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October 21, 1983 - Image 12

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-10-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

12 Friday, October 21, 1983

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

'Strangers in Paradise' Hollywood Benefitted from Emigre Talent

.

By LEA D. FIELD
rather to something — that
In his book, "Strangers in something being the fledgl-
Paradise" (Holt, Rinehart ing motion picture industry.
The founding fathers
and Winston), John Russel
Taylor has attempted to in- were almost all foreigners.
terpret that phase of the Louis B. Mayer was born in
film history from its begin- Minsk, Samuel Goldwyn
ning to 1950. Taylor became (formerly Goldfish) was
fascinated with the bizarre also a Polish Jew, William
image of the cream of the Fox and Adolph Zukor came
intelligentsia settling down from Hungary, Carl Laem-
in the Los Angeles area to mle was German. Soon, all
make new roots. What effect, these men regarded them-
did they have on Southern selves as Americans and not
California or more precisely foreigners.
There was little to distin-
that area of Los Angeles cal-
led Hollywood and what ef- guish these people from
fect did Hollywood have on native-born Americans
such as the Warner brothers
them?
This becomes a most fas- born in this country al- and people's origins were of
cinating and interesting_ though their parents were no importance. There
seemed to be a fanciful ten-
documentary and makes for also Polish Jews.
There were some who dency on the part of many
enjoyable reading under
would not become Americans that a European
Taylor's pen.
First of all, Hollywood is Americanized and culti- accent automatically meant
not so much a place as an vated their foreignness culture, sophistication and
atmosphere. Films had been for all it was worth. Char- possibly an aristocratic
made in Southern Califor- lie Chaplin persisted in background.
So it was, at a later date,
nia since 1906. However, in retaining his British na-
1913, Cecil B. DeMille made tionality and sounded with Maurice Chevalier
"The Squaw Man," the fam- English throughout his who truly cultivated his
ous "first film," around a long life — an act which French accent and made
barn on the corner of Sunset later cast suspicion upon much of his French man-
and Vine; and the legend of his patriotism during the ners. Charles Boyer also
McCarthy hearings and exploited his foreignness as
Hollywood was born.
Hollywood became a caused him to be refused did Hedy Kiesler, renamed
generic term that the out- re-entry into this country Hedy LaMarr.
An exception was
side world attached to for many years.
There was Erick von Ernst Lubitsch. When he
American cinema. Even
though today most films Stroheim, the son of a was brought to this coun-
are made either on loca- Jewish tailor in Austria. He try in 1922, it was because
tion or in studios outside recognized early that a he had already been a
of Hollywood, still the touch of exoticism and a success in German
name "Hollywood" im- "von" in his name did not do cinema and was consi-
any harm and cultivated a dered a "hot commercial
plies film making.
At this time, those who military and aristocratic property." He was the
son of a Berlin Jewish
came to Hollywood came air.
But whoever remembered tailor and not ashamed of
from choice. America meant
opportunity for a better life that Mary Pickford was it.
He had come up the hard
and Southern California, Canadian or that the mys-
with its sunny, carefree at- terious Theda Bara was way (beginning with Max
mosphere, was most appeal- born Theodosia Goodman Rhinehart and learning
ing. These people did not from Cincinnati? Hol- from the art of handling
come from something but lywood was a melting pot large crowds) and had al-
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ready made many impor-
tant films. With the Polish
born actress, Pola Negri, he
had soared to new heights
and now in Hollywood, he
quickly adapted himself,
learned the American lan-
guage and was perfectly at
home.
Lubitsch's broad sarcastic
sense of humor marked him
out as a good fellow. He was
loved by all. His particular
style was known as the
"Lubitsch touch" which
never changed up to his
death in 1947.
One other emigre at this
time was Marlene Dietrich,
the German actress. She
was already an important
personality when, with her
director and teacher, Josef
von Sternberg, she came to
Hollywood. Sternberg was
born in Vienna of a humble
family but raised in New
York (without the von be-
fore his name). All of his
training was in America so
he cannot be regarded as an
emigre.
The year of the talkies
was 1927 and with that
event there was a com-
plete upheaval in the
cinema world. The Euro-
pean actors and direc-
tors, so eagerly sought
after before, found the
language barrier a prob-
lem and left. Only two of
the already successful
foreign movie stars of
that period survived the
talkies. Marlene Dietrich
and Greta Garbo were
determined to master the
English language and
did, much to their con-
tinuing popularity and
success.
It was the English who
fared best. They were wel-
comed and many who had
been trained in stage dic-
tion were employed in
teaching positions by the
studios. Actors like Ronald
Colman, Leslie Howard,
Clive Brook, Charles
Laughton and Cary Grant
were able to establish them-
selves because they had the
advantage of the English
language.
One couple who came and
settled in Hollywood in the
early 1930s was very impor-
tant — Berthold Viertel and
his actress wife, Salka.
Berthold, a distinguished
poet with extensive theatri-
cal experience, was particu-
larly useful in the new
sound medium. He was soon
offered a contract to write
and direct, and for the rest
of his life was involved in
film making both in
America and Europe.
Unable to find work as an
actress, Salka became an
excellent script writer,
working primarily on Garbo
films.
This couple is particu-
larly worthy of note be-
cause Salka soon estab-
lished a home, which be-
came the center and a
haven. In fact, all during
the war years many a re-
fugee, Hollywood-bound,
was fed, directed to jobs
and cared for by Salka.
Which brings us to the
Hitler era. There were those
who saw the handwriting on
the wall and did not wait

until they had to flee. Au-
thors Thomas Mann and his
brother Heinrick, on lecture
tours in Europe, felt it expe-
dient not to return home to
Germany. Although not
Jewish, they had both been
most outspoken and critical
of the new totalitarian re:
gime.
Arnold Schoenberg, the
eminent musician, on the
pretext of going on vacation
in Spain, also left, leaving
everything behind. There
were others — writers, ac-
tors, directors, musicians
and artists already famous
in their fields like Bertolt
Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger
and Max Rhinehart, who
crossed borders while there
was still time. Soon they
came to America and thence
to Los Angeles and the film
industry.
This influx of intelligent-
sia either temporarily or
permanently settling down
in Los Angeles completely
changed the character and
the cultural life of the com-
munity. The contributions
to the movie industry made
by the coming of these per-
sonalities were immeasur-
able. The development and
growth of the film industry
and the growth and de-
velopment of Los Angeles as
a metropolis owes much to
these Europeans Who found
a refuge here at this time.
There were many who
came who had no connec-
tion with the film indus-
try. Lured by the climate,
these people came to set
up shop and benefit from
the scores of services
needed by the expanding
population.
But as Nazi Germany
gradually overran the rest
of Europe, the stream of
emigres became a flood. The
giant film industry was a
beacon of light to all those
hopeful of gaining a footh-
old in movies and thereby
striking it rich. Many like
Billy Wilder, Erick Pommer
and Ingrid Bergman were
successful but many were
not. -
It soon became evident
that some funds had to be
made available to care for
these refugees who could
not find work. In 1939 Ernst
Lubitsch, Salka Viertel and
agent Paul Kohner set up
the European Film Fund.
Through the offices of
Warner Brothers and MGM
they were given a one year
contract at $100 a week.
After the year was up, none
of the contracts were re-
newed.
Hollywood, in general,
was not kind or sympathetic
to the newcomers. Partly, it
was born out of fear and
suspicion. Few of the film
people felt equal to the com-
pany of the intellectuals
which they supposed all
Europeans to be, while the
emigres were intimidated
by the riches and no-
nonsense American at-
titude. Also there were fears
that the newcomers might
include subversive ele-
ments or even spies. This
idea was renewed and
elaborated upon much later
by the UnAmerican Ac-
tivities Committee.


,

The intervening war
years had brought with
them new compulsions,
new faces and new obli-
gations. In 1941, The Hol-
lywood Writers Mobiliza-
tion had been organized
by the guilds of radio, sc-
reen and newspapers, en-
listing thousands of writ-
ers, readers, publicists,
cartoonists and song
writers. Some time ear-
lier, the Screen Writers
Guild and the Screen Ac-
tors Guild of America
had been created, much
to the disapproval and
chagrin of the studios.
It was the "heyday" of the
emigre film makers who
had "gone Hollywood" and
so were seldom considered
foreigners — such were Otto
Preminger and Fritz Lang.
Hollywood somehow man-
aged to forget any aware-
ness of their past.
The exotic delights of
stars like Marlene Dietrich
and Maurice Chevalier
were now largely in the past
and played down. In the
1940s, which meant the war
years, everyone was ex-
pected, first of all, to be a
good American. Patriotism
and war pictures became
the norm. To be a foreigner
was to be suspect!
Hollywood was im-
mediately a subject for in-
vestigation by the House of
Representatives and the
McCarthy UnAmerican Ac-
tivities Committee. Many a
writer, actor and musician
who had contributed so
much were black-listed and
the studios were forbidden
to let them work.
After the war, a great
many who had turned to
America as a refuge and
haven found it expedient
to return to the country
from which they had fled
when again they found
themselves hounded.
The author, John Russel
Taylor, is very detailed in
his accounts of the many
and varied actors, directors,
writers and musicians who
are included in this book. In
fact, he has researched
every picture, every friend-
ship and every connection
each had with others, but he
has also chronicled the
legends and the many de-
lightful anecdotes about
them. This makes for de-
lightful reading.
In summing up, Taylor
says, "What of those 'old
timers' who had brought
their talents to America and
developed the motion pic-
ture industry and Los
Angeles in general? Well,
Hollywood had not radically
changed them. Still, they
had changed and Los
Angeles had changed and
for at least part of Hol-
lywood history, they had
been an important part of
one another."
A bibliography and an
index assists the reader in
finding the many names .
and sources of Taylor's his-
tory and is most helpful.
Taylor is film reviewer for
the Times of London and
writes for the Connoisseur
and other periodicals. He is
best known for his biog-
raphy of Alfred Hitchcock.
- -

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