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Hitler and Hollywood


Sepiatone
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There's apparently a new book out called "The Collaboration: Hollywood's pact with Hitler" by Ben Urwand. In it there are supposedly instances revealed that claims Hollywood in the '30's was quick to succumb to Hitler's demands to edit any films that had content that was seen as offensive to Germany, Germans and Hitler himself, all in the cause of keeping alive the lucrative German market for American films. One given example in the news story I read was the re-editing of *All Quiet On The Western Front* of scenes the Nazis felt made the Germans look too cowardly. One MGM exec supposedly agreed to divorce his Jewish wife in order to appease the Nazi minions.

 

 

I don't know how true it all is, but it's really not hard to believe. In the early '30's, as Hitler's power grew, nobody really foresaw what was coming to pass. Hitler at first SEEMED a little loopy, but Germany and it's economy was starting to thrive, so people largely dismissed the loopiness. And when there was MONEY involved, overlooking that loopiness came easier.

 

 

After all, Americans seem to forget that the planes that flew over Pearl Harbor were made from American steel and rolled on tires made from American rubber, fueled by petroleum from America. America had NO problem supplying the japanese with these products as long as the Emperor paid the price. But after Japan's invasion of Shanghai, and the atrocities commited there, even Nazi Germany was appallled by the brutality. America's response was simply to impose an embargo. That meant to STILL sell Japan the steel and oil, just CHARGE more for it. That response angered Japan so much, it retaliated with an attack on Pearl( and several OTHER targets on the same day). But I digress...

 

 

The book sounds like an interesting read, but as I don't know any of the author's sources, or his reputation, I might have to take it with a grain of salt.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I would imagine that films sent out for foreign distribution always had some editing done to satisfy that particular market. Maybe the German version of *All Quiet On The Western Front* was altered in some fashion. Is it safe to assume that all of these American films were "dubbed" or did they just use subtitles? --- I find it hard to believe that the Nazi's were appalled by anyone elses "atrocities", if anything they were inspired.

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So the moral of the story is, if one wants maximum attention to a thread they initiate, they should post it in "General Discussions". This is the forum that sees the most action, the most responses to thread ideas.

A while ago there was a discussion here as to how difficult it is to get answering posts on forums other than "General Discussions". And true, enough, someone can start a thread in, say, "Films and Filmmakers", or as in this case, "Hot Topics", and regardless of how interesting the thread topic may be, get little response, or wait days in between responses. As far as I can tell, it was ever thus.

 

So, my friend RMeingast, next time you want to start a conversation about something here, looks like you'll have to start it in "General Discussions" to get feedback on it.

 

Did not mean to derail this interesting thread topic. Carry on.

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Everything I've ever read points to the validity of the book's premise. The studios were business, bottom line driven organisations. Whatever the studio heads thought of the Hitler regime personally, there was a large distribution market and business interest to manage. Doing so certainly entailed compromises.

 

The German market alone was huge, about 80 million people. That's a LOT of movie tickets! German distributors also handled distribution of American films for neighboring countries as well.

 

It wasn't just the majors, but the smaller units as well. The Laurel and Hardy comedies were wildly popular in Germany and throughout Europe. A small operation like the Hal Roach studios needed that market to stay financially competitive back home. Same could be said for the Disney studios, whose Mickey Mouse and Doanld Duck features were popular over there as well. Three Stooges shorts were very popular everywhere, helping Columbia's bottom line. All the players were in up to their necks in Germany.

 

(Hitler and Goebbels, big "ueber-film fans" that they were, privately screened all of these things, although it was reported that Hitler, with his dark personality, found the American comic taste puzzling. Goebbels viewed them as technocrat film auteur and technician, seeing American films a very clever and sucessful vehicles of cultural propaganda, worthy of learning from and selectively emulating. The Hollywood influence could clearly be seen in a number of German made films in that era.)

 

 

Paramount had a subsidiary in Germany that produced German language newsreels; a big business before the days of television.

 

 

Then there were record sales and radio broadcasts of film music hits! Films popularised and bred hit tunes which became a big royalty cash cow for the studios both domestically and abroad. Hollywood film tunes were often licensed for record and radio release within Germany and Europe with German lyrics. All of this was big business at the time.

 

 

The studios didn't get in deep with the Hitler govt; they were already in deep with the German market before Hitler came to power in 1933! Their ongoing interest in maintaining the German market after his accession was but the maintenance of a legacy business interest.

 

 

The corporate world is not for moral and political absolutists and purists. You often have to deal with client parties and governemnts who you don't personally approve of or like. You can never blow off a client unless you can really afford to do so, or his own conduct forces you to.

 

speakthelma.gif

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Great post, ThelmaTodd. I'm no apologist re: Americans doing business with pre-WW2 Germany, but it seems to me that from what little I've read about this book, and I read the post RMeingast posted last week, that the author is trying to implicate the studio heads as full fledged accomplices. I really shouldn't speculate since I haven't read it, but we (the US) pretty much had its collective head in the sand. Our government didn't intervene, even as bombs were falling in Britain and tanks rolling all over Europe. I don't know what a few studio executives could have done without exacerbating an already tense situation.

 

But what do I know.

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Hi Helen!

 

(I added some subsequent content to the post that you may want to check out.)

 

We have to understand that the studio heads were not exactly their own men. They constantly had meddlesome New York bankers that they were dependent on for capital, as well as shareholders.

 

A studio head like Louis B. Mayer of MGM was NOT free to blow off the German market just because he might have personally disagreed with the policies of the German govt. or the Nazis. Had he done so, the resulting hit to his bottom line would have caused the Rockefeller and Chase Manhattan banking interests to send their well dressed hatchet men to Hollywood and Mayer would have been removed from his front office position, or deposed at a shareholder meeting. He then would have had to go back to his original occupation of scrap junkman, or taken his chances as an independent!

 

"Between a rock and a hard place"!

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Another legitimate fear that Hollywood had was that if they didn't make their deals and get along with the Hitler regime, the Germans could retaliate by acquiring copies of American films through their agents and worldwide contacts, and show them within Germany without paying Hollywood a cent in royalties!

 

The studio heads were quite well informed about who and what they were really dealing with. The Hitler govt. had no scruples about anything, and was capable of playing a form of hard ball that frightened and intmidated the wealthiest and toughest businessmen, as many a German industrialist found out.

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The Hitler govt. had no scruples?

 

 

No WONDER American moguls didn't mind doing business with it! It was (and still is) similar to professional sports. It's the FANS who maintain the rivalries. The PLAYERS all get along pretty well with each other, opposing team regardless.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Thank you, Miss W.

 

My apologies for taking so long to reply, unfortunately I'm not on the message board 24/7/365...

 

I didn't know where to post the book FYI, so I chose "Hot Topics" because there is some controversy about Mr. Urwand's upcoming book and it's a hot topic among some academics.

 

How that translates to the general public after the book hits bookstores in October, I don't know?

 

It was just meant as an FYI to anyone interested.

 

But I see "The Hollywood Reporter" has done a cover story on Urwand's book for the Aug. 9 edition.

 

It's titled "The Chilling History of How Hollywood Helped Hitler" and features an "exclusive" excerpt from Urwand's upcoming book:

 

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-hollywood-helped-hitler-595684

 

And I'll remember in future that "General Discussions" is really where it's at on the message board...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Howdy Sepia. Ben Urwand is an award-winning young academic who did his doctoral dissertation at UC Berkeley on the subject of his book.

While at Berkeley, he taught a course on Hollywood films and 20th Century American history.

Then he was appointed a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.

At Harvard University, he received a William F. Milton Fund grant, which allowed him to expand his previous PhD research into the book that is coming out in October.

 

You can read about the book and Urwand (includes a video of him speaking about his book) at the Harvard University Press website:

 

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724747

 

The Museum of Tolerance in New York City is having Urwand as a guest in October to talk about his new book and there is some biographical information on the museum's website here:

 

http://www.museumoftolerancenewyork.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lkIYLdMMJpE&b=6768723&ct=13228461&notoc=1

 

Three book reviews on Urwand's new book are below:

 

"The New York Times" by Jennifer Schuessler:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/books/scholar-asserts-that-hollywood-avidly-aided-nazis.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

"Tablet Magazine" by Prof. David Mikics:

 

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/134503/hollywood-nazi-urwand

 

"The Chronicle Review" by Alexander Kafka:

 

http://chronicle.com/article/When-Hollywood-Held-Hands-With/140189/

 

"The Hollywood Reporter" issue of Aug. 9 has a cover devoted to Urwand's book and you can read an "exclusive" excerpt here:

 

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-hollywood-helped-hitler-595684

 

And, there is also a book on the same subject that was published in April 2013. It was written by

Prof. Thomas Doherty of Brandeis University and is titled "Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939":

 

http://www.cup.columbia.edu/static/interview-thomas-doherty-hollywood-and-hitler

 

There is a controversy between Prof. Doherty and Mr. Urwand over interpretation.

"The Chronicle Review" does a good job of summarizing this...

 

And "The Hollywood Reporter" does have an article by Prof. Doherty that details his view of Urwand's book (titled 'Does "The Collaboration" Overstate Hollywood's Cooperation With Hitler?'):

 

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/does-collaboration-overstate-hollywoods-cooperation-595678

 

Anyway, just FYI to anyone interested.

 

And it's not a new subject. Journalists and others were dealing with it in the 1930s as it happened.

So, two books on the subject this year (with a third on a related subject in the works)...

 

As described in "The Chronicle Review" article above, the third book will be by Steven J. Ross (University of Southern California) and will be about the same studio bosses helping finance a spy network that kept tabs on American Nazis like the German American Bund and the Silver Shirts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Legion_of_America) in Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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