Hitler for a
For Adolf Hitler,
perhaps the only thing worse than a Jew was a Jew with a camera.
Hitler banned Jews from Germany’s
thriving film industry soon after becoming chancellor in 1933, a sad story with a silver lining told in Cinema’s exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood which airs at 8 p.m.
Saturday on KERA-TV (Channel 13).
Some 800 mostly Jewish exiles (actors,
writers, directors, composers, set designers, and camera operators) made their way to the U.S. during the next six years,
eventually helping create films that earned 150 Oscar nominations and 20 Academy Awards.
The two-hour special, narrated by Sigourney
Weaver, brims with legends such as actors Peter Lorre, Hedy Lamarr and Felix Bressart directors Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and
Henry Koster; and composers Frederick Hollander, Franz Waxman and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
There are also plenty of clips of the
Fuhrer and his henchmen, at least one of which, propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels,
had a soft spot for films made by Jews.
The program starts with an overview
of pre-Nazi Berlin, where Jews made up 5 percent of the population (compared with 1 percent overall in Germany) and a large
part of an innovative film industry that produced such classics as The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari, Metropolis and The Blue Angel.
One of the highlights of the PBS show is 28-year-old Marlene Dietrich’s screen test for The Blue Angel. She hops on a piano, striking a jarring chord as
she steps on the keyboard, the hikes her stockings and does a bit of warbling. One
suspects that her legs played a key role in landing the gig as Lola Lola, the cabaret girl.
She was one of the early émigrés, leaving
for the U.S. on April 1, 1930, the night the film premiered in Berlin. She lager
teamed with director Ernst Lubitsch to create an underground railroad for refuge artists, many of whom initially headed for
Paris and other points in Europe before finally streaming to America.
“We were changing countries more
often than our shoes,” playwright Bertolt Brecht says.
Exiles took work wherever they could
find it, including Westerns and horror movies, such as The Bride of Frankenstein
 and The Wolf Man .
The American film industry didn’t
initially show a united front against Hitler. Warner Bros. stopped distributing
films in Germany in 1935, but Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount didn’t follow suit until 1940. During the 1930s, MGM and Paramount even removed Jewish credits to appease German censors, Weaver says.
Once Hollywood entered the war, it
did so with both barrels blazing, producing about 160 anti-Nazi movies, including To
Be or Not to Be , Confessions of a Nazi Spy , and, most notably,
Casablanca, which won the Oscar for best film in 1943. Exiles worked, in some capacity, on about a third of these films.
Life in America wasn’t easy,
though. Most exiles didn’t succeed in the industry, and those who did had
“This golden Hollywood is a hell
for some,” Hollander says. “I never fought so hard.”
Dallas Morning News; Friday, January 2, 2009; page 7E.