The Cradle Will Rock
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Blitzstein on stage during a performance
Olive Stanton
Howard da Silva and Olive Stanton during a performance

"Its truth is impervious to time. "

There Blitzstein, sitting alone at the piano on stage, and nervously chewing peanuts, was to play through the piece, singing all the parts himself. But, a couple of lines into the first song, he heard the words being taken out of his mouth. The spotlight moved from him to a thin girl in a green dress, Olive Stanton, who, standing stiff with fear, began to sing her song in the show.

Blitzstein took something like eight parts himself, as nearly all the actors and a solitary accordionist from the pit band rose on their cue and performed the piece across the wide expanse of the Venice theatre. The audience went wild, and by the following morning Marc Blitzstein was on the front page of newspapers across the country, and The Cradle Will Rock had passed into theatre legend.

It was, however, the last time that Welles and Houseman worked for the FTP. Welles resigned from the project and Houseman was fired under a WPA rule which forbade the employment of non-American citizens. The WPA sent its officers into the Maxine Elliott theatre to demolish the set that Welles had designed. Unit 891 folded overnight, to be reborn shortly after as Welles' and Houseman's own Mercury Theatre.

For the record, The Cradle Will Rock ran for a further 18 performances at the Venice Theatre. It then re-opened at the Windsor Theatre in January 1938, produced by Sam Grisman, although still without props, and with Blitzstein playing the piano, where it ran for a further 108 performances.

And those visiting Manhattan to see the sites of that historic evening will be disappointed. Both the Maxine Elliott Theater (on W39th Street) and Venice Theater (on 7th Avenue between 58th & 59th) no longer exist, having been demolished to make way for offices and condos.