Alexander C. Kafka: When Hollywood Held Hands With Hitler

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Hollywood, Thomas Doherty, Ben Urwand, Alexander C. Kafka, Tablet

Alexander C. Kafka is deputy managing editor of The Chronicle Review.

A debate is raging over Hollywood's alleged collusion with the Nazis. At stake: the moral culpability of Jewish studio heads during cinema's golden age.

The catalyst is a forthcoming book from Harvard University Press, The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, by the 35-year-old historian Ben Urwand. The book is still several months from publication, but emotions are running high after an early review in the online magazine Tablet, followed by an exchange of rhetorical fire in The New York Times between Urwand and Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University who this spring published his own account of the era, Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939 (Columbia University Press). The clash comes during a period of heightened scholarly attention to Nazi infiltration and counterinfiltration in Depression-era Los Angeles, complicating the story of Hollywood's stance toward fascism.

Urwand's Hollywood-Hitler focus began in 2004, when, while pursuing his doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, he saw an interview with Budd Schulberg in which the screenwriter mentioned that in the 1930s, the head of MGM would show movies to a German consular official in LA and they'd agree on cuts. Urwand knew that anti-Nazi pictures didn't start appearing until 1939, and he suspected that indifference or passivity couldn't fully explain that. He smelled a dissertation topic. "It was the spark," he says, and he spent the next nine years traveling to dozens of archives, piecing the story together....

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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