Judith Malina

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Judith Malina
Born(1926-06-04)June 4, 1926
Kiel, Prussia, Germany
DiedApril 10, 2015(2015-04-10) (aged 88)
Resting placeCedar Park Cemetery, Paramus, New Jersey
Education The New School for Social Research
OccupationActress, director, writer
Known forCo-founding The Living Theatre
Judith Malina Signature.svg

Judith Malina (June 4, 1926 – April 10, 2015) was a German-born American theater and film actress, writer and director. With her husband, Julian Beck, Malina co-founded The Living Theatre, a radical political theatre troupe that rose to prominence in New York City and Paris during the 1950s and 60s. The Living Theatre and its founders were the subject of the 1983 documentary Signals Through The Flames .


Early life and education

Malina was born in Kiel, Germany, the daughter of Polish Jewish parents: her mother, Rosel (née Zamora), was a former actress, and her father, Max Malina, a rabbi in the conservative denomination. [1] [2] In 1929 at the age of three, she immigrated with her parents to New York City. [3]

Her parents helped her see how important political theatre was, as her father was trying to warn people of the Nazi menace and he left Germany with his family largely due to the rise of antisemitism there in the late 1920s. [4]

Except for long tours, she lived in New York City until her move to the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. 1943 till 1945, Malina worked for Valeska Gert at the Beggar Bar. There she observed many of Gert's performances which influenced her later artistic approach. [5] [6] Interested in acting from an early age, she began attending the New School for Social Research in 1945 to study theatre under Erwin Piscator. Malina was greatly influenced by Piscator's philosophy of theatre which was similar to Bertolt Brecht's principles of "epic theatre" but went further in departing from traditional narrative forms. Piscator saw theatre as a form of political communication or agitprop ("Theatre interests me only when it is a matter of interest to society." [7] ); Malina, unlike Piscator, was committed to nonviolence and anarchism. [8]


In 1963, they had to close the Living Theatre because of IRS charges (later proved false) of tax problems, and Malina and Beck were convicted of contempt of court, in part because Judith defended Julian wearing the garb of Portia from The Merchant of Venice – and tried to use a similar argument. [9] They received a five-year suspended sentence, and decided to leave the U.S. The company spent the next five years touring in Europe and creating increasingly radical works, culminating in Paradise Now . They returned to the US in 1968 to present their new work. In her book The Enormous Despair (1972), part of her series of published diaries, Malina expressed the sense of danger and unfamiliarity she felt on returning to the U.S. in the midst of the social upheavals of the late 1960s. [ citation needed ]

In 1969, the company decided to divide into three groups. One worked on the pop scene in London, another went to India to study traditional Indian theatre arts, and the third, including Malina and Beck, traveled in 1971 to Brazil to tour. They were imprisoned there on political charges for two months by the military government.

Malina doing rehearsals at The Living Theatre, 1983 Living Theatre 05.jpg
Malina doing rehearsals at The Living Theatre, 1983

After Beck's death from cancer in 1985, company member Hanon Reznikov, who had become Malina's lover (they married in 1988), assumed co-leadership of the Living Theatre company. In 2007, it opened its own theater at 21 Clinton Street in Manhattan. In April 2008 Reznikov suffered a stroke and while hospitalized died of pneumonia on May 3 of the same year at the age of 57. [10]

Malina appeared occasionally in films, beginning in 1975, when she played Al Pacino's mother in Dog Day Afternoon . Using her for the role was Pacino's idea, said its director, Sidney Lumet. Lumet recalls that tracking her down was difficult, as she had moved from New York to Vermont. "I had no idea of what to expect," said Lumet. "I didn't even know whether she'd want to do a 'commercial' film. Well, let me tell you, she is an actress. Totally professional. She also had no money and we had to pay her fare from Vermont, but she walked in and was perfect." [11] [12]

She also appeared in Pacino's Looking for Richard . Malina's other roles in cinema include Rose in Awakenings (1990) and Grandma Addams in The Addams Family (1991). She had major roles in Household Saints (1993) and the low-budget film, Nothing Really Happens (2003). She appeared in an episode of the TV series The Sopranos in 2006 as a nun, the secret mother of Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri. Malina is the subject of a 2012 documentary by Azad Jafarian titled Love and Politics . The film premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Malina also has a significant supporting role in the well-received film Enemies, A Love Story (1989), in which she acted alongside Lena Olin, Ron Silver and Anjelica Huston. Some of Malina's artistic qualities were described by theater scholar Richard Schechner:

"The thing about Judith Malina is that she is indefatigable, unstoppable, erupting with ideas. Malina is long-living, long-working, optimistic, and by the second decade of the 21st century girlish and old womanish at the same time. She survives and she bubbles, both." [13]

Personal life and death

Malina circa 2014 Judith Malina on the grounds of the Actors Fund Home in Englewood NJ circa 2014 photographed by Jay Dobkin.jpeg
Malina circa 2014

Malina met her long-time collaborator and husband, Julian Beck, in 1943, when she was 17 and he was a student at Yale University. Beck, originally a painter, came to share her interest in political theatre. In 1947, the couple founded The Living Theatre, which they directed together until Beck's death in 1985. Beck and Malina had "two offstage children", Garrick and Isha.

Malina's and Beck's marriage was non-monogamous. The bisexual Beck had a long-term male partner, as did Malina. In 1988, she married her long-term partner Hanon Resnikov. [14] They co-directed the Living Theatre's activity in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, until Reznikov's unexpected death in 2008. [14]

Malina died in Englewood, New Jersey, on April 10, 2015. [13]

Awards and honors

In 1996, Malina was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) degree from Whittier College. [15]

Selected bibliography

Selected filmography


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  1. Lester, Elenore (October 13, 1968). "The Living Theater presents: Revolution! Joy! Protest! Shock! Etc.!; The Living Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  2. Weichselbaum, Lehman (January 18, 2011). "Judith Malina's 'Jewish Anarchist Play'". The Jewish Week. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  3. The Piscator Notebook by Judith Malina, Routledge, 2013, p. 3: "Germany fell upon evil days, and my father, foreseeing the disaster approaching for the Jewish people, emigrated with my mother and me, in 1929, to New York City." Text in Google Books
  4. Fliotsos, Anne; Wendy Vierow (2008). American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century. University of Illinois Press. p. 258. ISBN   978-0-252-03226-4.
  5. Judith Malina in: A Memoir of Valeska Gert and the Beggar Bar, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Volume 41, Issue 3, Sep. 2019, p.1-16
  6. Valeska Gert in her autobiography I am a Witch, 1968
  7. Judith Malina: The Piscator Notebook. London: Routledge Chapman & Hall 2012, p. 185
  8. Trousdell, Richard; Malina, Judith (January 1, 1988). "The Director as Pacifist-Anarchist: An Interview with Judith Malina". The Massachusetts Review. 29 (1): 22–38. JSTOR   25089945.
  9. Gary Botting, "The Living Theatre" in The Theatre of Protest in America (Edmonton: Harden House, 1972) 18
  10. "Hanon Reznikov, a Force Behind the Living Theater, Dies at 57, New York Times, May 9, 2008
  11. Lumet, Sidney, Rapf, Joanna. Sidney Lumet: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi (2006) p. 68
  12. "Dog Day Afternoon 1975 Bringing sonnys mother". Metacafe.com. April 23, 2013. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  13. 1 2 "Judith Malina, Founder of the Living Theater, Dies at 88", The New York Times , April 11, 2015.
  14. 1 2 Robertson, Campbell (May 9, 2008). "Hanon Reznikov, a Force Behind the Living Theater, Dies at 57". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  15. "Honorary Degrees | Whittier College". www.whittier.edu. Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  16. Judith Malina (February 5, 2016). Full Moon Stages: Personal notes from 50 years of The Living Theatre. ISBN   9781941110256.
  17. "Theater honors put women in the spotlight". Old.post-gazette.com. June 7, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  18. 2008 IT Award Winners Announced Brian Scott Lipton, TheatreMania, September 23, 2008
  19. 2008 Honorary Awards Recipients Doug Strassler, New York Innovative Theatre Awards, September 15, 2008