Judith Malina

Judith Malina (June 4, 1926 – April 10, 2015) was an American theater and film actress, writer and director. With her husband, Julian Beck, Malina co-founded The Living Theatre, a radical political theatre troupe that rose to prominence in New York City and Paris during the 1950s and 60s. The Living Theatre and its founders were the subject of the 1983 documentary Signals Through The Flames.

Judith Malina
Malina in Englewood, NJ, circa 2014
Born(1926-06-04)June 4, 1926
Kiel, Prussia, Germany
DiedApril 10, 2015(2015-04-10) (aged 88)
EducationThe New School for Social Research
OccupationActor, director, writer
Known forCo-founding The Living Theatre

Early life and education

Malina was born in Kiel, Germany, the daughter of Polish Jewish parents: her mother, Rosel (née Zamora), was a former actress, and her father, Max Malina, a rabbi in the Conservative denomination.[1][2] In 1929 at the age of three, she immigrated with her parents to New York City.

Her parents helped her see how important political theatre was, as her father was trying to warn people of the Nazi menace and he left Germany with his family largely due to the rise of antisemitism there in the late 1920s.[3]

Except for long tours, she lived in New York City until her move to the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Interested in acting from an early age, she began attending the New School for Social Research in 1945 to study theatre under Erwin Piscator. Malina was greatly influenced by Piscator's philosophy of theatre which was similar to Bertolt Brecht's principles of "epic theatre" but went further in departing from traditional narrative forms. Piscator saw theatre as a form of political communication or agitprop ("Theatre interests me only when it is a matter of interest to society."[4]); Malina, unlike Piscator, was committed to nonviolence and anarchism.[5]


In 1963 they had to close the Living Theatre because of IRS charges (later proved false) of tax problems, and Malina and Beck were convicted of contempt of court, in part because Judith defended Julian wearing the garb of Portia from The Merchant of Venice – and tried to use a similar argument.[6] They received a five-year suspended sentence, and decided to leave the U.S. The company spent the next five years touring in Europe and creating increasingly radical works, culminating in Paradise Now. They returned to the US in 1968 to present their new work. In her book The Enormous Despair (1972), part of her series of published diaries, Malina expressed the sense of danger and unfamiliarity she felt on returning to the U.S. in the midst of the social upheavals of the late 1960s.

In 1969 the company decided to divide into three groups. One worked on the pop scene in London, another went to India to study traditional Indian theatre arts, and the third, including Malina and Beck, traveled in 1971 to Brazil to tour. They were imprisoned there on political charges for two months by the military government.

After Beck's death from cancer in 1985, company member Hanon Reznikov, who had become Malina's lover (they married in 1988), assumed co-leadership of the Living Theatre company. In 2007 it opened its own theater at 21 Clinton Street in Manhattan. In April 2008 Reznikov suffered a stroke and while hospitalized died of pneumonia on May 3 of the same year at the age of 57.[7]

Malina appeared occasionally in films, beginning in 1975, when she played Al Pacino's mother in Dog Day Afternoon. Using her for the role was Pacino's idea, said its director, Sidney Lumet. Lumet recalls that tracking her down was difficult, as she had moved from New York to Vermont. "I had no idea of what to expect," said Lumet. "I didn't even know whether she'd want to do a 'commercial' film. Well, let me tell you, she is an actress. Totally professional. She also had no money and we had to pay her fare from Vermont, but she walked in and was perfect."[8][9]

She also appeared in Pacino's Looking for Richard. Malina's other roles in cinema include; Rose in Awakenings (1990) and Grandma Addams in The Addams Family (1991). She had major roles in Household Saints (1993) and the low-budget film, Nothing Really Happens (2003). She appeared in an episode of long-running TV series The Sopranos in 2006 as a nun, the secret mother of Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri. Malina is the subject of a 2012 documentary by Azad Jafarian titled Love and Politics. The film premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. Malina also has a significant supporting role in the well-received film Enemies, A Love Story (1989), in which she acted alongside Lena Olin, Ron Silver and Anjelica Huston. Some of Malina's artistic qualities were described by theater scholar Richard Schechner:

The thing about Judith Malina is that she is indefatigable, unstoppable, erupting with ideas. Malina is long-living, long-working, optimistic, and by the second decade of the 21st century girlish and old womanish at the same time. She survives and she bubbles, both.[10]

Personal life

Malina met her long-time collaborator and husband, Julian Beck, in 1943, when she was 17 and he was a student at Yale University. Beck, originally a painter, came to share her interest in political theatre. In 1947 the couple founded The Living Theatre, which they directed together until Beck's death in 1985. Beck and Malina had "two offstage children", Garrick and Isha.

Malina's and Beck's marriage was non-monogamous. The bisexual Beck had a long-term male partner, as did Malina. In 1988 she married her long term partner Hanon Resnikov.[11] They co-directed the Living Theatre's activity in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, until Reznikov's unexpected death in 2008.[11]


Judith Malina died in Englewood, New Jersey, on April 10, 2015.[10]

Selected credits

  • Entretiens avec le Living Théâtre (with Julian Beck and Jean-Jaques Lebel) (1969)
  • We, The Living Theatre (with Julian Beck and Aldo Lastagmo) (1970)
  • Paradise Now (with Julian Beck) (1971)
  • The Enormous Despair, Diaries 1968–89 (New York: Random House, 1972)
  • Le Legs de Cain: trois projets pilotes (with Julian Beck) (1972)
  • Frankenstein (Venice Version) (with Julian Beck) (1972)
  • Sette meditazioni sul sadomachismo politico (with Julian Beck) (1977)
  • Living Heist Leben Theater (with Imke Buchholz) (1978)
  • Diary excerpts Brazil 1970, Diary of Bologna 1977 (1979)
  • Poems of a Wandering Jewess (Paris: Handshake Editions, 1982)
  • The Diaries of Judith Malina: 1947–1957 (New York: Grove Press, 1984)
  • "Full Moon Stages: Personal Notes from 50 Years in the Living Theatre" (New York: Three Rooms Press, 2015)[12]

Selected filmography


  • 2003, induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[13]
  • 2008, annual Artistic Achievement Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. This honor was presented to Malina by Olympia Dukakis on behalf of her peers and fellow artists of the Off-Off-Broadway community "in recognition of her unabashed pioneering spirit and unyielding dedication to her craft and the Off-Off-Broadway community".[14][15]
  • 2009, the Edwin Booth Award from the Doctoral Theatre Students Association of the City University of New York.
  • Other awards include an honorary doctorate from Lehman College, the Lola d'Annunzio award (1959); Page One Award (1960); Obie Award (1960, 1964, 1969, 1975, 1987, 1989, and 2007); Creative Arts Citation, Brandeis University (1961); Grand Prix du Théâtre des Nations (1961); Paris Critics Circle medallion (1961); Prix de L'Université de Paris (1961); New England Theater Conference Award (1962); Olympio Prize (1967); and a Guggenheim fellowship (1985).


  1. Lester, Elenore (October 13, 1968). "The Living Theater presents: Revolution! Joy! Protest! Shock! Etc.!; The Living Theater". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
  2. Weichselbaum, Lehman (January 18, 2011). "Judith Malina's 'Jewish Anarchist Play'". The Jewish Week. Retrieved January 19, 2011.
  3. Fliotsos, Anne; Wendy Vierow (2008). American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century. University of Illinois Press. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-252-03226-4.
  4. Judith Malina: The Piscator Notebook. London: Routledge Chapman & Hall 2012, p. 185
  5. Trousdell, Richard; Malina, Judith (January 1, 1988). "The Director as Pacifist-Anarchist: An Interview with Judith Malina". The Massachusetts Review. 29 (1): 22–38. JSTOR 25089945.
  6. Gary Botting, "The Living Theatre" in The Theatre of Protest in America (Edmonton: Harden House, 1972) 18
  7. "Hanon Reznikov, a Force Behind the Living Theater, Dies at 57, New York Times, May 9, 2008
  8. Lumet, Sidney, Rapf, Joanna. Sidney Lumet: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi (2006) p. 68
  9. "Dog Day Afternoon 1975 Bringing sonnys mother". Metacafe.com. April 23, 2013. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  10. "Judith Malina, Founder of the Living Theater, Dies at 88", The New York Times, April 11, 2015.
  11. Robertson, Campbell (May 9, 2008). "Hanon Reznikov, a Force Behind the Living Theater, Dies at 57". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  12. Judith Malina (February 5, 2016). Full Moon Stages: Personal notes from 50 years of The Living Theatre. ISBN 9781941110256.
  13. "Theater honors put women in the spotlight". Old.post-gazette.com. June 7, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  14. 2008 IT Award Winners Announced Brian Scott Lipton, TheatreMania, September 23, 2008
  15. 2008 Honorary Awards Recipients Doug Strassler, New York Innovative Theatre Awards, September 15, 2008
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