Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

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Pub Date: March 2015

ISBN: 9780231163934

448 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $22.95£20.00

Pub Date: April 2013

ISBN: 9780231163927

448 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: April 2013

ISBN: 9780231535144

448 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $21.99£19.00

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939

Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press

Between 1933 and 1939, representations of the Nazis and the full meaning of Nazism came slowly to Hollywood, growing more ominous and distinct only as the decade wore on. Recapturing what ordinary Americans saw on the screen during the emerging Nazi threat, Thomas Doherty reclaims forgotten films, such as Hitler's Reign of Terror (1934), a pioneering anti-Nazi docudrama by Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.; I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936), a sensational true tale of "a Hollywood girl in Naziland!"; and Professor Mamlock (1938), an anti-Nazi film made by German refugees living in the Soviet Union.

Doherty also recounts how the disproportionately Jewish backgrounds of the executives of the studios and the workers on the payroll shaded reactions to what was never simply a business decision. As Europe hurtled toward war, a proxy battle waged in Hollywood over how to conduct business with the Nazis, how to cover Hitler and his victims in the newsreels, and whether to address or ignore Nazism in Hollywood feature films. Should Hollywood lie low, or stand tall and sound the alarm?

Doherty's history features a cast of charismatic personalities: Carl Laemmle, the German Jewish founder of Universal Pictures, whose production of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) enraged the nascent Nazi movement; Georg Gyssling, the Nazi consul in Los Angeles, who read the Hollywood trade press as avidly as any studio mogul; Vittorio Mussolini, son of the fascist dictator and aspiring motion picture impresario; Leni Riefenstahl, the Valkyrie goddess of the Third Reich who came to America to peddle distribution rights for Olympia (1938); screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker, founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League; and Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Bros., who yoked anti-Nazism to patriotic Americanism and finally broke the embargo against anti-Nazi cinema with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939).

Thomas Doherty traces a powerful historical narrative as Hollywood's treatment of European fascism dramatically changes with the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Hollywood and Hitler, 1933–1939 marks a significant advance in our understanding of the American film industry in the 1930s and also in our appreciation of a wide range of films and filmmaking practices, revealing Hollywood as a social and geopolitical force.

Thomas G. Schatz, author of The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era and Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s

Meticulously researched and vigorously written, this comprehensive account of Hollywood, Hitler, and all points in between is both a scholarly tour de force and a riveting page-turner. Marshalling his finely-tuned expertise in American studies, film studies, and twentieth-century history, Thomas Doherty unfolds an epic chronicle of dueling ideologies, complicated celebrity politics, and the unstable boundaries between art, entertainment, and propaganda as World War II drew near. This is cultural analysis at its fascinating best.

David Sterritt, chairman, National Society of Film Critics

With a rich blend of art and politics, Doherty brings to light the story of how Hollywood handled Nazism during Hitler's reign. Recommended.

Library Journal (starred review)

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 tracks the advance of fascism, and the movie industry's reaction on screen and in private.... [A] fascinating work.

Kate Muir, The Times (London)

A lively study of Hollywood's relationship to Nazism.

Emily Greenhouse, Culture Desk blog, The New Yorker

Wide-ranging and brightly written.

Dave Kehr, The New York Times Book Review

A lively, detailed account and a worthy successor to his books Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration.

Philip Kemp, Times Higher Education

A remarkable and stimulating account of an important part of movie history and American history.

Rob Hardy, The Commercial Dispatch

[Doherty's] books on American cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s are essential reading: Pre-Code Hollywood and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration.... No one has told this story in as comprehensive or convincing a fashion. As always, Doherty's work is well researched.

Clayton Koppes, Cineaste

A witty writer familiar with Hollywood history and manners, Doherty places the studios' craven behavior within a general account of the political culture of the movies in the thirties and forties.

David Denby, The New Yorker

[A] riveting read.

Merve Emre, The Millions

Mr. Doherty fully understands the studio system and how it juggled interference from its own internal agency, the Production Code Administration. He doesn't deny the greed and fear that motivated studios, but he puts the behavior in context.

Jeanine Basinger, Wall Street Journal

Meticulously researched and captivating.

Noah Isenberg, Times Literary Supplement

Doherty masterfully describes how the movie industry, mostly headed by Jews, ultimately came together at a time when the nation needed unity.... The book is crisply written, well documented.

Burton Boxerman, St. Louis Jewish Light

Doherty's well researched Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939 throws fascinating new light on America and the rise of Nazism.

Philip French, The Observer

[A] wide-ranging, scrupulously researched and highly entertaining study.

Philip French, Sight and Sound

[A] judicious and comprehensive history of the period.

Mark Horowitz, Tablet

Doherty provides a more nuanced and accurate account of Hollywood's relationship with Hitler, and his book should be considered the authority on the subject.

M. Todd Bennett, American Historical Review

Hollywood and Hitler is an excellent addition to Doherty's impressive oeuvre, well worth reading for its important insights, strong narrative, and mastery of the period.

David Welky, Journal of American Studies

Doherty's book is well documented and brings together a corpus made of lesser-known, yet signifying feature films.

Yves Laberge, Journal of American Culture

Thorough and elegantly written.

Saverio Giovacchini, Journal of American History

Doherty brings fresh eyes and a witty pen to re-examine the business of US cinema production and distribution in the turbulent pre-war years.... A valuable contribution to scholarship on the subject.

Vincent O'Donnell, Media International Australia

An important contribution to the history of Hollywood's response to the Nazi efforts to censor US films targeted for export to Germany.... Highly recommended.


Vividly written, academically unpretentious, and indispensable for historians and students of film.

Bernard F. Dick, American Studies

[Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] is painstakingly researched and offers film historians, as well as historians of World War II, a rich, insightful, and engaging portrait of an industry and a world in turmoil.

Brian Faucette, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

Meticulously researched.... [Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939] provides an informed backdrop to scholars looking to contextualize and analyze individual films from the era.

Rochelle Miller, Film & History

A tour de force of film history, deftly weaving together many strands of Hollywood and world history to explain Hollywood's vexed and often vexing relationship to the rise of Nazism.

Leslie Fishbein, American Jewish History

Doherty offers a compelling prequel to his own Projections of War: Hollywood,American Culture,and World War II and an indispensible contribution to the emerging body of work on the relationships between Hollywood and Berlin in the 1930s.

Hannah Graves, Film Quarterly

Top notch, exhaustively researched film history book by a superb historian.

Hollywood Progressive
Prologue: Judenfilm!
1. Hollywood–Berlin–Hollywood
"The Hitler Anti-Jew Thing"
The Aryanization of American Imports
The Aryanization of Hollywood's Payroll
2. Hitler, "A Blah Show Subject"
The Disappearance of Jews qua Jews
The Unmaking of The Mad Dog of Europe
"What about the Jews
The Story of a Hollywood Girl in Naziland: I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936)
3. The Nazis in the Newsreels
"The Swastika Man"
4. The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League
"Unheil Hitler!"
The Politics of Celebrity
5. Mussolini Jr. Goes Hollywood
6. The Spanish Civil War in Hollywood
"Censored Pap!" Walter Wanger's Blockade (1938)
Loyalist Red Screen Propaganda
7. Foreign Imports
"German Tongue Talkers"
Anti-Nazism in the Arty Theaters
"Nazi Scrammers"
8. "The Blight of Radical Propaganda"
Trouble from Rome Over Idiot's Delight (1939)
Trouble from Berlin Over The Road Back (1937)
Trouble from Washington with the Dies Committee
9. Inside Nazi Germany with the March of Time
10. "Grim Reaper Material"
History Unreels
"The Present Persecutions in Germany"
11. There Is No Room for Leni Riefenstahl in Hollywood
12. "The Only Studio with Any Guts"
The Warner Bros. Patriotic Shorts
The Activist Moguls
"The Picture That Calls a Swastika a Swastika!": Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
13. Hollywood Goes to War
Epilogue: The Motion Picture Memory of Nazism
Thanks and Acknowledgments

Read the chapter "Hollywood-Berlin-Hollywood," from Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner)

Web Features:
Thomas Doherty discusses the book on The Jewish News Channel

Named one of the Best Film Books of 2013 by the Huffington Post

About the Author

Thomas Doherty is professor of American studies at Brandeis University. His previous books include Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934; Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture; and Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration.