Marjorie Guthrie

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Marjorie Mazia Guthrie (October 6, 1917 – March 13, 1983) was a dancer of the Martha Graham Company, a dance teacher, and, for a time, the wife of folk musician Woody Guthrie. She is the mother of folk musician Arlo Guthrie and Woody Guthrie Publications president Nora Guthrie.

Life and work[edit]

Marjorie Greenblatt (Yiddish: חנה גרינבלאַט‎) was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States, on October 6, 1917 to Aliza Waitzman and Izadore Greenblatt.[1] She had three brothers- David, Herbert and Ben and a sister Gertrude. In 1935, after graduation from the Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marjorie moved to New York City on scholarship and joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. As a core company member, Marjorie appeared in such iconic pieces as Primitive Mysteries, American Document, Every Soul is a Circus, and Appalachian Spring. She grew to become Graham’s assistant for fifteen years and was the first company member invited to teach the Graham technique, outside of Martha. Two of Marjorie’s early students were Erick Hawkins and Merce Cunningham.[2]

Woody Guthrie[edit]

She met Guthrie in 1940 as a Martha Graham Dancer trained in Modern Dance, while she was adapting some of Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads to a routine.

"Marjorie Mazia met Woody Guthrie in 1942, when he was a member of the Almanac Singers, living at 430 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village in a communal apartment playfully named Almanac House. Marjorie was to appear in fellow Graham dancer, Sophie Maslow’s New Dance Group performance of “Folksay”. In an attempt to create something unique, Sophie choreographed a dance to rural roots music. Woody had recently released his first record “Dust Bowl Ballads” on Victor Records, a 3-disc collection of 78’s consisting of 11 songs in July, 1940. Sophie had selected songs from this recording to choreograph to and when she found out that Woody Guthrie was living in New York City, decided to invite him to play live on-stage for the performance. Marjorie insisted on going with Sophie. Since hearing Dust Bowl Ballads she had dreamed Woody was a tall cowboy with a Stetson hat…when she knocked on the door, there appeared a 5’6″ wiry guy. She turned to look at Sophie and said, “I’m going to marry him.” They were married on November 13, 1945." [3] Together they had four children; Cathy Guthrie (b. 1943/d. 1947), Arlo Guthrie (b. 1947), Joady Guthrie (b. 1948), and Nora Guthrie (1950). Cathy tragically died at age four in a fire.

Majorie Mazia School of Dance[edit]

A naturally gifted teacher, Marjorie opened the Marjorie Mazia School of Dance, located at 1618 Sheepshead Bay Road, Brooklyn, New York. Thanks to her years with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Marjorie often had special guest dance teachers like Merce Cunningham. which trained young dancers in Modern Dance and Ballet in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. In 1950, Mazia recorded, Dance Along on Folkways Records, a dance album for children.[4] She is extensively cited in the book, Outwitting History by National Yiddish Book Center founder/director Aaron Lansky.

Huntington's Disease[edit]

Teal and gray poster with red-orange and lavender lettering and highlights, announcing lecture, April 1985. Also lists speaker, sponsors, date, time, and location. Speaker was Joseph B. Martin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School. Largest feature of poster is computer-generated image of human head and torso. Smaller, clearer image of two brain scans, bounded by lavender, is superimposed on human figure
Poster of Recent studies of Huntington's disease Marjorie Guthrie lecture in genetics

By the late 1940s, Guthrie's health was declining. He received various misdiagnoses, but in 1952, it was finally determined that he was suffering from Huntington's disease. During the more than 15 years that the disease affected him, Marjorie stood by his side as she supervised Woody’s hospital care and continued to seek the best medical assistance for him. She had even taught him to communicate by blinking his eyes after he had lost control of his other muscles.[5] Though she was Guthrie's second wife (of three) they maintained a close relationship throughout his life and she provided constant care to Guthrie until his death. Following Woody Guthrie's death due to Huntington's disease in 1967, she founded the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease.[5] This eventually became the Huntington's Disease Society of America.[6]

“When Woody became ill I was told that the case was hopeless and helpless. Assuming that was so, I just said, well, I’ve got to live with hopeless and helpless. And if my children have the disease, I’m going to have to live with that too. But after a long period, in and out of that hospital, I said to myself, “Why is it hopeless and helpless?” And with my kids now being old enough to be able to take care of themselves, I went to Dr. Whittier, who was in charge of Creedmore Institute, where Woody was at that time, and said, “I want to help". And he introduced me to some other scientists and they said, “You might be able to help if you could just find families. We believe that this disorder is all over the world, it is hidden, families don’t even know they have it, and those that do are so ashamed they won’t tell anybody because there’s a stigma attached.” With that kind of help, I began to look for families with this disease and then founded the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease. We found the disorder was much more prevalent than anybody believed possible.” – Marjorie Guthrie[7]

Marjorie headed a Federal commission for control of the disease in 1976 and 1977 and convinced then President Jimmy Carter to form a Presidential Commission to study neurological diseases, including HD. The recommendations that resulted from that 1977 report have served as the cornerstone of HDSA's commitment to the care and cure of HD.[5]

Mrs. Guthrie was instrumental in creating the World Federation of Neurology's Research Commission on Huntington's Chorea. She headed a Federal commission for control of the disease in 1976 and 1977, and lectured to medical students about the illness and how it affects the patient and the patient's family. She also headed the public and governmental information committee of the National Committee for Research in Neurological and Communicative Disorders, was a member of the New York State Commission on Health Education and Illness Prevention and of the state's Genetic Advisory Committee, and was a lay member of the advisory council of the National Institute of General Medical Science. (Quoted from NY Times obituary: MARJORIE GUTHRIE, SINGER'S WIDOW, 65, March 14, 1983)

Joe Klein's 1980 biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life is based extensively on Marjorie Guthrie's recollections and collected papers, and contains substantial details of her life up through Woody Guthrie's passing in 1967. Publication info.: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

In 1975, Mrs. Guthrie married Martin B. Stein, who was vice president of the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease. She died of cancer on March 13, 1983, outliving her fifth husband.[8] (Source: ibid.)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ancestry of Arlo Guthrie.
  2. ^ "Martha Graham Dance Company – Marjorie Guthrie Project". marjorieguthrie.com. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  3. ^ "Woody Guthrie – Marjorie Guthrie Project". marjorieguthrie.com. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  4. ^ Dance Along Album Details, Smithsonian Folkways, Smithsonian Institution, USA.
  5. ^ a b c "HDSA History". hdsa.org. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  6. ^ Huntington's Disease Society of America.
  7. ^ Phillip., Buehler,. Woody Guthrie's wardy forty : Greystone Park state hospital revisited. Guthrie, Nora., Brower, Steven, 1969-, Woody Guthrie Archives. (1st ed.). Mount Kisco, N.Y. ISBN 9780989752107. OCLC 869226469.
  8. ^ "MARJORIE GUTHRIE, SINGER'S WIDOW, 65". Retrieved 2018-08-08.