Los Angeles (dpa) - A forthcoming book alleging that Hollywood studios collaborated with the Nazi regime before the Second World War in a bid to maximize profits in Germany has sparked a major new controversy in the US film world.
The book, The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler, doesn't come out till next month. But the scandal was a top story this week after industry website The Hollywood Reporter published excerpts from the work by historian Ben Urwand. The story was also a lead item on The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post and other mainstream web sites.
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.
Hollywood's acquiescence to the Nazis is alleged to have begun three years before Hitler took power. A screening of the Oscar-winning film All Quiet on the Western Front sparked Nazi demonstrations led by Nazi propoganda chief Joseph Goebbels, who charged that it showed German soldiers in WWI in a bad light.
The film was quickly removed from German screens. Universal Studios re-edited the movie, got the approval from the German Foreign Office and then redistributed the updated version throughout Europe.
The German consul general in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, was identified as the man at the centre of the practice, threatening US studios with the so-called Article 15, a German regulation that could ban all the movies of a company who distributed anti-German films anywhere in the world.
Thus, though at first the content was removed only from films that were shown in Germany, studios such as Paramount, Fox and MGM later changed scenes for all domestic and international audiences at the Nazis request, the book claims. In effect, Urwand claims, Hollywood not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship. It also collaborated with its worldwide propaganda efforts.
Mayer is shown to have cancelled one of the first anti-Nazi films commissioned in the US, The Mad Dog of Europe, in 1933.
"We have terrific income in Germany and, as far as I am concerned this picture will never be made," he is quoted as saying.
Another legendary Jewish film figure Jack Warner allegedly consented to remove all mentions of the word Jew from the 1937 film The Life of Emile Zola, in a move that diluted the plot's stand against anti-Semitism.
In other revelations, a German Paramount executive agreed to divorce his Jewish wife under Nazi pressure, while 20th Century Fox signed communications with the Nazi regime "Heil Hitler."
But historian Thomas Doherty, a professor at Brandeis University who published a competing book, Hollywood and Hitler, earlier this year, blasted the new allegations as "slanderous and ahistorical," writing in The Hollywood Reporter that it taints an industry that "struggled to alert America to the menace brewing in Germany."
His problems begin with the title, where words like "collaboration" and "pact" bring to mind pro-Nazi regimes in occupied Europe, and disastrous Soviet accommodations with Hitler's plans.
Like most Americans, Hollywood executives in the 1930's had no inkling of Hitler's endgame, he claimed. "Today, any dealing with the Nazis seems unimaginable. In the 1930s, it just wasn't," he argued. Even today, Hollywood frequently changes movies to please Chinese officials and make them more palatable to important audiences.
Moreover, at the time censorship of movies was the common practice, and Germany was still officially a "friendly nation." And while studios may have acquiesced to some Nazi demands, Urwand's book "ignores the action on the homefront - a story of passionate anti-Nazi activity in Hollywood," Doherty maintains.
"Hollywood did more than any other for-profit business to sound the alarm against Nazism," he concludes. "It is a story not of collaboration but resistance."