In July 1947, the greatest play ever to have its premiere in Los Angeles opened at the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega Boulevard: Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo.” The play, with Charles Laughton in the title role, dramatized the great scientist’s running battle with the Roman Catholic Church over his telescopic discovery that the Earth orbited the sun rather than the other way around.
At the climax of the play, Galileo — threatened with torture by his inquisitors, who fear that the church’s cosmology and authority will be destroyed by Galileo’s revelations — recants. His students reel at the news. “Unhappy the land that has no heroes,” says one. At which point, Galileo — “completely altered by his trial, almost to the point of being unrecognizable,” writes Brecht — enters. “Unhappy the land,” he replies, “that is in need of heroes.”
Brecht was no stranger to unhappy lands in which heroic, prosaic or even inadvertent acts of defiance came at the price of torture, death or both. Like so many artists from Germany and elsewhere in Europe — Thomas Mann, Arnold Schoenberg, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Jean Renoir and hundreds more — Brecht had fled the Nazis to live and work in Los Angeles
Then as now, Los Angeles was the port of entry — and more than that, the new home, the city of second chances — for refugees from regimes that would have tortured and killed them for their beliefs, their ethnicity, their sexuality, their faith or their lack of faith. Which is why “Galileo,” by a German playwright and set in 17th century Italy, speaks to and for the Los Angeles that is a great city of immigrants, refugees and seekers of asylum. It spoke to that city in 1947. It speaks to that city today.
Excerpt, read article: L.A., A Refuge from the Unspeakable -By Harold Meyerson | L.A.Times (Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large of the American Prospect and an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post)