Current Affairs Voskovec and Werich: a fruitful cooperation that continued across the Atlantic

15-02-2007 15:57 | Coilin O'Connor

In the 1920s and 30s the actors Jiri Voskovec and Jan Werich became legendary for their bitingly satirical songs that parodied the politics of the time in the tense years leading up to the war. Their "Osvobozene divadlo" - or "Liberated Theatre" - is remembered and loved to this day. During the wartime occupation the two men escaped to America, but then their careers took very different directions. Werich returned home, and took roles in several well-known films of the 50s and 60s, while Voskovec decided to stay in the States. Against the odds and despite never shaking off his Czech accent he had a successful Hollywood career. Smuggling their letters past the censors, the two men continued to write to one another across the Iron Curtain, and in a way this correspondence was a continuation of their fruitful earlier literary cooperation. Now, for the first time, some of the letters have just been published.

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In the 1920s and 30s the actors Jiri Voskovec and Jan Werich became legendary for their bitingly satirical songs that parodied the politics of the time in the tense years leading up to the war. Their "Osvobozene divadlo" - or "Liberated Theatre" - is remembered and loved to this day. During the wartime occupation the two men escaped to America, but then their careers took very different directions. Werich returned home, and took roles in several well-known films of the 50s and 60s, while Voskovec decided to stay in the States. Against the odds and despite never shaking off his Czech accent he had a successful Hollywood career. Smuggling their letters past the censors, the two men continued to write to one another across the Iron Curtain, and in a way this correspondence was a continuation of their fruitful earlier literary cooperation. Now, for the first time, some of the letters have just been published, thanks to the initiative of the Czech-American art collector and philanthropist, Meda Mladkova, who told Radio Prague more about the letters.

Meda Mladkova, photo: www.museumkampa.czMeda Mladkova, photo: www.museumkampa.cz "Voskovec and Werich were commentators of the political situation in humour.

"Voskovec's widow, Christine, because we were such good friends, and because she has total confidence in me, gave me copyright.

"They talk in the letters about Shakespeare, about the Czech poets. For me it was a great surprise to feel the extraordinary education of these two people. But the letters are also very vulgar, with vulgar language on every page - three or four times! Yet they evidently wanted the letters to be published one day. That is clear. They pronounced that the letters should be kept. So I think the public will be fascinated.

"Werich described meeting important people here in Prague, and tells Voskovec about them. Voskovec does the same about America. You see, Voskovec was quite an important actor. He could never have the first role because of his accent, but he played with Elizabeth Taylor and with Burton."

The first of three volumes of the Voskovec and Werich letters between 1945 and 1962, was published on 13th February.

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