The Hollywood Reporter has run an exclusive excerpt from a new book called "The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler," by Harvard postdoctoral fellow Ben Urwand, that chronicles Hollywood's relationship with Nazi Germany, one that runs far deeper than anyone probably estimated.
According to Urwand, Hollywood studios played nice with Germany throughout the 1930s, the decade leading up to World War II, because of the strength of the German market -- especially for American films.
The Nazis first became outraged by 1930's "All Quiet on the Western Front," which is now considered a classic of the war movie genre, taking issue with the way the German soldiers were depicted. After the Nazis successfully lobbied to have the film removed from German theaters, the president of Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle (a Jew), bent to their will and agreed to edit the film to make the German soldiers appear more heroic, Urwand writes -- and he did this for prints of the film all over the world.
Laemmle, who wrote in 1932 that "Hitler's rise to power ... would be the signal for a general physical onslaught on many thousands of defenseless Jewish men, women, and children," was responsible for getting at least 300 Jews out of Germany. Yet, as the book points out, "at precisely the moment he was embarking on this crusade, his employees at Universal were following the orders of the German government."
Laemmle also stalled production on a sequel to "All Quiet on the Western Front," entitled "The Road Back," but most damningly set a precedent wherein every major studio would bow to Nazi pressure, dealing with the party directly after Hitler's rise to power in 1933.
The book documents a man named Georg Gyssling, an early adopter to the Nazi cause, who was a German diplomat stationed in Los Angeles, ostensibly to police Hollywood films. He would often invoke "Article 15," an arcane section of German film regulations that said if a studio distributed a movie perceived by Gyssling as "anti-German," anywhere in the world, then all movies from that studio would be banned in Germany.
By 1936 Nazi censors were rejecting dozens of American films, with only the three largest studios -- 20th Century Fox, MGM, and Paramount -- still attempting to tough it out in Germany. MGM announced that it would leave Germany if the other two companies would do the same. They wouldn't.
In fact, they became increasingly cowardly: When "Give Us the Night" was rejected, Paramount assumed that it was due to the fact that it was scored by a Jewish composer, so the studio offered to dub in music by a German composer. And when "The Road Back" was finally made, it was only after Universal conceded to over 20 cuts, rendering the movie an abstract jumble.
As Urwand puts it: the Nazis had final cut. That remained the case until 1940, when MGM released its first anti-Nazi film, "The Mortal Storm."
"The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler" hits shelves September 9, and if the excerpt is any indication, it's must-read material.