By Ede Rothaus
Erwin Lerner, a well-known Greenwich Village playwright, died at his Morton Street home on February 8th at age 81.
Born in the Bronx in 1935, Lerner enlisted in the Air Force at age 17 while still attending DeWitt Clinton High School. He served during the Korean War in Crete and Germany and spent the last six months of that era as a cryptographer at the Pentagon. After returning to New York, Lerner attended classes at NYU and the New School and spent the remainder of his life in the Village.
The way Lerner and his wife, Mary Phillips, met is a true “tale of the Village.” In 1972, each lived at 244 West 10th Street in apartments facing each other over a common courtyard. One day, when they happened to open their windows at the same time, they saw each other—and kismet! They married within a year and moved to Morton Street.
Together for 44 years, both were founding members of the Morton Street Block Association and shared a love of books, horseback riding, and especially their West Village neighborhood.
Lerner’s interests and activities were varied and far-ranging. A sometime contributor to WestView News, his pieces included tales of travels to Mexico to start a revolution (he wound up in jail for that one) and his account of an event during the Korean War involving fierce fighting over a hill called Old Baldy, and an outpost that went by the name of “West View.”
Extensively involved in the Off- and Off-Off-Broadway scenes, Lerner’s credits include a production of his three-act play Tea, directed by Woody King, Jr., at the New Federal Theater within the Henry Street Settlement; many one-act plays (including Happy New Year, Love, which was published in 1977); and readings at the Cooper Square Arts Theater, the Circle Repertory Company, and on the radio station WBAI.
The last three decades of Lerner’s work life were totally focused on producing a film script about the real-life Nazi SS officer Odilo Globocnik—less known to the world community than other Third Reich villains, but one who bore major responsibility for atrocities in several World War II extermination and forced labor camps. Years of painstaking and exacting investigations in Eastern Europe and the United States resulted in seminal research on Globocnik that has been cited in several scholarly publications on the Holocaust. At the time of his death, Lerner had not yet found a producer for the screenplay (originally entitled Plunder and then changed to Nazi Plunder) but the script had won awards in three competitions.
In addition to his wife, Lerner leaves two daughters, Jessica and Kim, and three grandchildren.