Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”



The village of Hollywood was planned according to the notion

People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts

They have come to the conclusion that God

Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to

Plan two establishments but

Just the one: heaven. It

Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful

As hell.



By the sea stand the oil derricks. Up the canyons

The gold prospectors’ bones lie bleaching. Their sons

Built the dream factories of Hollywood.

The four cities 

Are filled with the oily smell

Of films.



The city is named after the angels

And you meet angels on every hand.

They smell of oil and wear golden pessaries

And, with blue rings round their eyes

Feed the writers in their swimming pools every morning.



Beneath the green pepper trees

The musicians play the whore, two by two

With the writers. Bach

Has written a Strumpet Voluntary. Dante wriggles

His shrivelled bottom.



The angels of Los Angeles

Are tired out with smiling. Desperately

Behind the fruit stalls of an evening

They buy little bottles

Containing sex odours.



Above the four cities the fighter planes

Of the Defense Department circle at a great height

So that the stink of greed and poverty

Shall not reach them.


Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), escaping the Nazis, moved to Los Angeles in 1941, where he became part of a German exile community that included, among many others, Thomas Mann, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alfred Döblin—unimaginable in the land of Mickey Rooney and Mickey Mouse. He left in 1947, after testifying before the House Un-American Activities committee, in what has come to be considered a classic befuddlement of a righteous bureaucracy.

In the late 1930s, Charles Reznikoff—who otherwise almost never left New York—spent two years in Hollywood, ostensibly working as a screenwriter for his childhood friend, the producer Albert Lewin. Reznikoff had nothing to do and writes of watching the flies on his desk. One of the poems in his sequence “Autobiography: Hollywood” reads:


It has been raining for three days.
The faces of the giants
on the bill-boards
still smile,
but the gilt has been washed from the sky:
we see the iron world.