(Urwand will discuss his book at the National Archives Dec. 11 at noon, and then introduce a screening of "The Mortal Storm", one of the few anti-Nazi Hollywood films released before America entered World War Two. The 1940 movie stars Jimmy Stewart, and was directed by Frank Borzage.)
Urwand's intriguing book reveals that Hollywood studios, most headed by Jews, cooperated with Hitler's representatives and abandoned or changed almost 20 films that would have exposed the Nazis' persecution of Jews, throughout the 1930s.
The book also says that Paramount and Twentieth-Century-Fox made pro-Nazi newsreels in Germany, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) financed production of German armaments during the war, according to documents from archives of the German Foreign Office and the U.S. Commerce Department.
"I looked at actual documents that showed what happened...I go no further than what the documents say -- I don't speculate," Urwand told the Oct. 10 sold-out event at the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival of the D.C. Jewish Community Center (DCJCC).
"I couldn't believe some of the things, they were shocking, but incontrovertible," said Urwand, a film scholar and fellow at Harvard's prestigious Society of Fellows. "MGM investing its German profits in German armaments was the single darkest find in my (nine-year) research."
The author pointed out, "I consciously chose not to sensationalize this" and even "worked very, very hard to make the book less sensational."
"The Collaboration" has received criticisms from film historians, relatives of Louis B. Mayer and other moguls discussed in the book, director Quentin Tarantino, and most severely, "The New Yorker" film critic David Denby.
Saying "I stand by everything," Urwand noted that "No one has gone back to the sources or other material." The heavily footnoted book contains almost 60 pages of documentation.
He used numerous original sources, including letters on various studios' stationery, such as a 1938 Twentieth-Century-Fox letter to Hitler to ask for his opinions of movies, and signed "Heil Hitler!"; confidential memos to and from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America, better known as the Hays Office, which is better known for its Production Code on morality); and various court documents.
Louis B. Mayer was quoted in a 1947 court case explaining why he squelched a 1933 movie about Hitler's persecution of the Jews, "The Mad Dog of Europe" (written by Herman Mankiewicz who would later write "Citizen Kane"). Mayer explained, "because we have interests in Germany...we have terrific income in Germany and, as far as I am concerned, this picture will never be made." It wasn't.
The book's title word "Collaboration" is a major point of contention. The word "'collaboration' emerged consistently in German ('zusammenarbeit') and American documents. There was no imposing my opinion." Urwand also noted, "I went through every quote so many times to make sure everything was right."
On a lighter point during the incisive interview by George Washington University professor Jenna Weissman Joselit, a leading historian of the American Jewish experience, Urwand said his research included "watching 400 movies -- that was a rough year."
Hitler was obsessed with watching movies, and viewed/reviewed one every night, especially Hollywood films. His opinions included: Laurel and Hardy's "Way Out West" -- "Good!"; "Tarzan" -- "Bad".
Urwand made clear that Hollywood changed dramatically after the U.S. declared war in Dec. 1941. "Sixty percent of Hollywood films from 1942 through 1945 were about the Nazis, Hitler, or the Second World War. Clearly, that's something to be celebrated -- But that should not cloud our judgment of what Hollywood did in the 1930s."
The literary festival continues through Oct. 16. Highlights include:
Oct. 12 -- Gay activist, author, columnist Dan Savage discusses "American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics" (sold-out).
Oct 14 -- "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network" by Allen Salkin. Former "New York Times" food writer Salkin takes the Food Network "up a notch" by taking it down a notch. He tells delicious tidbits about chefs ranging from its disgraced former star Paula Deen to "a very green" Rachael Ray nearly burning down the set on her first day.
Oct. 15 -- "State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State" by Jonathan Schanzer. Mideast expert Schanzer argues that the main roadblock to Palestinian statehood is not Israel's intransigence, but the Palestinian Authority’s internal mismanagement, especially political dysfunction and corruption.
Oct. 15 -- "Tiger Eyes", the first film to be based on a Judy Blume book. The film will be discussed by Judy Blume via Skype, and by the director, her son Lawrence Blume, in person after the screening.
Oct. 16 -- "For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems" by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Solving our nation's problems -- what could be more timely during the government shutdown. Furloughed federal workers are offered half-price admission throughout the literary festival.
For more info: Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, http://washingtondcjcc.org/center-for-arts/literary/jewish-literary-festival/, Brochure. All events unless otherwise noted are at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street at Q Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 202-777-3251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.