Inside the Jewish exclusion of the Academy Museum – The Hollywood Reporter

Producer John Goldwyn declined to be invited to the Academy’s Film Museum’s opening gala in September 2021. Samuel Goldwyn’s nephew – a founding father of the industry, whose executive efforts a century ago led to the formation of both Paramount and MGM – was amazed to learn, before the institution began, that the pioneering immigrants who invented Hollywood was not approached in the upcoming decade, $ 500 million, a 300,000-square-foot fortress to the cinema.

“If you have a museum in Los Angeles related to the Academy that celebrates probably the most important art form of the 20th century, how can we not recognize the Jewish men who started it all?” Goldwyn asks, ticking names like Carl Laemmle of Universal, Harry Cohn of Columbia, Adolph Zukor of Paramount, and the Warner brothers. “It’s a blatant neglect.”

Goldwyn was not alone in his displeasure. Haim Saban, who donated $ 50 million to the institution (its biggest gift), made his point public, along with Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who attended the gala and told later Rolling Stone“As I passed, I literally turned to the person I was with and said, ‘Where are the Jews?’ “

In 2018, the museum announced a permanent exhibition plan, led by Kerry Brougher (who had arrived from the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian). Includes a gallery dedicated to the arc of the studio system and its founders. But his replacement, Bill Kramer, explains that “we have moved away from a chronological shift in film history” in favor of a more thematic approach when he took over the following year. “So many things have been looked at in different ways: ‘How do we do all this stuff?’ “Others believe that the redesigned format was to cover a new cultural repository that wants to position itself, post-George Floyd, in order to best avoid criticism of its own racism in Hollywood. Explains a person inside the museum: “There was a huge over-correction of [film] history because of the awakening. ”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and CEO of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which runs the Museum of Tolerance in LA, is also a two-time Oscar winner himself (for producing documentaries on Jewish subjects, 1982 film). Genocide and the 1997s Long way home), claims that inaugurating an institution for the canonization of the film business in the absence of those who created it is a form of intellectual discrimination. Without the Jewish leadership in Hollywood, there would be no Hollywood, “he said.

The founding Mughals, mostly Ashkenazi Jews, created what became part of the film industry in part because they were formally and informally excluded from the then more prestigious business sectors such as finance. “You can have a focus” on the developing film industry, says Sharon Pucker Rivo, executive director of the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University. “It was wide open.”

Cecile B. De Mille with Paramount co-founder Adolph Zukor in 1933.
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Today, due to assimilation, the descendants of moguls are usually considered white, and even the former professional anglicization of stage names – still prominent among people like Winona Ryder (born Horowitz) and Natalie Portman (Hershlag) – has disappeared. younger generations. But this was not the world in which the founders lived.

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of Neal Gabler An empire of theirs is a chronicle of the Jews who founded Hollywood. The author will consult with the Academy Museum regarding a new exhibition on the period.
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

From the beginning of Hollywood, anti-Semites have blamed Jews for everything from moral corruption to political subversion, according to Neal Gabler’s volume on moguls. An empire of theirs. One of the main accusations was that their otherness – advanced by the new film technology and the fiefdoms they built to capitalize on it – undermined traditional American values.

The consistent xenophobic attack on a group concerned about its own precarious position in national life has shaped the leadership of the industry. Reactionary conservatism prevailed among many Mughals. They proactively implemented the Film Production Code, a puritanical set of guidelines that not only set boundaries for sex, skin, and violence, but also symbolism or stories that they considered unpatriotic or amoral. Later, they would launch the Waldorf Declaration, which blacklisted the so-called Hollywood Ten – producers, directors, and screenwriters who refused to answer questions about their political affiliation with the House Anti-American Committee. A sincere assessment of the Jewish founders of Hollywood must be confused with this record, along with their more personal failures. May tsuris for a museum already at stake for many Jewish donors.

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Harry Cohn (left), president of Columbia Pictures, has a deal with producer Stanley Kramer.
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Universal owner Carl Laemmle (right) with Albert Einstein in 1931.
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However, ignoring the story of the moguls is worryingly historical, scientists say. “It implies that – despite anti-Semitism – Jews are seen as insiders rather than outsiders who were before they created Hollywood,” said Columbia University professor Annette Insdorf, who wrote. Indelible Shadows: The Movie and the Holocaust. The missing narrative deprives museum visitors of understanding how these men, through their gifts and ambitions, as well as their prejudices and shortcomings, have defined the struggles that persist to this day, from labor relations to gender equity. Some see it as a paradox that the pioneers end up on the floor of the Tundars, for the most part kept their Judaism in the realm of their privacy, instead using their studios to promulgate and debunk the myths of their country – happy endings more chosen. “It is a supreme irony that this idealized, almost utopian portrait of America was created on screen and perpetuated by a handful of poor Jewish immigrants,” says film historian Leonard Maltin. Adds J. Hoberman, author of a volume on Jewish contributions to film, Entertaining America: “There is a reason why [MGM founder] Louis B. Mayer claimed that his birthday was July 4th. ” Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Richard Trank, who oversees the Museum of Tolerance’s content, notes that “Hollywood Jews have kept a low profile of their Jewishness. You had very few movies – Gentleman agreement, Nuremberg Trial, Pawn – and it really wasn’t until Schindler’s list in the 1990’s, when the film industry came into being. “

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MGM boss Louis B. Mayer (right) with actress Norma Shearer and her husband, producer Irving Thalberg.
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The museum, whose official message supports its desire to be “radically inclusive,” temporary opening exhibitions include well-known names such as Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar, as well as pioneering Black Oscar pioneer, revolutionary publisher Thelma Schoonmaker and martial arts master Bruce Lee , since he admitted that he was wrong to omit the founders. But the institution, which has sold more than 400,000 tickets, points out that Judaism has been woven into its curatorial work since its opening, with a symposium on Austrian exiles such as Billy Wilder, which began in late 2021, and a few moments. the entire current collection, including an animated clip from the 1986s An American tail, about a family of Jewish mice escaping a pogrom. (A prominent sign in a hallway recognizing donor Barbra Streisand as the first woman to direct, produce, write, and star in a major 1983 studio film Yentl, notes that she “redefined the standards of beauty”, but does not mention her Jewishness; Kramer says Streisand has previously approved the wall text, which is not part of an organized exhibition and is therefore not subject to museum standards.)

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The founders of Warner Bros. Jack, Harry and Albert Warner.
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“For me [the outcry] it was a lesson, ”says Jacqueline Stewart, artistic and programming director. “It is also a recognition of our truly high expectations as an institution.” In response, what she and Kramer describe as a temporary planned exhibition about the founders, “Hollywoodland,” is now being redesigned as a permanent, scheduled to debut in the spring of 2023. (Gabler was called in for consultation; he did not respond to an interview request.)

“Hollywoodland”, still unfinished, will be an extensive exploration of the birth of the studio system, but its curator, Dara Jaffe, assures that the pioneer environment will deeply inform the exhibition. “They create their own American dream,” she says, “like they create the American Hollywood dream.”

This story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.

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