Archive for Un-American Actities

Hollywood and the Nazi Collabortion

Posted in Hitler, Hollywood, Nazi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2013 by saynsumthn

In devastating detail, an excerpt from a controversial new book reveals how the big studios, desperate to protect German business, let Nazis censor scripts, remove credits from Jews, get movies stopped and even force one MGM executive to divorce his Jewish wife.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Collaboration-lg

The 1930s are celebrated as one of Hollywood’s golden ages, but in an exclusive excerpt from his controversial new book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler (Harvard University Press, on sale Sept. 9), Harvard post-doctoral fellow Ben Urwand uncovers a darker side to Hollywood’s past.

Drawing on a wealth of archival documents in the U.S. and Germany, he reveals the shocking extent to which Hollywood cooperated and collaborated with the Nazis during the decade leading up to World War II to protect its business.

Indeed, “collaboration” (and its German translation, Zusammenarbeit) is a word that appears regularly in the correspondence between studio officials and the Nazis. Although the word is fraught with meaning to modern ears, its everyday use at the time underscored the eagerness of both sides to smooth away their differences to preserve commerce.


The Nazis threatened to exclude American movies — more than 250 played in Germany after Hitler took power in 1933 — unless the studios cooperated. Before World War I, the German market had been the world’s second largest, and even though it had shrunk during the Great Depression, the studios believed it would bounce back and worried that if they left, they would never be able to return.

Beginning with wholesale changes made to Universal’s 1930 release All Quiet on the Western Front, Hollywood regularly ran scripts and finished movies by German officials for approval. When they objected to scenes or dialogue they thought made Germany look bad, criticized the Nazis or dwelled on the mistreatment of Jews, the studios would accommodate them — and make cuts in the American versions as well as those shown elsewhere in the world.

It was not only scenes: Nazi pressure managed to kill whole projects critical of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, Hollywood would not make an important anti-Nazi film until 1940. Hitler was obsessed with the propaganda power of film, and the Nazis actively promoted American movies like 1937’s Captains Courageous that they thought showcased Aryan values.

Historians have long known about American companies such as IBM and General Motors that did business in Germany into the late 1930s, but the cultural power of movies — their ability to shape what people think — makes Hollywood’s cooperation with the Nazis a particularly important and chilling moment in history. — Andy Lewis

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To continue doing business in Germany after Hitler’s ascent to power, Hollywood studios agreed not to make films that attacked the Nazis or condemned Germany’s persecution of Jews. Ben Urwand reveals this bargain for the first time—a “collaboration” (Zusammenarbeit) that drew in a cast of characters ranging from notorious German political leaders such as Goebbels to Hollywood icons such as Louis B. Mayer.

At the center of Urwand’s story is Hitler himself, who was obsessed with movies and recognized their power to shape public opinion. In December 1930, his Party rioted against the Berlin screening of All Quiet on the Western Front, which led to a chain of unfortunate events and decisions. Fearful of losing access to the German market, all of the Hollywood studios started making concessions to the German government, and when Hitler came to power in January 1933, the studios—many of which were headed by Jews—began dealing with his representatives directly.

Urwand shows that the arrangement remained in place through the 1930s, as Hollywood studios met regularly with the German consul in Los Angeles and changed or canceled movies according to his wishes. Paramount and Fox invested profits made from the German market in German newsreels, while MGM financed the production of German armaments. Painstakingly marshaling previously unexamined archival evidence, The Collaboration raises the curtain on a hidden episode in Hollywood—and American—history.

Collaboration
Throughout the 1930s, the term “collaboration” was used repeatedly to describe dealings that took place in Hollywood. Even studio heads adopted the term. An executive at RKO promised that whenever he made a film involving Germany, he would work “in close collaboration” with the local consul general. A Fox executive said the same. Even United Artists offered “the closest collaboration” if the German government did not punish the studio for the controversial 1930 air combat movie Hell’s Angels. According to the Foreign Office, “Every time that this collaboration was achieved, the parties involved found it to be both helpful and pleasant.”

All this was a result of the Nazis’ actions against All Quiet on the Western Front. Soon every studio started making deep concessions to the German government, and when Hitler came to power in January 1933, they dealt with his representatives directly.

The most important German representative in the whole arrangement was a diplomat named Georg Gyssling, who had been a Nazi since 1931. He became the German consul in Los Angeles in 1933, and he consciously set out to police the American film industry. His main strategy was to threaten the American studios with a section of the German film regulations known as “Article 15.” According to this law, if a company distributed an anti-German picture anywhere in the world, then all its movies could be banned in Germany.

The collaboration between Hollywood and the Nazis lasted well into 1940. Though Warner Bros. released Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939, this B-picture had no effect on the studios still operating in Germany. MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox kept doing business with the Nazis, and MGM even donated 11 of its films to help with the German war relief effort after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

As the war continued, the studios found it virtually impossible to distribute their pictures in England and France, two of their largest sources of foreign revenue. In this context, they were less concerned with the relatively minor German market. MGM soon embarked on its first anti-Nazi picture The Mortal Storm, and 20th Century Fox began work on Four Sons. The Nazis responded by invoking Article 15 and by September 1940, both had been expelled from German-occupied territory.

In the year that followed, the studios released only a handful of anti-Nazi movies because of another, very different political force: the American isolationists. The isolationists accused Hollywood of making propaganda designed to draw the United States into the European war, and in the fall of 1941, Congress investigated this charge in a series of hearings. The most dramatic moment came when the head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, gave a rousing defense of Hollywood: “I look back and recall pictures so strong and powerful that they sold the American way of life, not only to America but to the entire world. They sold it so strongly that when dictators took over Italy and Germany, what did Hitler and his flunky, Mussolini, do? The first thing they did was to ban our pictures, throw us out. They wanted no part of the American way of life.”

In the thunderous applause that followed, no one pointed out that Zanuck’s own studio had been doing business with the Nazis just the previous year.