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The Dressing Room Version
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A now little known but once highly regarded playwright, Odon von Horvath, was very successful prior to his death at the age of 36. He was killed when a falling branch hit him during a thunderstorm as he was crossing the Champs Elysee to go to a famous theater.
The year was 1938, June 1, and Von Horvath had moved to Paris from Vienna because of the rising Nazi threat, which he protested loudly against in person and in his work.
Von Horvath’s death was a great loss to the world of the theater and also to the people who knew and loved him.
This is not the first time I heard about the tragic death of Von Horvath. The first time I heard about it was when I was in rehearsal for one of Von Horvath’s plays, “Don Juan Comes Back from the War” at the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The producer, Ron Sossi, liked me as an actor and this was the second time in a few months that he cast me in a good role in one his productions. (The one before had been by Bertolt Brecht, who did not die trying to cross a street in Paris but instead left Germany for the United States where he had a show on Broadway). I think Ron had me somehow associated with World War II. I did not protest although I wondered if I did not carry about me some faint scent of tragic death. I hoped not. I was very young.
In the dressing room, and later in the playbill, the story about Von Horvath’s death was both less and more tragic. In this version, Von Horvath either went to or was accosted by a fortune teller of some kind while he was in Vienna and was told to go to Paris, there to meet his fate. As in the other version, he moves to Paris (because of the prognostication, not because of Hitler) and almost immediately crosses the Champs Elysee and is instantly killed.
This version, the dressing room version, was almost like the play we were rehearsing, it was like the next scene or the last act, but Von Horvath could not possibly have known that, could he? He was a very brave man and artist, he understood that in fighting back against the fascism encroaching the countries and continent he loved, he was taking great risk but he insisted on doing so, on keeping on keeping on.
There is still, no matter which one you prefer, a mystical, foretelling to this story. Von Horvath was not afraid of many things that make the ordinary person shudder, but he did know fear. A few years earlier he had written in a poem that he was not afraid of thunder, or of lightning but that sometimes the streets themselves, the road, struck terror in his heart.

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