It turns out that instead of being dead, as any reasonable person might have assumed, Eric Bentley was merely 103 years old! Older even than Shaw at the time of his passing. But now Bentley too has left us. Bentley is cherished by most American theatre artists of a more cerebral stripe as our pathway to Bertolt Brecht: his translations, his forewords and essays, his editorship of volumes, his productions, and for pity’s sake, even his record albums on which he sang Brecht’s lyrics. I’ve certainly had Brecht interpreted for me by many a critic and translator, but there can be no doubt but the very wide and deep trail was blazed by Bentley, and with bravery I might add, for he did so at a time when American hostility toward Brecht’s communist philosophy was at its acme. (Ye Gods! I digress but I can’t help but observe in that context that Bentley was born in 1916 — PRIOR to the Russian Revolution!)
But Bentley was more than just “the Brecht guy”. He wrote a volume about Shaw in 1947 — when Shaw was still alive! And the picture you see above is my paperback of the 1946 book The Playwright as Thinker , which treats of Brecht, Shaw, Wagner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Sartre, etc. Everyone who aspires to be a serious person of theatre should read it — should, in fact, have ALREADY read it. As well as his numerous other inluential books, like What is Theatre (1956), The Life of the Drama (1964) etc etc etc
English born Bentley attended Oxford and Yale in the late ’30s and early ’40s. He taught at Black Mountain College, Columbia and Harvard, was theatre critic for the New Republic, and was associated with Grove Press and Folkways Records. In 1969, the year of Stonewall, he came out as a homosexual at the age of 53. He infused that identity into his 1979 play about Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred’s Lover.
His was a life well lived, his was a legacy most of us can only envy.