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December 30, 1988 - Image 74

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-30

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

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54

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1988

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Jews And Hollywood Focus
Of Neal Gabler Volume

MICHAEL ELKIN

Special to The Jewish News

D

ynamic and dynastic
— such were the men
who carved a name
for themselves in the hills of
Hollywood at the beginning
of this century.
Think of them as Jewish
Blake Carringtons with
movie cameras, forever in mo-
tion as they wheeled and
dealed with motion pictures.
They were titans of
Tinseltown, men who framed
their own dreams and visions
in celluloid that would sell to
the masses.
But these Herculeses were
chained to a past from which
no strong-arming could
release them; their past was
their Jewish heritage. While
it held them back in the real
world, the "reel"world was of
their own creation. And what
they created in Hollywood
was a new social order,in
which Jews could work and
play — often at the same time
within the confines of film.
Neal Gabler's compelling
An Empire of Their Own:
How the Jews Invented
Hollywood focuses on a
Hollywood that was both hell
and high times.
Gabler, a well-respected
film reviewer, served as co-
host of PBS' "Sneak
Previews" for three seasons.
The images of Zukor, Mayer,
the Warner brothers and
Harry Cohen course through
the book like a course in
Hollywood entrepreneurism.
Gabler sheds light on a film
noir industry made up of men
who cut deals while stabbing
their best buddies in the
back. Oedipus, it is rumored,
would have been an ideal
movie mogul — had he not
gotten hung up on his mother.
But then, the Jewish
moguls had their own hang-
up — their Judaism. With
each new film produced, they
felt more part of the mix that
was the melting pot of
America.
Assimilation was important
to them, says Gabler, who is
a standout in his field, thanks
to his contributions to televi-
sion's "Entertainment
ibnight" and "Good Morning
America:'
Would the non-Jewish com-
munity have allowed the
moguls to create a Hollywood
had they envisioned it to be
such a financial hot spot?
"Never," says Gabler. "The
gentile attitude toward mo-
tion pictures was that it was

Neal Gabler's new book talks about how Jews created an "empire" in
Hollywood.

a novelty, a novelty that
would have no endurance and
no influence on our culture.
let the Jews have it' was
• their attitude."
It was an attitude that
changed quickly. When films
fanned interest around the
country, the gentle gentiles
grew more rambunctious, try-
ing to yank the plug on
Jewish control of tlie
business. "When the industry
started to become an in-
fluence, 'official America' —
let's say, 'official gentile
America' = tried to wrest the
industry from the Jews who
controlled it," says Gabler.
But the Jews managed to
control the resurrection, and,
for years, built the images
that dreams were made of.
"The motion-picture in-
dustry," says Gabler, "is a
very unusual business. It
depends on taste and a sense
of panache at the same time.
"The Jews who ultimately
survived understood the rela-
tionship between commerce
and art. It was very difficult
for the official gentile culture
to move into the industry
without destroying its base of
popularity?"
And it was popular, "Jews
understood how to satisfy and
exploit audiences," says
Gabler.
In a way, they exploited
themselves. There was anti-
Semitism among Hollywood
Jews themselves. "In a way,
some of them felt stigmatized
by their Jewishness," says
Gabler of the moguls.
The ambivalence that per-

vaded that generation of
giants is not so prevalent to-
day. "The current generation
of Hollywood's Jews don't feel
that way," says Gabler. "No
one feels a need to hide their
Jewishness."
Years ago, Hollywood's Jews
played religious hide-and-
seek: Hide your Jewishness
and seek out an assimilated
role in society. "That first
generation in Hollywood felt
that if they were overtly
Jewish, the industry would be
There was no give-and-take
in the nascent nation of
Hollywood film makers — it
was all take. "Winning was
everything to people like
Zukor," says Gabler.
Even though Hollywood is
no longer controlled by a
Jewish mogul mentality —
"They were eventually cast
aside" — stereotypes persist
that Jews are at the helm of
all the studios. The recent
fundamentalist group-led
lambasting of Lew Wasser-
man, head of MCA, parent
company of Universal, for his
studio's release of The Last
Temptation of Christ was in-
dicative of the anti-Semitism
still aimed at Jewish
Hollywood executives.
"The notion that the in-
dustry is crass and vulgar
and is run by Jews suggests
anti-Semitism," says Gabler.
"And the word 'mogul' con-
notes men who are
mercenary. With this book, I
try to rectify that image, to
indicate that these were men
really seeking gentility, class
and art."

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