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.
The Hollywood Reporter has this blockbuster article in their August 9th issue: The Chilling History of How Hollywood Helped Hitler (thanks to van)
Hitler was obsessed with the propaganda power of film....
And he was right. The war in the multi-media battlespace is as, if not more, important than the one on the battlefield. The bullets, bombs and bloodshed come as a result of public opinion and the prevailing winds.
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
'Victory Is Ours'
On Friday, Dec. 5, 1930, a crowd of Nazis in Berlin seized on an unusual target: the Hollywood movie All Quiet on the Western Front. Recognized in most countries as a document of the horrors of the First World War, in Germany it was seen as a painful and offensive reenactment of the German defeat.
The Nazis, who had recently increased their representation in the Reichstag from 12 to 107 seats, took advantage of the national indignation toward All Quiet on the Western Front. They purchased about 300 tickets for the first public screening, and as they watched the German troops retreat from the French, they shouted: "German soldiers had courage. It's a disgrace that such an insulting film was made in America!" Because of the disruptions, the projectionist was forced to switch off the film. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels gave a speech from the front row of the balcony in which he claimed that the film was an attempt to destroy Germany's image. His comrades threw stink bombs and released mice into the crowd. Everyone rushed for the exits, and the theater was placed under guard.
The Nazis' actions met with significant popular approval. The situation came to a climax Dec. 11, when the highest censorship board in Germany convened to determine the fate of the film. After a long discussion, the chairman of the board issued a ban: Whereas the French soldiers went to their deaths quietly and bravely, the German soldiers howled and shrieked with fear. The film was not an honest representation of German defeat -- of course the public had reacted disapprovingly. Regardless of one's political affiliation, the picture offended a whole generation of Germans who had suffered through the War.
And so, six days after the protests in Berlin, All Quiet on the Western Front was removed from screens in Germany. "Victory is ours!" Goebbels' newspaper proclaimed. "We have forced them to their knees!"
In Hollywood, the president of Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle, was troubled by the controversy surrounding his picture. He was born in Germany, and he wanted All Quiet on the Western Front to be shown there. According to one representative, his company had "lost a fine potential business, for the film would have been a tremendous financial success in Germany if it could have run undisturbed."
In August 1931, Laemmle came up with a heavily edited version of the movie that he was convinced would not offend the German Foreign Office. He made a trip to Europe to promote the new version. The Foreign Office soon agreed to support All Quiet on the Western Front for general screening in Germany, under one condition: Laemmle would have to tell Universal's branches in the rest of the world to make the same cuts to all copies of the film. Late in the summer, Laemmle agreed to cooperate with the request.
As months passed, however, Laemmle, who was Jewish, grew worried about something much more important than the fate of his film. "I am almost certain," he wrote in early 1932, "that [Adolf] Hitler's rise to power … would be the signal for a general physical onslaught on many thousands of defenseless Jewish men, women and children." He convinced American officials that he could provide for individual Jews, and by the time of his death in 1939, he had helped get at least 300 people out of Germany.
And yet at precisely the moment he was embarking on this crusade, his employees at Universal were following the orders of the German government. In the first few months of 1932, the Foreign Office discovered unedited versions of All Quiet on the Western Front playing in El Salvador and Spain. The company apologized. Afterward, there were no more complaints; Universal had made the requested cuts all around the world.
The following year, Laemmle made another concession to the Foreign Office: He postponed The Road Back, the sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. His son, Carl Laemmle Jr., also agreed to change many pictures in Germany's favor. "Naturally," the Foreign Office noted, "Universal's interest in collaboration [Zusammenarbeit] is not platonic but is motivated by the company's concern for the well-being of its Berlin branch and for the German market."
[.....]Read the rest.
The Mad Dog of Europe
In May 1933, a Hollywood screenwriter named Herman J. Mankiewicz‚ the man who would later write Citizen Kane, had a promising idea. He was aware of the treatment of the Jews in Germany and he thought, "Why not put it on the screen?" Very quickly, he penned a play entitled The Mad Dog of Europe, which he sent to his friend Sam Jaffe, a producer at RKO. Jaffe was so taken with the idea that he bought the rights and quit his job. Jaffe, who, like Mankiewicz, was Jewish, planned to assemble a great Hollywood cast and devote all his energies to a picture that would shake the entire world.
Of course, various forces had been put in place to prevent a picture like this from ever being made. First and foremost was Gyssling. Up to this point, he had only invoked Article 15 against pictures that disparaged the German army during the World War. The Mad Dog of Europe was infinitely more threatening: It attacked the present German regime.
Gyssling was unable to use Article 15 against The Mad Dog of Europe for the simple reason that the independent company producing the picture did not do business in Germany. He was left with only one option: Inform the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (popularly known as the Hays Office), which regulated movie sex and violence for Hollywood, that if the movie were made then the Nazis might ban all American movies in Germany.
The Hays Office reacted quickly. Will Hays, the organization's president, met with Jaffe and Mankiewicz. He accused them of selecting a "scarehead" situation for the picture, which, if made, might return them a tremendous profit while creating heavy losses for the industry. Jaffe and Mankiewicz said they would proceed despite any ban that Hays might attempt.
Hays needed to adopt a different approach. He asked his representative, Joseph Breen, to reach out to the advisory council for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles. The advisory council read the script and felt that the direct references to Hitler and Nazi Germany might provoke an anti-Semitic reaction in the United States. But "if modified so as to apparently have reference to a fictitious country, and if the propaganda elements … were made more subtle … the film would be a most effective means of arousing the general public to the major implications of Hitlerism."
Even if the script were toned down, the Anti-Defamation League suspected that the Hays Office would object to the film because the major Hollywood studios were still doing business in Germany. Nobody in the ADL group knew exactly how much business was being done. Some imagined that Germany was banning films starring Jewish actors; others thought that Germany was banning entire "companies supposed to be controlled by Jews." Nobody had the slightest idea that the Nazis were actually facilitating the distribution of American movies in Germany.
The Anti-Defamation League decided to carry out a test: It asked a well-known screenwriter to prepare an outline of The Mad Dog of Europe that contained none of the obvious objections. This scriptwriter then submitted the outline to three different agents, and without any hesitation, they all told him the same thing: "It was no use submitting any story along this line as the major studios had put 'thumbs down' on any films of this kind."
Eventually, Jaffe gave up his plans and sold the rights to The Mad Dog of Europe to well-known agent Al Rosen. And when the Hays Office urged Rosen to abandon the picture, Rosen accused the Hays Office of malicious interference and issued a remarkable statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency claiming "on good authority" that Nazi officials were trying to stop the picture. He scoffed at the idea that the picture would provoke further anti-Semitism.
Over the next seven months -- from November 1933 to June 1934 -- Rosen continued to work on the film, but he failed to convince Hollywood executives to pour money into the project. Louis B. Mayer told him that no picture would be made: "We have interests in Germany; I represent the picture industry here in Hollywood; we have exchanges there; we have terrific income in Germany and, as far as I am concerned, this picture will never be made."
And so The Mad Dog of Europe was never turned into a motion picture. The episode turned out to be the most important moment in all of Hollywood's dealings with Nazi Germany. It occurred in the first year of Hitler's rise to power, and it defined the limits of American movies for the remainder of the decade.
In 1936, the studios started to encounter major censorship difficulties in Germany. Nazi censors rejected dozens of American films, sometimes giving vague reasons, sometimes giving no reasons at all. The smaller companies had all left Germany by this point, and only the three largest companies -- MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox -- remained. By the middle of the year, these three companies had managed to have a combined total of only eight pictures accepted by the censors, when they really needed 10 or 12 each just to break even.
The studios were faced with a difficult decision: continue doing business in Germany under unfavorable conditions or leave Germany and turn the Nazis into the greatest screen villains of all time. On July 22, MGM announced that it would bow out of Germany if the other two remaining companies, Paramount and 20th Century Fox, would do the same.
Paramount and Fox said no. Even though they were not making any money in Germany (Paramount announced a net loss of $580 for 1936), they still considered the German market to be a valuable investment.
The studios also adopted new tactics. When Give Us This Night and The General Died at Dawn were banned, Paramount wrote to the Propaganda Ministry and speculated on what was objectionable in each case. Give Us This Night was scored by a Jewish composer, so the studio offered to dub in music by a German composer instead. The General Died at Dawn had been directed by Lewis Milestone, who had also directed All Quiet on the Western Front, so the studio offered to slash his name from the credits.
In January 1938, the Berlin branch of 20th Century Fox sent a letter directly to Hitler's office: "We would be very grateful if you could provide us with a note from the Führer in which he expresses his opinion of the value and effect of American films in Germany. We ask you for your kind support in this matter, and we would be grateful if you could just send us a brief notification of whether our request will be granted by the Führer. Heil Hitler!" Four days later, 20th Century Fox received a reply: "The Führer has heretofore refused in principle to provide these kinds of judgments."