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December 15, 1989 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-15

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numbers," according to Neal
Gabler, author of An Empire
of Their Own: How the Jews
Invented Hollywood.
Among these were Adolph
Zukor, a Hungarian im-
migrant who built Para-
mount Pictures; William
Fox, also Hungarian,
founder of the Fox Film
Corp.; Russian-born Louis B.
Mayer, head of Metro-
Goldwyn-Mayer; Benjamin
Warner, who left his family
in Poland and came to
Baltimore, later moving to
California where, with his
sons, he founded Warner
Brothers; Carl Laemmle of
Germany, a man said to see
humor in everything, the
founding father of Universal
Pictures; and Samuel
Goldwyn, born Shmuel
Goldfisz in Poland, who went
on to form companies that
became Paramount, MGM
and United Artists.
Many of them left behind
families caught in the terror
of the Third Reich.
His brothers had im-
migrated years before to the
United States, but Goldwyn
still had numerous relatives
in Europe in the 1930s. They
tried to leave and he tried to
help, but they did not sur-
"Nobody knew what the
Holocaust cost Goldwyn
emotionally," writes author
A. Scott Berg in Goldwyn: A
Biography. "Like most of the
Hollywood moguls, he wore
an American flag on his
sleeve to cover the yellow
arm band; he never discuss-
ed his family's losses."
Carl Laemmle managed to
bring Jews from his village
in Germany to the United
States. He even found jobs
for many of them at Univer-
sal, though this brought
complaints from some of
those already employed at
the studio.
Producers Jack Warner,
Samuel Goldwyn, Harry
Cohn, Louis B. Mayer and
Joe Schenk also contributed
thousands to the United
Jewish Welfare Fund during
the early 1940s.
Not all Jews were as eager
to help. Author Berg recalls
what happened when
playwright Ben Hecht, co-
chairman of the Committee
for a Jewish Army of
Stateless and Palestinian
Jews, sought the assistance
of producer David Selznick.
"Selznick refused, saying
`I'm an American and not a
Jew.' Hecht asked if
Selznick would become a
sponsor if he could prove
that he was a Jew; his litmus
test was to call three friends
of Selznick's choice and ask
them one question: 'What

would you call David 0.
Selznick, an American or a
Jew?" If any one of them
said, 'American,' Hecht
agreed to back off.
"Selznick accepted the
challenge. Martin Quigley,
publisher of the Motion Pic-
ture Exhibitors' Herald, said
Selznick was a Jew; writer
Nunnally Johnson said the
same thing. Casting the
decisive vote, (agent) Leland
Hayward replied, 'For God's
sake, what's the matter with
David? He's a Jew and he
knows it.' Selznick got con-
In addition to their self-
imposed limitations, Jews
faced anti-Semitism that
may have influenced their
decision to ignore the plight
of their European brothers
and sisters.
"There was a great deal of
anti-Semitism in the United
States in the 1930s," accor-
ding to Clayton Koppes, pro-
fessor of humanities at
Oberlin College in Ohio and
author of Hollywood Goes to
War: How Politics, Profits
and Propaganda Shaped
World War II Movies.
Koppes notes in his book
that "a 1942 public opinion
survey indicated that 40
percent of Americans believ-
ed Jews had too much power
in the United States," while
18 percent "agreed with
Hitler's measures against
the Jews, to the extent that

Author Clayton Koppes:
`Anti-Semitism in the United
States grew perceptibly worse
during the war.'

those measures were known
at the time." He adds that
"anti-Semitism in the U.S.
grew perceptibly worse dur-
ing the war."
This anti-Semitism would
be revealed by government
leaders who lambasted
Jewish "pro-war sen-
timents" and films that
showed "pro-Jewish sen-
Goldwyn biographer Berg
recalls a meeting between
Joseph Kennedy, American
ambassador to Great

Britain, and Hollywood
power brokers in 1939.
Kennedy warned those
present to "stop making an-
ti-Nazi pictures or using the
film medium to promote or
show sympathy to the cause
of the 'democracies' versus
the 'dictators,' Berg writes.
"He said that anti-Semitism
was growing in England and
that the Jews were being
blamed for the war.
Kennedy also said any
Jewish outcries would
"make the world feel that a
Jewish war was going on."
He said Hitler liked movies
and wanted Americans to
continue producing them,
but "You're going to have to
get those Jewish names off
the screen."
As a result of the Kennedy
speech, "all of Hollywoods'
top Jews went around with
their grief hidden like a
Jewish fox under their gen-
tile vests," playwright Ben
Hecht said.
Yet few could argue with
the power of the studio
heads, who from their
Hollywood thrones controll-
ed a world that held most
Americans and Europeans
Dr. N. Paul Silverman,
who teaches the history of
film at Oak Park High
School, remembers going at
least once a week to the
movies in the 1930s. Toting
his lettuce-and-tomato
sandwich and a root beer, he
paid 15 cents for a matinee.
"People went to the movies
to forget," he says. "They
wanted escapist entertain-
ment — Gone With the
Wind and Fred Astaire and
Ginger Rogers. They wanted
historical dramas and
screwball comedies and big
"For the average person
the 1930s was a matter of
survival. It was all right to
study the French Revolu-
tion. That was in the past.
But you didn't go to the
movies to hear about war."

Of A Nazi Spy'


he war already was in
full swing in Europe
when, in 1939,
Hollywood came out with its
first anti-Nazi film, Confes-
sions of a Nazi Spy,produced
' by Warner Brothers.
Unlike most other U.S.
studios that still had offices
in Germany, Warner
Brothers pulled out in 1936
following the murder of their
salesman Joe Kaufman by
Nazi storm troopers.
That it was no longer an-
swerable to the European
market — which provided

about 40 percent of revenues
for most U.S. studios —
prompted Warner Brothers
to make Confessions of a
Nazi Spy, according to Pro-
fessor Joseph Gomez, who is
on leave from Wayne State
University to create a film
studies program at North
Carolina State University.
Confessions tells the
true story of Nazi spies who
infiltrate and plan an inva-
sion of the United States.
Like almost all other WW II
films, it uses the term "non-
Aryan" rather than Jew and
focuses on the conflict bet-
ween the United States and
fascism, not the Nazi hatred
of Jews, Gomez says.
Confessions was banned in
numerous countries and
caused a stir when it ap-
peared in cities throughout
the United States. Pro-
testers burned down
theaters showing the film in
New York and Milwaukee.
It was not the first time
filmgoers had reacted
strongly to a movie dealing
with war. Blockade, released
in 1938, was the story of a
romance set against the
backdrop of the Spanish
Civil War. The film included
scenes showing the agony of
battle, causing several
American groups to label it
"leftist propaganda."
After initial success in
New York and San
Franscisco, Blockade ran
into trouble. Theaters in
Flint, Mich., in Milwaukee
and Springfield, Mass.,
cancelled showings.
The reactions to Confes-
sions of a Nazi Spy and
Blockade reflect the isola-
tionist attitude prevalent in
1930 America. Still recover-
ing from a major world war,
few U.S. citizens were eager
to enter another.
Undaunted, Charlie
Chaplin began work in 1938
on The Great Dictator. It
would be released two years
Gomez labels Dictator a
courageous film because it
was the first time a movie
discussed the Nazi persecu-
tion of Jews.
Gomez believes that only a
man as influential as
Chaplin could have made
The Great Dictator at a time
when Hollywood was doing
its best to avoid not only the
Nazis but any serious social
issues. Most films of the
1930s were romances or
grand biographies.
Despite Hollywood rumors
that Chaplin produced The
Great Dictator because he
was Jewish, Chaplin was not
a Jew. Gomez says Chaplain
would at times publicly say
he was Jewish, explaining,

"If the public thinks so-
meone is Jewish and he
denies it, he's playing into
the hands of anti-Semites."
The Great Dictator often is
criticized today because it
treats the Nazis with
slapstick humor. Chaplin
later said he never would
have made The Great Dic-
tator had he known about
the death camp atrocities.

The Senate


he Great Dictator
earned $5 million in
the United States,
making more money than
Chaplin's popular Modern
Times. It was not, however,
a favorite with some
members of the American
A Senate subcommittee
investigating alleged war
propaganda in films sub-
poened Chaplin. His
"crime": The Great Dictator.
The instigator of the sub-
committee, which began
hearings in 1941, was Sen.
Gerald Nye of North Dakota.
Nye's previous Senate in-
vestigation into the role U.S.
businessmen played in
America's entry into World
War I led to the Neutrality
Act of 1935. In the 1940s,
Nye suggested that Jews'in
Hollywood were fostering a
pro-war attitude.
Nye was not alone. Several
members of Congress want-
ed an investigation into
Hollywood's alleged anti-
isolationism. Gomez notes
that one congressman called
specifically for a study of all
films made by Jews, pin-
pointing Charlie Chaplin
and producer Darryl
Zanuck, who also was not
News of Nye's subcom-
mittee did not wash well
with The Detroit Free Press,
which in a Sept. 16, 1941,
editorial stated, "The pic-
ture had grave artistic faults
in its attempt to weld
slapstick with stark tragedy,
but that isn't the point.
"The subcommittee's con-
cern is with Chaplin's pur-
pose. What was that purpose
if it wasn't to take the
greatest crime of our era and
hold it up, in the only
medium Chaplin knows, for
all the world to see its naked
As Nye was debating
whether The Great Dictator
constituted propaganda, the
Nazis were busy making an-
ti-Semitic films. The Third
Reich believed so strongly in
the power of the medium
that Josef Goebbels, director
of the Ministry for Public



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