Born in Vienna, Austria, Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer grew up in her hometown that was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her parents were of middle class Roman Catholic extraction and at age 17, Karoline left home to pursue a career on stage in Switzerland.
In Zurich, she first performed on stage at the famous Schauspielhaus, where she took her nom de plum, Lotte Lenya. Her lucky break at this theatre company came from many hours of study of classical dance, singing and acting at one of Zurich's prominent drama schools. With her study out the way and high hopes of pursuing a professional career, Lenya moved to Berlin in 1921.
She auditioned for a role in the "Zaubernach", the first production to be scored by the now-famous composer, Kurt Weill. When she was invited to join the cast she regretfully declined as her great friend and voice coach who also auditioned for a role was not cast. Such loyalty and friendship is rarely seen in theatre and dramatics today. Some good would come out of her audition for the production: her rendezvous and later marriage to the incredible composer, Weill.
1928 saw her on stage as Jenny in "The Threepenny Opera" and in 1931 Lenya was rewarded with her first on-screen role: the film based on the Weill-scored play. During this period she also recorded a number of vocal tracks composed by her husband. Despite the success of the Weill musical, the stage-star would not return to cinema for another 30 years.
When war broke out in Germany, Lenya escaped the Nazi regime and worked for a period in France. Unfortunately from 1933 to 1937 she was estranged from her husband - but nevertheless continued to perform in his musicals. The highlight of her time in France was undoubtedly her role in "The Seven Deadly Sins".
In 1945 Lenya performed in the poorly received "Firebrand of Florence" and after the minimal success of this production, took a sabbatical from the stage to become reunited with her husband, Weill, with whom she remained until his death in 1950. During the war period and again following her husband's death, Lenya made a name for herself in New York, getting involved in Broadway shows such as "Barefoot in Athens".
Lenya then married acclaimed editor George David. She returned to the silver screen in the early 1960's in the Vivien Leigh starrer, "The Roman Spring of Mr Stone" (1961) as well as the famous and manic villain, Rosa Klebb, in the second James Bond film "From Russia With Love" (1963).
Lenya set up a foundation to look after the royalties from her late husbands compositions and musicals. She would later earn a role in the 1966 Kander and Ebb musical "Cabaret" as the composers insisted they were greatly inspired by her late husband. On the death of her second husband, Lenya married Russell Detwiler in 1962. When he passed away at age 44, she married Richard Siemanowski in 1971. The pair remained together for just two years before they separated.
Lenya passed away in 1981 in New York after suffering from cancer. She was laid to rest with her first husband in Havenstraw, New York.