We Salute Judith Malina- Actress, Playwright and Revolutionary

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“I think in the 1960s, by the 1960s, most people thought by now in the 2010s we would have abolished prisons, abolished wars, abolished police, abolished national boundaries. We didn’t abolish any of that. It’s still around and the work remains to be done.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

Judith Malina in front of a portrait of her by Mary Beach. May 10, 2013. Photo© Tate Swindell

Though she was quite old and in very poor health, word of Judith Malina’s death seems implausible. Surely someone so filled with the fire of liberation could transcend even death, yet none of us escape that final curtain. Harold Norse’s history was intimately entwined with Judith and her partner Julian Beck. He was integral in the creation of the Living Theater and befriended many in their circle like Paul Goodman, Ira Cohen, Hanon Reznikov and Mel Clay.

I had the opportunity to meet Judith two years ago for a film project about Harold which my brother Tate and I have been working one for some years. It was the afternoon of a partial solar eclipse and the astral energy was strong. I recall a nervousness, thrilled to meet one of my inspirations, absurdly hoping to capture everything about her and Harold’s relationship within the few dozen minutes we spent on camera.

Though frail and bent, her presence remained luminescent. Dressed in black, her lips painted bright red and a colorful shawl draped across her shoulders, Judith wasn’t much interested in recalling the past. It was the present, the next play that intensified the light in her eyes. She was immensely patient with my list of names and dates. It wasn’t until Tate suggested i jettison my printed notes that the exchange began to swing.

Judith was a performer, an artist. Born in Germany, her family immigrated to the United States in 1929.  With a mother who was an actress and a father who was a rabbi, there was no separation for Judith between the artistic and the spiritual. For her, everything was political. This was the young girl who, during the second World War, beseeched her parents that we must show the Nazis we love them. No enemies, no fear.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photogrphaed by Iran Cohen.

Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theater photographed by Ira Cohen.

Judith Malina was a new Yorker to the bone. As a student of The New School, she had the chance to study with many of the artist refugees fleeing Europe. An early mentor was the dramatist Erwin Piscator who, along with Bertolt Brecht, was the foremost proponent of “epic theater” which espoused that theater should be a force for social change.

“Harold introduced Michael Fraenkal who brought a word into my life that’s really been central. Michael Fraenkal said the problem is the system. We began to analyze what is the system? It sounds like some kind of abstraction you know? The System. Well the system is the money and the form of give and take we practice with each other, the form of how to make a living in the world, how to live in the world. It’s all part of the system. We can’t entirely get out of it.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

It was Judith’s friendship, love affair and collaboration with Julian Beck that ignited the spark of theatrical revolution. Julian and Harold had become friends during the summer of  1944 in Provincetown. Beck at that time was a painter. Harold lived in a cottage with Tennessee Williams who was finishing his “pot boiler” The Glass Menagerie.

Judith1Readers are encouraged to seek out Judith Malina’s diaries which tell many tales of the Living Theater’s early days. Harold’s input was integral as it was his reading of an essay by W.B. Yeats essay on The Theater, which suggested that a stage wasn’t required in order to perform, a stage could be anywhere, that lead to the first Living Theater performance in the Beck’s apartment on West End Avenue.

 

Harold’s then lover was the composer Dick Stryker, whose music accompanied a number of early Living Theater performances. They also shared a mutual friend in the poet William Carlos Williams whose play Many Loves was the Living Theater’s first production. It should be noted that Judith and Julian were instrumental in promoting the dramatic works of Gertrude Stein.

 

“[William Carlos] Williams liked my English. Wrote me a letter in fact saying…how impressed he was to hear an American voice. Now I never thought of myself that way but Dr. Williams flattered me with that appellation. I like to have an International accent. I don’t want to be American. I want to be planetary, cosmic maybe even, post-planetary.”
-Judith Malina interviewed in 2013

Her diaries also record her and Julian’s resistance to Cold War paranoia and their radical opposition to nuclear weapons. During the 1950s it was common to hear air raid sirens blasting in lower Manhattan, so called civil defense alarms. At these times, you were required by law to take shelter indoors. Peace activists saw this ruse for what it was- the government’s desire to normalize Armageddon. Joining such illustrious company as gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and radical Catholic worker Dorothy Day, the Beck’s refused to go inside during a mid-day air raid drill and were arrested. Judith’s diaries continue the story with her incarceration at the infamous Women’s House of Detention on Greenwich Avenue.

Judith3A second volume of the diaries covering the years 1968-69 when the Living Theater returned from several years in Europe to which they’d fled following persecution by the IRS that had closed their theater location. They toured college campuses filled with radical students performing such pieces as Paradise Now and The Mysteries. Featuring an all black cover, the second volume of diaries was appropriately titled The Enormous Despair.

When I visited her in 2013, Judith mentioned that she was working on another volume of her diaries. She continued to keep her daily journal in addition to working on two new plays, one of which was to performed with the fellow residents at the Lillian Booth Actors Home just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Judith’s energy expanded as she related how much she had grown in the last twenty years of her life, how much she learned in her 80s compared to her 70s and how different that was from her 60s. She was still discovering, still at work, working for the beautiful non-violent anarchist revolution. That task is still ours to continue but with her reminder that the work should be playful, thoughtful and most of all loving.
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We Salute Ira Cohen- Poet, Photographer, Film Maker and Magician

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Ira Cohen first met Harold in Tangier in the early 1960s when they were part of an expatriate group that included William Burroughs and Paul Bowles. It was Ira who gave the title “Sniffing Keyholes” to Harold’s first cut-up piece which was first published in Ira’s magazine GNAOUA, subsequently featured by Bob Dylan on the cover of Bringing It All Back Home.

Harold paid a visit to Ira’s Mylar Chamber while in New York City in the Summer of 1970. The photographs captured Harold dancing as a psychedelic Krishna, naked, flashing mudras. A photo from this series was featured, albeit in black  and white,  on the cover of Carnivorous Saint, Harold’s seminal collection of gay poetry .

Along with Judith Malina and the late Charles Henri Ford, Ira Cohen remained a loving friend until the end of Harold’s life. After Harold moved into an assisted-care facility, I remember Ira telling me on the phone that he wanted to cheer Harold up by sending him sweet potato pies and fudgesicles in the mail.

In 2007 when Ira made his last visit to San Francisco, he made sure to pay a visit to Harold. Sitting across from each other in Harold’s cramped room, they made quite a pair. Talk turned to reminiscence of Burroughs and the Beat Hotel. Harold, whose memory had begun to fail him, turned to Ira and asked, “Do you know Ira Cohen?” Without missing a beat, Ira replied brightly, “That’s me!” Harold was so pleased. He said, “How wonderful,” as he leaned over to shake Ira’s hand.

Being slips in and out of time’s stream of thought and memory.
Gone but not forgotten. Still here, more than most.
Image and word continue on, guiding us, chiding us, inspiring us.

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We Salute Peter Orlovsky- Poet, Farmer and Queer Revolutionary

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Harold Norse and Peter Orlovsky at Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photograph by Michael Kellner.

In the summer of 1980, Harold joined Burroughs, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for a joint reading at Naropa Institute where Peter had taught poetry the previous decade.

Peter Orlovsky, poet, Ginsberg’s partner, dies

Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peter Orlovsky was a sweet and handsome 21-year-old with a troubled past when he met Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1954, and the two forged a relationship that would last for decades and transform their lives.

Mr. Orlovsky, who became a poet in his own right but was always overshadowed by Ginsberg’s fame, died Sunday in Vermont. He was 76 and had battled emphysema and lung cancer.

“When Peter and Allen met, they were both troubled,” said Gerald Nicosia, a Marin County poet and biographer of Jack Kerouac. “Ginsberg was troubled by his homosexuality and afraid to be a poet, and Peter had come from this family defined by mental illness, and he was living in San Francisco and wondering where his own life was going.”

Within a year of meeting Mr. Orlovsky, Ginsberg started writing “Howl,” a poem that was first performed Oct. 7, 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco and published a year later. The controversial poem became a seminal work of the Beat Generation.

“Allen was the brains, and Peter was the heart,” said Nicosia. ” You couldn’t be around him without feeling this love radiating from his eyes.”

With Ginsberg’s encouragement, Mr. Orlovsky, who had been born into poverty, grown up in a converted chicken coop on Long Island and seen his siblings institutionalized, began keeping a journal and writing poems.

Mr. Orlovsky could also be a natural performer, pausing from poetry recitations to break into a yodel, wearing outrageous clothes and growing a ponytail that ran down his back. He also was known for trying to get the hard-partying beat poets of his generation to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Ginsberg and Mr. Orlovsky were notorious early in their relationship for taking off all their clothes at Bay Area parties, and were sometimes invited to parties just for that.

In 1974, Mr. Orlovsky began teaching poetry at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., and in 1979 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. City Lights Books in North Beach collected Mr. Orlovsky’s works. In 1980, Gay Sunshine Press published “Straight Hearts’ Delight,” comprised of the letters and love poems between Mr. Orlovsky and Ginsberg.

Over the years, they became one of the most famous openly gay couples – with Mr. Orlovsky listed in “Who’s Who” as Ginsberg’s “wife.” They split as a couple in the late 1980s, when Mr. Orlovsky had a mental breakdown, but remained close.

Ginsberg died in 1997. Mr. Orlovsky was said to have started in recent years working on his memoir.

E-mail Julian Guthrie at jguthrie@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page C – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Harold Norse Memorial Celebration

Join us in celebration of beloved poet Harold Norse
as we remember his life and work.
Norse’s friends and admirers will pay homage to this master poet.
Led by Norse’s longtime friends and fellow poets

NEELI CHERKOVSKI    MEL CLAY    A.D. WINANS

July 12, 2009 2:00pm

The Beat Museum, 540 Broadway (at Columbus)

North Beach, San Francisco

Harold Norse in Union Square, San Francisco, circa early 1970's. Photo by Frances McCann.

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