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The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler

The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler

3.9 9
by Ben Urwand

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To continue doing business in Germany after Hitler's ascent to power, Hollywood studios agreed not to make films that attacked the Nazis or condemned Germany's persecution of Jews. Ben Urwand reveals this bargain for the first time--a "collaboration" (Zusammenarbeit) that drew in a cast of characters ranging from notorious German political leaders such as


To continue doing business in Germany after Hitler's ascent to power, Hollywood studios agreed not to make films that attacked the Nazis or condemned Germany's persecution of Jews. Ben Urwand reveals this bargain for the first time--a "collaboration" (Zusammenarbeit) that drew in a cast of characters ranging from notorious German political leaders such as Goebbels to Hollywood icons such as Louis B. Mayer.

At the center of Urwand's story is Hitler himself, who was obsessed with movies and recognized their power to shape public opinion. In December 1930, his Party rioted against the Berlin screening of All Quiet on the Western Front, which led to a chain of unfortunate events and decisions. Fearful of losing access to the German market, all of the Hollywood studios started making concessions to the German government, and when Hitler came to power in January 1933, the studios--many of which were headed by Jews--began dealing with his representatives directly.

Urwand shows that the arrangement remained in place through the 1930s, as Hollywood studios met regularly with the German consul in Los Angeles and changed or canceled movies according to his wishes. Paramount and Fox invested profits made from the German market in German newsreels, while MGM financed the production of German armaments. Painstakingly marshaling previously unexamined archival evidence, The Collaboration raises the curtain on a hidden episode in Hollywood--and American--history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Urwand keeps the jaw-dropping revelations coming in this damning indictment of the complicity of the major Hollywood studios—and their mostly Jewish heads—in the Nazis’ campaign to exterminate Europe’s Jews. Initially, profit was the main motivation behind the decisions to give the famously media-savvy German government veto power over scenes and lines it deemed inappropriate, incendiary, or—in the words of a law passed in Germany in 1932 that threatened to completely bar companies that distributed anti-German movies anywhere from further trade in the Fatherland—“detrimental to German prestige.” (The first film to suffer the self-serving edits of the Nazi censors was 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front.) Even as news of the Third Reich’s extreme anti-Semitism reached the States, Hollywood studios continued with business as usual. That money-driven momentum soon translated into active efforts to thwart the production of an anti-Hitler film, The Mad Dog of Europe (written by Herman Mankiewicz, the man who would go on to write Citizen Kane), which had the potential to get information about the German dictator out to a broad audience. Urwand deserves immense credit for this groundbreaking—and truly unique—take on the WWII era. 25 photos. (Oct.)
Tablet Magazine - David Mikics
Urwand...presents explosive new evidence about the shocking extent of the partnership between the Nazis and major Hollywood producers...[A] riveting book...As you turn its pages you realize with dismay that collaboration is the only fitting word for the relationship between Hitler and Hollywood in the 1930s. Using new archival discoveries, Urwand alleges that some of the Hollywood studio heads, nearly all of whom were Jewish, cast their lot with Hitler almost from the moment he took power, and that they did so eagerly--not reluctantly. What they wanted was access to German audiences. What Hitler wanted was the ability to shape the content of Hollywood movies--and he got it...What is shocking and new about Urwand's account is its blow-by-blow description of Hollywood executives tailoring their product to meet the demands of the Nazi regime.
New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler
Urwand draws on a wealth of previously uncited documents to argue that Hollywood studios, in an effort to protect the German market for their movies, not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship but also actively and enthusiastically cooperated with that regime's global propaganda effort.
Greil Marcus
A tremendous piece of work, fully sustained, building momentum charged by thrillingly detailed storytelling, increasing suspense, and a consistent movement from outrages to atrocities, with a stunning conclusion of heroism and tragedy--and it is as well a devastating RIP to what we've been told, all down these years, about 'the genius of the system.'
Richard J. Evans
Full of startling and surprising revelations, presented in exemplary fashion, without any moralizing or sensationalism. The Collaboration shows how Hollywood and especially the big studios went along with German demands to censor movies not only before but especially after the Nazi seizure of power.
Military.com - Andy Goldberg
Urwand's book details in sometimes shocking fashion how the Hollywood film industry, including studios run by legendary Jewish film moguls such as Louis B Mayer, were willing to pre-screen their films for Nazi officials and remove content they found objectionable.
Daily Mail
[Urwand] has revealed in terrifying detail how Hollywood was at the whim of the Nazis throughout the 1930s--censoring films and dropping others in a sinister collaboration with Hitler.
Vanity Fair online - Lesley M. M. Blume
Urwand is tearing down the popular impression that the 1930s Hollywood community stood united in efforts to combat the Nazi regime. Quite the contrary, says Urwand, whose research reveals a shocking level of collaboration (or Zusammenarbeit, i.e. 'working together') between the German government and Tinseltown's studios--many of which were famously headed by Jews...The Collaboration depicts a studio system in which films were submitted for approval to aggressive German propaganda officials, who demanded cuts and changes to material deemed 'detrimental to German prestige'--not only to film versions created for the German market, but for the U.S. and countries around the world.
Los Angeles magazine - Theis Duelund
Urwand's investigation of this dark chapter in the history of the American film industry is as intriguing as it is compellingly told.
A.V. Club - Kyle Ryan
The Collaboration expertly dismantles Hollywood's rose‐tinted view of history, proving it wasn't standing up to fascism as it has claimed, but eagerly appeasing the Nazis so long as the money was coming in.
The Australian - Rosemary Neill
[A] provocative book.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Philip Martin
Urwand's book about how Hollywood conducted business with and within Germany after Hitler's ascent to power is a fascinating examination of capitalist amorality in the face of evil. Urwand does a good job of cataloging the ways Hollywood studios--largely headed by immigrant Jewish entrepreneurs--took measures to placate the Nazis so they could continue to show films in Germany throughout the 1930s, until the Nazi invasion of Poland...Urwand has uncovered a very interesting, heretofore unknown, true Hollywood story.
The Guardian - Anthony Quinn
[An] eye-opening study of Hollywood and the Nazi elite…The Collaboration unfolds a story that rather knocks the shine off the golden age of cinema…Urwand has done some energetic digging in the archives, quoting letters, memos and newspaper reports to uncover a shameful policy of compromise and kowtowing on the part of the studio bosses. And what lends the story its peculiar irony is that those bosses who did their utmost to appease the crazed ideology of Nazism were by and large Jews themselves.
Le Monde - Samuel Blumenfeld
Urwand…sheds new light on the way the studio bosses responded to Nazi pressure, from 1933, when Hitler assumed power, to 1941, when the United States entered the war…Drawing on American and German archival material, the author shows that Hollywood began working with the Nazis in 1933. The collaboration was not passive, but voluntary: part of a strategy necessary in order for the studios to maintain their market in Germany--which had more movie theaters than any other country in Europe…Urwand describes how the Nazis tried to shape the very content of American films--and often succeeded.
Times Higher Education - Philip Kemp
Hard-hitting…Urwand has dug deep…and come up with some genuine revelations… The story is quite dramatic, and shameful.
Boston Globe - Julia M. Klein
[The] revelations in Ben Urwand’s controversial exposé, The Collaboration, are nothing short of astonishing, going well beyond what was known about Hollywood’s timidity during that era. With damning archival evidence, Urwand argues that the studios, motivated by profits, were reluctant to abandon the German market, where American films were popular and Hitler himself was a fan…Urwand’s finely documented account is even more chilling--in large part because the ‘collaborators’ to whom he points were American, and in many cases also Jewish.
Glasgow Herald - Allan Hunter
The Collaboration felt genuinely original and eye-opening as Ben Urwand systematically revealed the way major Hollywood studios were willing to protect their financial interest in the German market of the 1930s by appeasing the Nazi regime. The road to hell was paved by a thousand concessions.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Lisa Jarvinen
In Urwand’s account of the relationship between the American film industry and the government of Germany in the 1930s, he shows that Hollywood studios put profits ahead of scruples in their dealings with the Nazis.
Forward - Gavriel Rosemfeld
Urwand’s book uncovers important material about the relationship between the American film industry and the Nazi regime…Readers may or may not agree with Urwand’s conclusion about the perils of Jewish self-denial. But in highlighting it, he provides a useful reminder that scholarship on the Nazi era continues to serve as a mirror in which Jews view themselves.
Winnipeg Free Press - Roger Currie
With great attention to detail, Urwand describes multiple contacts between the studios and German officials, and he apparently breaks some new ground with his descriptions of Georg Gyssling, who became a Hollywood fixture after Hitler came to power in 1933.
London Review of Books - J. Hoberman
Urwand has dug deep in the German archives and found evidence that the Nazis’ business dealings with some of the studios were much closer than previously realized. He also draws attention to the flagrant lobbying of the Nazi emissary to Hollywood.
Choice - J. Fischel
A welcome addition to understanding Hollywood’s response to the rise of Nazism.
History Today - Taylor Downing
The book is a fascinating take on the shady politics of Hollywood and should be read by anyone interested in going behind the glamour of 1930s cinema.
Library Journal
Prior to World War II, Hollywood moguls were very concerned about their profits from Europe, particularly from Germany. To preserve their overseas markets, they collaborated closely with German governments, including the Nazi regime. This history has been known for many years, but the broad extent of the collaboration was generally less understood until Urwand (history, Harvard Univ.) uncovered damning evidence in German and other archives. One result of the shameful bargain between the mostly Jewish studio heads and the rabidly anti-Semitic Nazis was the virtual disappearance of major Jewish characters from American films in the 1930s. Equally as egregious was the permanent establishment of a Nazi functionary in Los Angeles who acted as a censor on American films to avoid offending Nazi sensibilities. It was not until 1939, when war was imminent, that Warner Brothers studio broke the pact with Confessions of a Nazi Spy. These interesting revelations are interspersed with accounts of the anti-Nazi activities of other prominent Hollywood figures. VERDICT This eminently accessible, often riveting account of a little-understood chapter in American cinema history should appeal to a wide general readership.—Roy Liebman, formerly with California State Univ., Los Angeles.
Kirkus Reviews
A Harvard University fellow offers a keen, unsettling look at the unholy alliance Hollywood made with the Nazis, which allowed both to keep packing movie theaters in Germany up until the outbreak of war. Concomitant with Hollywood's golden era of the 1930s was the rise of the Nazi Party, whose chief officials admired American films and tried to enlist some of Hollywood's affective touches and technical mastery for their own productions and propaganda efforts. Movies had potentially the same kind of magical power that Hitler could wield in his mesmerizing speeches; his critical appraisals of his nightly viewing of new films ran to "good," "bad" and "switched off." This meant that movies that were anodyne and entertaining were approved for German audiences (Laurel and Hardy); movies that were dangerous to German sensibilities were bad (All Quiet on the Western Front); and movies that had problematic content were simply changed or not permitted to get made (It Can't Happen Here). Germany was an important export market for Hollywood films (before World War I it was the largest). Despite the quota regulations on imports, Hollywood films were welcomed by the Nazis, and a good "working relationship" was developed between Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry and the big studios. There was pressure on the studios to censor defense of Jews in certain films and suppress films that portrayed Nazis in an unflattering light (The Mad Dog of Europe). The result of this complicated and slippery relationship, as Urwand depicts with subtlety, was the absolute disappearance from film of Nazis and Jews until the end of the decade. Unlike Michael Munn's wide-ranging Hitler and the Nazi Cult of Film and Fame (2013), Urwand's work keeps the focus on a few films for an elucidating study.

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6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Ben Urwand is a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.

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The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it very much...very informative. Brought back many memories of the motion pictures of my youth. A great read!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like this kind of history, but lost intrest.
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Count me in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Me too! Hey if you wanna check a sneak peak of my writing go to dull days and read that story. Another one at pie but you need tk scroll down and I forget which results each chapter is in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will participate. I have written many stories.
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I'm in!
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Im in!