Longtime love of Cabaret's Isherwood feted in Berlin

Longtime love of Cabaret's Isherwood feted in Berlin
Picture taken on April 24, 2014 shows Danny Burstein, Michelle Williams, Alan Cumming and the cast on stage at the Broadway opening night of 'Cabaret' at Studio 54 in New York City.

BERLIN - Berlin is rolling out the red carpet for the longtime partner of late British-born author Christopher Isherwood, whose writings inspired "Cabaret" about the swinging city on the brink of Nazi terror.

This week Don Bachardy, 80, is making his first extended trip to the German capital, where Isherwood moved in 1929 to escape a stifling life among England's monied class and join his friend W.H. Auden in indulging in its uninhibited gay scene.

Isherwood's semi-autobiographical writings gave rise to the Broadway play and film "Cabaret", set in a seedy nightclub in Weimar-era Berlin.

He left the city in 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, and eventually settled in the United States.

He and Los Angeles-native Bachardy met in 1953 on a California beach and would spend 33 years together, until Isherwood's death in 1986.

Late Tuesday, Berlin's City Hall hosted Bachardy for a gala reading of Isherwood's works.

US Ambassador John Emerson invited Bachardy to a reception at his residence with members of the city's buzzing arts scene. And Berlin's Gay Museum has organised a special get-together in his honour.

News magazine Der Spiegel dedicated a four-page feature to Bachardy this week, and recounted his at times turbulent relationship with Isherwood.

They were the toast of Los Angeles cultural life as a rare openly gay couple, with friends such as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and acquaintances including Hollywood greats Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Nicholson, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.

Bachardy, who still lives in the Santa Monica bungalow they shared, sketched and painted dozens of the stars' portraits.

His visit marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Isherwood's "Goodbye to Berlin" and 50 years since "A Single Man", both of which just came out in new German translations.

"A Single Man", which was made into a hit film by designer Tom Ford, was inspired in part by a crisis in their relationship and Isherwood's fear of ending up alone.

'Delighted' by new Berlin

Bachardy, who was 30 years Isherwood's junior, was not even born when the writer lived in Berlin and had never been to the city when public affairs consultant Joe Rodota approached him with the idea.

At the reading, British actor Simon Callow, an old friend of the couple, presented the iconic passage in which the main protagonist meets flighty cabaret singer Sally Bowles for the first time.

Bachardy smiled with pride and chuckled at the punch lines. He read from one of their droll and tender love letters, a collection of which was published last year entitled "The Animals".

Bachardy told AFP he thought Isherwood would have been "delighted" by the new Berlin, with its vibrant creative scene, legendary nightlife and openly gay mayor.

"It would have been very interesting to come back with him," Bachardy, who bears a striking resemblance to the author with a sharp side parting in his hair and speech tinged with a faint English accent despite his California roots.

He said it was "wonderful" to tour Isherwood's former flat on Nollendorfstrasse, which is again in a neighbourhood filled with leather fetish shops and gay bars.

"His room was really the vestibule it was quite small and snug and it was easy to imagine him enjoying it," Bachardy said.

He said that despite the inspiration and fame that came from his Berlin years, Isherwood didn't dwell on that period.

"I wailed when he told me he had burned his Berlin diaries," Bachardy said. "With the war coming he was afraid that if he left them behind in England they might be read and get his friends in trouble."

Bachardy said Isherwood never wanted to return to Berlin with him.

"He wasn't nostalgic about the past - it was always the present that engaged him."

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