A Harvard film scholar has revealed in terrifying detail how Hollywood was at the whim of the Nazis throughout the 1930s – censoring films and dropping others in a sinister collaboration with Hitler.
In one particularly extreme case, one non-Jewish MGM executive divorced his Jewish wife at the demand of Germany’s Propaganda Ministry – and she ended up in a concentration camp.In his new book, Ben Urwand has revealed how studios including MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox failed to stand up to Hitler and painted his regime as heroic and desirable.’I want to bring out a hidden episode in Hollywood history and an episode that has not been reported accurately,’ the Harvard scholar said.Although other film historians dispite it, Urwand said studio chiefs were happy to work with Nazi censors to change or cancel productions so that they could keep access to the German film market.
From 1932, Nazi laws meant studios could have their licenses revoked if they produced films, shown in Germany or abroad, that were considered offensive to Germans.Urwand believes that filmmakers not only wanted to continue working during the build up to the war, they also thought Hitler may win the war and wanted to safeguard the future of their businesses.In his book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, which has been excerpted in the Hollywood Reporter, in Urwand said that Hollywood was happy to bow to Hitler’s demands.
For example, when All Quiet on the Western Front was released in December 1930, Joseph Goebbels told protesters to set off stink bombs and release mice in the movie theaters.It caused such disruptions throughout theaters that the films were stopped and it was eventually banned from the country, due to how Germans felt they had been depicted.Carl Laemmle, the Jewish German-American head of Universal Pictures, was so bothered that he edited a version that would not upset the Germans.
He traveled to Germany to present the film and was told that they would only put on the film if the edits were made to the movie before it showed in all other countries. He agreed.The 1936 MGM movie It Can’t Happen Here, which showed democracy winning over fascism, was also dropped.The film, based on Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis’s novel, was banned over ‘fear of international politics’ and the potential of boycotts abroad.
Also putting on the pressure was a diplomat named Georg Gyssling, who became the German consul in Los Angeles in 1933 and threatened the studios with an article in Germany’s film regulations.It stated that all of a company’s movies would be banned from Germany if it was found distributing anti-German films anywhere in the world.The rule meant that some movies were canceled altogether – both once they had finished production and before they even got there.
In one startling example of the reach of the Nazis within Hollywood, a film about the treatment of Jews in Germany that was created by Herman J. Mankiewicz – who would later write Citizen Kane – and producer Sam Jaffe never went ahead.Despite the determination of the two movie makers, every studio turned them down on the belief that Germany would ban all U.S. films if it were made. When it was handed over to a well-known agent, Al Rosen, he also struggled to get executives to give money to the project.
In the mid-1930s, relationships between studios and prominent Nazis grew and Paramount hired a manager for its German branch, Paul Thiefes, who was a member of the Nazi party.It was at the time that the head of MGM in Germany, Frits Strengholt, divorced his Jewish wife at the request of the Propaganda Ministry.They paid attention to workers too; German composers dubbed music originally created by Jewish musicians, while names were slashed from credits if they had dealt with anti-Nazi films in the past.
The historian also found a letter from January 1938 in which a 20th Century Fox worker was asking Hitler about his views on films. The letter was signed ‘Heil Hitler’.This collaboration between Hollywood and the Nazis lasted well into 1940 but as the war continued, the studios found it nearly impossible to distribute their pictures in England and France. And in turn they were less concerned with the relatively minor German market.MGM, Paramount and 20th-Century Fox did not leave Germany until mid-1940. But even after Hollywood started making anti-Nazi films, it continued to erase references to the Jews because studio chiefs, including Jewish refugees, wanted to ‘avoid special pleading on their behalf’.
Urwand said studio bosses could not claim ignorance of the atrocities being carried out against the Jews because they had been forced to fire Jewish employees.Hitler was said to have enjoyed films such as Mutiny on the Bounty and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. He also liked Mr Smith Goes to Washington, because it showed democracy in a poor light.And while he is said to have liked Laurel and Hardy, Hitler was not keen on Charlie Chaplin’s portray of him in The Great Dictator, according to the Guardian.However, rival historian Tom Doherty claims that U.S. commerce department files show that rather than working with the Nazis, MGM had been advised to invest in armaments to get around currency being blocked.’I don’t see sinister, greedy monsters. I see people trying to cope with this bizarre anomaly and negotiate in a way that made sense to them,’ the author of Hollywood and HItler: 1933-1939, said. – DailyMail