Business as Usual
- BuyHollywood and Hitler, 1933-39 by Thomas Doherty
Columbia, 429 pp, £24.00, April 2013, ISBN 978 0 231 16392 7
- BuyThe Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand
Harvard, 327 pp, £19.95, August 2013, ISBN 978 0 674 72474 7
‘It’s easy not to be a Nazi when no Hitler is around,’ Hans-Jürgen Syberberg commented in his filmed interview with the aged, unashamed Führer-familiar Winifred Wagner in 1975. Eighty years after Hitler came to power in Germany, is it possible to imagine the world when the Third Reich was new? Before September 1939 and even after the Second World War began, the West was full of enablers and apologists. Hitler’s American admirers included Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst and Charles Lindbergh. General Motors, DuPont and IBM did business with the Nazis. So did MGM. It’s no shock to see democratic politicians cosying up to Saudi autocrats, or Rupert Murdoch or the Walt Disney Company ingratiating themselves with China’s authoritarian rulers. Business is business. But it is disconcerting if not appalling to learn that throughout the 1930s, some major Hollywood studios, despite being heavily populated by Jews and popularly identified with them, continued to distribute their movies in Germany and even pandered to the Nazi regime.
Vol. 36 No. 5 · 6 March 2014
J. Hoberman writes about Nazi pressure on Hollywood film-makers (LRB, 19 December 2013). In the early 1930s the Austrian novelist Franz Werfel wrote The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, an epic about a small community of Armenians who, during the First World War, resisted rather than succumb to a genocidal Turkey. The book was a bestseller in Germany and Austria, and was translated into many languages, including English.
In the mid-1930s MGM bought the movie rights, did its own translation of the novel, and even went into pre-production, with Clark Gable as the lead. But the studio shut it down soon afterwards when Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Mehmed Ertegun, said that if the film was made Turkey would launch a global boycott against MGM. Since then several Hollywood personalities – Sylvester Stallone, for one – have expressed interest in filming the novel, only to withdraw from the project later.
Vol. 36 No. 6 · 20 March 2014
Jirair Tutunjian tells us that in the mid-1930s Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Mehmed Ertegun, told MGM that if it made The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, the novel about the Armenian genocide, into a film, ‘Turkey would launch a global boycott against MGM’ (Letters, 6 March). If that is indeed the case, the ambassador’s sons Nesuhi and Ahmet made cultural redress by founding Atlantic Records, which nurtured such musicians as Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Big Joe Turner, the Coasters, the Drifters, Aretha Franklin and many more.