Published with permission from Marissa Friedman, Artistic Resident at Long Wharf Theatre
February House, produced in association with Long Wharf Theatre will premiere at The Public Theater on May 8. At 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn in the 1940's, George Davis transformed a dilapidated boardinghouse into a bohemian commune, where many visionary writers and composers lived. A few of February House's most notable residents are featured in these biographies.
Wystan Hugh (W.H.) Auden (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) was an Anglo-American poet born in England who became an American citizen in 1946. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, whose works addressed moral, political, and religious issues, as well as the relationship between humans and nature. From 1935-1939, he worked at GPO Film Unit where he met Britten, with whom he began working on plays. He and fellow writer Christopher Isherwood sailed for New York in January 1939; it was around this time that he met and began a lifelong relationship with Chester Kallman. Auden was a prolific writer, publishing more than 400 essays and around 400 poems, as well as librettos.
George Davis (1906 - November 25, 1957) was an American-born writer and editor, though he spent much of the 1920's as an expatriate in Paris. His only novel, The Opening of a Door, was published in 1931 and received critical praise. Davis served as fiction editor for Harper’s Bazaar from 1936-1941 and then at Mademoiselle for the following eight years. An early sponsor of Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Jane Bowles and others, Davis was responsible for bringing serious literature to the mostly light world of women’s magazines. In October 1940, he founded the art commune at 7 Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights, which became known as ‘February House.’
Chester Kallman (January 7, 1921 – January 18, 1975) was a native-Brooklynite of Jewish ancestry. He received his BA at Brooklyn College and MA at the University of Michigan. He published three collections of poems: Storm at Castlefranco (1956), Absent and Present (1963), and The Sense of Occasion (1971), as well as librettos with lifelong friend and sometime lover, W.H. Auden, including: Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951), Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and Henze’s The Bassands (1966).
Gypsy Rose Lee (January 9, 1911 – April 26, 1970) was born Rose Louise Hovick in Seattle, WA. Growing up, she and her sister, June, supported their family by appearing in vaudeville. She went on to perform burlesque, becoming a sensation known for her striptease and onstage wit. She became one of the biggest stars at Minsky’s Burlesque, where she took the stage-name Gypsy Rose Lee. Under the guidance of George Davis, Gypsy wrote The G-String Murders in 1941 and published a second, Mother Finds a Body, in 1942. She wrote a memoir in 1957, titled Gypsy, which inspired the musical of the same name.
Erika Mann (November 9, 1905 – August 27, 1969) was born in Munich, the eldest daughter of novelist Thomas Mann. She was an actress and writer who performed in Berlin and Bremen, as well as in Munich, where she and her brother Klaus founded the Die Pfeffermuhle Cabaret in 1933. In 1935, she undertook a marriage of convenience to W.H. Auden in order to obtain British citizenship and flee the Nazi regime. The two, both homosexual, never lived together but remained married and friends until her death. She came to New York with her brother, writer Klaus Mann, in 1938.
Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was born Lula Carson Smith in Columbus, Georgia. She moved to New York City at age seventeen to enroll at Juilliard and train as a concert pianist; however, she enrolled at Columbia University and began taking writing classes. She spent much of her life suffering from pleurisy, strokes and nervous attacks. She married Reeves McCullers in 1937 and again in 1945. McCullers is considered a Southern Gothic writer and is best known for her novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), The Member of the Wedding (1946) and The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951).
Reeves McCullers (August 11, 1913 – November 19, 1953) enlisted in the army at Fort Benning, Georgia on November 3, 1931 and served for three years. An aspiring writer in his own right, he met Carson through a mutual friend named Edwin Peacock in 1935 and the two married on September 20, 1937. The two are separated in 1941, though they remarry on March 19, 1945. After trying to convince Carson to commit a double suicide, he ends his life in a Paris hotel.
Peter Pears (June 22, 1910 – April 3, 1986) was a British tenor and organist who studied at the Royal College of Music. He met Britten in 1937 while a member of the BBC Singers; the two became lovers. Many of Britten’s works were written for Pears’ tenor voice, including roles in Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Peter Grimes, and Death in Venice, with which he made his 1974 debut at The Metropolitan Opera. Pears was knighted in 1978.
For more information about February House, visit publictheater.org.