Book Details Hollywood’s Collaboration with Nazis in the 1930s
When we think about Hollywood and the Nazis, films such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy, The Great Dictator, and Casablanca readily come to mind. But a new book from a young historian tells a different tale, one of an active collaboration with Adolf Hitler’s regime in the decade before the war.
Ben Urwand’s book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, will hit the market on September 6, using previously uncited documents that, according to the author, prove that U.S. studios not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship of films to be shown in Germany, but also cooperated with the regime’s world propaganda efforts.
“Hollywood is not just collaborating with Nazi Germany,” Urwand told The New York Times. “It’s also collaborating with Adolf Hitler, the person and human being.”
The book details not only the efforts of many studio bosses (the majority of whom were Jewish) to censor their films to suit the Nazis, by also accuses them of helping finance the German arms industry. “There was a law in Germany that foreign businesses couldn't export currency,” Urwand stated. “They made an exception for MGM because they were financing the production of German armaments.” Paramount and Fox invested their profits from the German market in German newsreels, while MGM helped to finance the production of German weapons.
Urwand traces the collaboration to 1930, when Universal Studios boss Carl Laemmle agreed to substantial cuts to Lewis Milestone’s groundbreaking film about the First World War’s impact on Germany, All Quiet on the Western Front, after the Nazis instigated rioting in cities showing the film.
At the center of the story is Hitler himself. He was obsessed with movies and, along with Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels, understood their influence public opinion. The fear of losing access to the highly-profitable German market caused the studios to begin making concessions to the German government, and when Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, the studio began direct negotiations with Goebbels’ office.
This “collaboration” (Zusammenarbeit) took a few forms, from regular visits to Hollywood by Goebbel’s representatives, to studio tours for Nazi newspaper editors, to the dearth of Jewish characters in Hollywood films. For instance, Urwand notes that it was Jack Warner who personally ordered that the word “Jew” be removed from all dialogue in The Life of Emile Zola (1937). He also said he found nearly 20 movies intended for American audiences that were significantly altered, and in some cases squelched, at the behest of German officials.
To make sure the studios were living up to the arrangement, the Nazis employed a global network of monitors ensuring the cuts were made in all countries, including the United States, Urwand added, quoting records he discovered concerning the matter.
“There’s a whole myth that Warner Brothers were crusaders against fascism,” Urwand told The Times, “But they were the first to try to appease the Nazis in 1933.”
In a scene worthy of a Lubitsch comedy, Urwand discovered a letter in the German state archives dated January 1938 from the German branch of 20th Century Fox incredibly asking if Hitler would be interested in sharing his opinions on American movies. It was signed “Heil Hitler.”
Also discovered in the German state archives were noted from Hitler’s adjutants recording his reactions to the movies he watched. It turns out that while he loved Laurel and Hardy, he hated the Tarzan movies.
Answering critics who assailed his research and conclusions, Urwand simply said, “Collaboration is what the studios were doing, and how they describe it.”
The Collaboration can be pre-ordered from Amazon through our link on the right side of this page.
Will Steven Spielberg Close Deal on The Grapes of Wrath Remake?
DreamWorks is currently in discussions with the estate of author John Steinbeck for the rights to make a new version of John Ford’s 1940 classic take on Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
The novel has suddenly become something of a hot property, as the 75th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize winner occurs next year. Robert Redford and production partner David Kennedy are also interested in obtaining the rights with the notion of turning it into a mini-series to air on the FX Channel, but the estate chose to negotiate with DreamWorks for a feature film, Deadline Hollywood reports.
One question looms: If DreamWorks wins the rights, will Spielberg direct? According to Deadline Hollywood, Spielberg’s next project is directing screenwriter Jason Hall’s adaptation of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper (who optioned the book himself).