Can you say modern day China?
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 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