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  • A Brecht-Valentin Production: Mysteries of a Barbershop
  • W. Stuart McDowell (bio)
W. Stuart McDowell

W. STUART McDOWELL is a playwright-director. His article was made possible by a Fulbright Grant for study and research in Germany.


1. According to Alexander Jason, “Entwicklung der Kinos in den Grossstaedten von 1910–1926,” Der Kinematograph (Berlin), January 30, 1927, p. 15.

2. Bertolt Brecht, Tagebucher 1920–1922 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975), p. 97.

3. Bertolt Brecht, “Ueber Film,” Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975), XVIII, p. 137.

4. Kurt Horwitz, “Karl Valentin in einer anderen Zeit,” Sturzjluege im Zuschauerraum (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1970), pp. 16–17. In conversations between Erich Engel and Wolfgang Gersch, Engel recalled that the “proprietor’s son,” whom Horwitz also described as a “terrible actor,” was none other than Horwitz himself, then a fledgling actor at the Munich Kammerspiele. (Conversation with Wolfgang Gersch, September 16, 1976.)

5. Quotes from Erwin Faber and Blandine Ebinger are taken from interviews made with the author on March 18, 1975 and May 25, 1976, respectively.

6. Conversation with Wolfgang Gersch.

7. Brecht later wrote in 1949 that he was indebted “… as director to the stage arrangements of the folk-comedian Karl Valentin.” Bertolt Brecht, “Hemmt die Benutzung des Modells die kuenstlerische Bewegungsfreiheit,” Gesammelte Werke (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), XVI, p. 714. Also see Denis Calandra, “Karl Valentin and Bertolt Brecht,” The Drama Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (March 1974), 91.

8. Bertolt Brecht, Drums in the Night, trans. by William E. Smith and Ralph Manheim (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 68. Brecht had apparently drawn from contemporary English sayings, derived in turn from Sir Edward Coke’s phrase “For a man’s house is his castle…,” in his Third Institute of 1644.

9. The photograph of Brecht in Valentin’s Oktoberfest booth has been reprinted in several Brecht studies: see Calandra, 88, and John Willett, The Theater of Bertolt Brecht (New York: New Directions Books, 1968), p. 145.

10. Hannes Koenig and Erich Ortenau, Panoptikum: Vom Zauberbild zum Gaukelspiel der Wachsfiguren (Munich: Isartor Verlag, 1962), pp. 84–95. Given the unlikely chance that Brecht never visited the Berliner Panoptikum, he was at least familiar with the poetry of Walter Mehring (whose collection of poetry, Das Ketzerbrevier, was widely attributed as principal source for Brecht’s Hauspostille); in 1921 Mehring had described the Berliner Panoptikum as a place where “One sees the ghosts of the great who are dead….the head without child and the man without head,” in his “Die Ballade vom Panoptikum,” Grosses Ketzerbrevier (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1975), pp. 121–22. The poem was made popular by one of Mehring’s leading interpreters, Blandine Ebinger, at the same time that Mehring introduced Brecht to Trude Hesterberg’s cafe-cabaret, Wilde Buehne, during January of 1922. (Based upon an interview with Walter Mehring on September 19, 1976.)

11. Koenig and Ortenau, 16, 108.

12. Bertolt Brecht, Drei im Turm in Text fuer Film (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1969), 1, 16, 26, 31.

13. Hans Otto Muensterer, Bert Brecht: Erinnerungen aus den Jahren 1917–1922 (Zurich: Peer Schifferli Verlag, 1963), pp. 179–82. Descriptions of The Red Plum are few; however, a single page from Brecht’s notes of 1921–22 was apparently an initial outline for The Red Plum and precursor for Mysteries of a Barbershop. Entitled “Bertolt Brecht’s Wax-figure-cabinet,” the scenario begins: “White curtains open sideways/Biti [Brecht] shows Valentin and Karlstadt his living wax-figure-cabinet/Wax figure in green light in small glass cases with cloth sides/One shoves a coin in and they begin to speak…” The unfinished scenario then features cabaret-like poetry readings by Annemarie Hase and Kurt Horwitz (Bertolt Brecht Archive, 424/77). In Mysteries of a Barbershop a similar format with elements of Schaubude and Panoptikum is used for the grotesque appearances of Hase, Faber and Horwitz—with Brecht serving as an omniscient conferencie.

14. Karl Valentin, Karl Valentin’s Lachkabinett (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1950), pp. 71–82. Kurt Horwitz attested to the unwritten state of Valentin’s early stage work: “I never saw a manuscript by Karl Valentin.” (Horwitz, 17). Numerous...


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