Hollywood‘s Biggest Studios Worked with Hitler and the Nazis
By Jerry A. Kane
Ben Urwand’s controversial new book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler discloses how Hollywood’s biggest studios worked with the Nazis after Hitler took power in 1933.
In an exclusive interview with the Hollywood Reporter magazine the Harvard post-doctoral fellow talks about how the big studios tried to protect their business interests in Germany in the decade leading up to World War II by agreeing not to criticize the Nazis or condemn persecution of Jews in their films.
Urwand says the big studios allowed Nazi censors to make wholesale changes to scripts, remove credits from Jews, stop movies from being released, and kill whole projects critical of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Scenes or dialogue the censors thought made Hitler and the Nazis look bad or dwelled on the mistreatment of Jews were not just cut from German film versions, they also were cut from American versions and versions shown anywhere in the world.
In May 1933, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz‚ who would later write Citizen Kane, and RKO producer Sam Jaffe formed an independent company to make The Mad Dog of Europe, a film about the Nazi regime’s treatment of Jews in Germany. The film never saw the light of day because “the major studios had put ‘thumbs down’ on any films of this kind.”
“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.”—Louis B. Mayer, MGM executive
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.
Indeed, Hollywood would not make an important anti-Nazi film until 1940.
Warner Bros. did release Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939, but the B-picture didn’t affect MGM, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox’s business dealings with the Nazis. Even after the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, MGM still donated 11 of its films to help with the German war relief effort.
In the most important and chilling decade leading up to World War II, Hollywood’s big studios could have alerted the world to what Hitler and the Nazis were doing in Germany, instead they chose to preserve and protect their business interests in the German market.
“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!”—a letter from the Berlin branch of 20th Century Fox to Hitler’s office
Hitler understood the enormous cultural power of movies to elicit emotion and shape the way the masses think, which makes Hollywood’s cooperation with Nazi Germany all the more frightening.
“The shadow of Babylon had fallen over Hollywood, a serpent spell in crude cuneiform;”
For more of the interview story see, The Chilling History of How Hollywood Helped Hitler (Exclusive)
Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler 3:29 Video