saw many Amatro productions, including rarities like Alzira (Verdi) Poliuto (Donizetti) and L'arlesiana (Cilea). Backstage and upstairs there were trunks, scores, notes and meatballs and probably several singers long deceased who couldn't bear to leave.

You know the song 'What I did for love?' Go sing it (try to sing well) and think of Amato Opera.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


The Metropolitan Opera will present an archival broadcast on January 14: The April 4, 1970 performance of Bellini's Norma with Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Carlo Bergonzi and Cesare Siepi. The above clip comes from December of that year, but gives a good idea of what is to be heard in January, 42 years after the event.

I remember hearing this broadcast-live, on that 1970 date-on a transistor radio. (Go look it up or ask your grandparents.) I had a battery operated reel to reel tape recorded from Radio Shack ($29.95. A fortune! Unheard of!) By holding the little plastic mic up to the hand- held radio I got a complete recording of this broadcast. What did I know from audio quality and who cared? It was good enough for me-and when, after repeated playings...and playings..and playings..the tape (go look it up or ask your grandparents) began to disintegrate I resorted to duct tape and when the tape joins would stick in the machine I'd just get up and shove it damned well through.

The tapes were good at least until 1974 when I went to college. They lingered in my Uncle's basement for nearly forty years until I recovered them after his death in 2010. And yes,I since acquired this performance of clear sounding CDs. I listen to it seldom, but I'm listening to it now-seldom because it remains special to me: I vaguely knew what this was in 1970 and who these people were but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty of the music and singing that afternoon.

The Met brought Norma to Boston on tour a few weeks later. I got to meet Joan Sutherland. She was very gracious and sweet, even after a long tough sing. I was 13 and I came up to her, well, I got quite the look down the front of her low cut dress (she had make up on 'em). "They" were extraordinary. so was the singing.

Carlo Bergonzi and Cesare Siepi didn't come on this tour. Bergonzi was and is my favourite tenor. The sweetness of tone and above all his impeccable line are ravishing-then and still. I suspect Pollione was a bit of luxury casting for Bergonzi. He was a stand there and sing guy, but my God sing and sing he did! I saw him later during my New York years. The bloom was long gone but he went for every note and spared himself nothing: in Ballo, Trovatore and Pagliaccii. Remember when he came onstage during the Met -Levine tribute in 96? He was an old man but who was to touch him singing Verdi, even with half the voice that had been.

Good for the Met for bringing this Norma back to the public. Thank you for giving me back one glorious afternoon over forty years ago!

Joan Sutherland died last year. Cesare Siepi died a few months before Dame Joan. Carlo Bergonzi is 87 and has been ill. Miss Horne has had cancer treatment but is active as a -fantastic-teacher and advocate for young artists.