Back to IndieWire

Controversial New Hollywood History Book Asserts Direct Link Between Studio Heads and Adolf Hitler

Controversial New Hollywood History Book Asserts Direct Link Between Studio Heads and Adolf Hitler

One Hollywood history book that will be stealing our attention upon its publication this fall is Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler.” A recent profile in the New York Times points out that the already contentious project asserts that in the 1930s Hollywood wasn’t just collaborating with Nazi Germany but, in Urwand’s words, “with Adolf Hitler, the person and human being.”

More than a few feathers are ruffled by Urwand’s thesis. Historian Thomas P. Doherty, author of recently published “Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939,” tells the Times: 

“The word ‘collaboration’ in this context is slander… You use that word to describe the Vichy government. Louis B. Mayer was a greedhead, but he is not the moral equivalent of Vidkun Quisling.”

And USC history professor Stephen J. Ross mentions for the article:

“The moguls who have been castigated for putting business
ahead of Jewish identity and loyalty were in fact working behind the scenes to
help Jews.”

Urwand, a young historian at Harvard’s Society of Fellows, has a retort for his detractors, pointing out that “collaborate” is a word that recurs repeatedly in the documented communications he’s uncovered between studio heads and Nazi officials.
A couple of Urwand’s archival discoveries featured in his book include a 1938 letter from the German branch of 20th Century Fox asking whether Hitler would share his thoughts on American movies (and signed, “Heil Hitler!”); and a scrapbook in which Jack Warner documented a Rhine cruise he and other studio execs took on Hitler’s former yacht in 1945.
In Hollywood journalist, film historian and frequent TOH! contributor Aljean Harmetz’ book “Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca – Bogart, Berman and World War II,” she writes that Warner Bros. was actually ahead of its time in terms of resisting Nazi alliances:

“Psychologically, Warner Brothers was two steps ahead
of the other studios when it came to facing the war.  Unlike the other moguls, Harry Warner had
been an early and fervent supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and an early opponent
of Hitler.  All the moguls except Darryl
Zanuck were Jewish, but only Harry Warner — and, later, Jack Warner — were
anti-Nazis when opposition to Hitler was unfashionable.  Warner Bros. closed down its operations in
Germany in July 1934.  It was the first
studio to leave Germany.  As Hitler
swallowed country after country — Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark —
Warner Bros. was almost always the first studio to withdraw, choosing principle
over profit.  By contrast, Paramount,
M-G-M, and Fox, reluctant to lose such a good market for their films, were
still operating in Germany in 1939.”

So let the debates begin. Urwand’s book is set to be published in October from Harvard University Press.

This Article is related to: News and tagged ,



"…a scrapbook in which Jack Warner documented a Rhine cruise he and other studio execs took on Hitler's former yacht in 1945."

Um, this is one of his smoking guns? Color me skeptical until we know more about the book and enough time has passed for a thorough debate.

I'm not making any claims for the '30s studio suits as shining humanitarians or politically principled white knights, but on first sniff, this smells like simplistic sensationalism. I could be wrong, of course – perhaps time will tell.

As for Mr. Scott below… "a figure that equally-biased American history tells us to revile"? Flirting with Hitler revisionism while maintaining plausible deniability with vague wording, are we? You're certainly one to judge other people's intellectual honesty and ethical probity.


It's good that this book is ruffling feathers in academia. As a film student, I can tell you that much of film education, while important, is very stuffy and culturally biased towards the West. Too much privilege and emphasis are placed on films from Europe and America, so it's actually good to see that the kinds of people who perpetuate this sort of culturally biased education are made uncomfortable by the assertion that the studio heads of the time are seen for the callous people they were by collaborating with a figure that equally-biased American history tells us to revile.

Mark Gubarenko

Here's pre-order link:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *