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Definitely startling in emphasis and omissions.
on 23 March 1998
On Sunday, March 22, 1998, A&E presented a documentary based on Neal Gabler's "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. The presentation was entitled "Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream". I quote the ad:
"Theprogram shows viewers the development of movies from a startling new perspective, revealing that classic Hollywood themes of white picket fences, little guys fighting the odds, outsiders who become insiders, and the lone hero riding off into the sunset, were dreams born in the oppressed Jewish [shtetls] of Eastern Europe."
This "new perspective" was so startling that this viewer was forced to wonder if Mr. Gabler [or the creators of the documentary] is completely unacquainted with the theatrical (and literary) fare of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as much that has been done since the founding of Hollywood. I will present only two examples to demonstrate my astonishment (perhaps others will occur to those who also saw this program).
1- The "documentary" claims the American musical to be a Jewish invention (with a side comment on the existence of Cole Porter as an anomaly) due to Irving Berlin and "Teams" like Learner & Lowe and Jerome Kern (I was unaware that Jerome Kern was a team). I mention only one progenitor by way of example: Despite any number of film cuts showing Jimmy Cagney singing and dancing from the numerous musical works of George M. Cohan, George is not mentioned as one of the more prolific, popular, and influential originators of the American musical. Perhaps the author(s) were misled by the name of Cohan (not, alas, Cohen) which is a fine Irish name but sounds very similar to the Jewish one (a fact George commented on as being to his advantage).
2- The frequent insistence that the "white picket fence", the importance of mother, the children, and the "family" was an invention of Jewish immigrants suffering from the horrors of Russian pogroms seems to discount the entire nineteenth century German, French, English and American Romantic tradition (Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa Mae Allcott, to mention a few). I suggest the author(s) read "Little Women".
I fear the author(s) have fallen into the contemporary trap of feeling compelled to devise a new and different "hook" on which to hang their material, to the point of obscuring the very real contributions made by the Jews in both the theatrical and motion picture world. Despite a rather plausible view that the HUAAC brought about the fall of these moguls, I suspect the reasons were somewhat more complicated: Economic changes made the old studio system impossibly expensive. Much of the monies now came from Eastern financial institutions. Television had been born and was beginning to supplant Hollywood in a number of critical B-movie areas. International distribution was assuming much more importance (we now supply at least 80% of the entire world's movie fare). Theatre artists (particularly directors and actors) wanted to move on to independent productions, etc., etc.
There is no need to insist that these movie moguls created the world in seven days. Much of it was quite adequately created by other people (i.e., My Fair Lady was, after all, drawn directly from the non-immigrant Irishman, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and did not spring full blown from the Jewish immigrant's need to express the plight of the outsider who was forced to learn to speak English). In creating the ultimate American Dream, the author(s) could have had the decency to mention (although they showed a number of film cuts) the contributions of that distinctly non-Jewish immigrant, Frank Capra. The brilliance of these Jewish immigrants consists in the ways in which they comprehended and grasped the evolving "American Dream", articulated by every generation and country of immigrant aspirations, and how they developed the organization and machinery to produce the incredibly various celluloid manifestations of those dreams.