Stefan Brecht: Poet, philosopher and theatre historian who struggled to escape his father's shadow

In international literary and theatrical circles, not merely in German ones, the weight of the Brecht surname is considerable. As the son of the playwright Bertolt Brecht and the actress Helene Weigel, Stefan Brecht knew a few things about bearing the burden of that name. In many ways, his life ran counter to that of his often absentee father's, yet their lives had parallels, with shared interests in creative writing and the theatre.

In late 1922, the 24-year-old playwright Bertolt Brecht wed the Austrian actress and singer Marianne Zoff. Their daughter, Hanne Marianne Brecht, was born the following March. The marriage was not to last, however, because the year after his daughter's birth, Brecht met the actress Helene Weigel in Berlin. Their son, Stefan, was born there in March 1924. Brecht eventually extricated himself from his first marriage and wed Weigel in 1929. In 1930, Stefan's sister, Barbara, came along.

As a Marxist and an agitating thorn in the side of the far right, Brecht's position in Germany was untenable by 1933. Earlier that year the police had broken up a performance of one of his plays in Erfurt. The signals were plain. Therefore, on 26 February 1933, the day before the infamous Reichstag fire, Brecht, Weigel, their children and several friends fled to Prague, before the family settled in Svendborg on the Danish coast.

Brecht's productivity during the succeeding years speaks volumes for his drive; his plays, by this point, had been staged internationally. He nevertheless remembered his son, as the 1934 "Kleine Lieder für Steff" (Little Songs for Steff) attested. In the summer of 1941, after much travelling, the Brechts finally arrived in California and settled in Santa Monica. Stefan's parents' marriage would always remain fraught; bourgeois conformity was not for the playwright.

The US was the place where Stefan Brecht put down his roots. In 1943 his older half-brother, Frank Banholzer (by Bertolt's teenage sweetheart Paula Banholzer), fell on the Eastern Front. As the only surviving son, Stefan was excused overseas duty after joining the US Army in 1944.

Unlike his mother and father, Stefan chose not to return to Germany after the War. On Weigel's death in 1971, he became joint recipient of the Brecht estate with his sister, Barbara Brecht-Schall, and his half-sister, Hanne Hiob.

Stefan obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard and went on to teach at the University of Miami. After moving back to Europe, he researched Hegel and Marx at L'École pratique des hautes études, part of the University of Paris. On his return from France, he made Manhattan his home, and pursued his interests in theatre, especially with regard to New York's burgeoning experimental and avant-garde scene, which took off during the 1960s and 1970s. His marriage to Mary McDonough, a theatrical costume designer, foundered.

Brecht's devotion in chronicling New York theatre led to a projected multi-volume work called The Original Theater of the City of New York: From the Mid-Sixties to the Mid-Seventies. Much remains unpublished, but volumes appeared covering the director Robert Wilson and the German-born Judith Malina's company, The Living Theatre, while book two was subtitled Queer Theatre.

Stefan Brecht's writings as a poet, originally self-published, were picked up and published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Pocket Poets imprint as Stefan Brecht: Poems (1977). 8th Avenue Poems (2006) arose out of a time when he was a resident at New York's myth-making Chelsea Hotel (and also gave rise to a companion book of photographs entitled 8th Avenue). Some of his poetry also appeared in German imprints.

Two children from his marriage to Mary McDonough, Sarah and Sebastian, survive him, as do Michael Böhm – a son from another relationship – and his wife Rena Gill.

Ken Hunt

Stefan Sebastian Brecht, theatre historian, philosophy professor and poet: born Berlin 3 November 1924; married Mary McDonough (marriage dissolved, one son, one daughter), Rena Gill; died New York 13 April 2009.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz