The Clare Spark Blog

September 13, 2013


URWANDCOVERThis is an impression of Harvard Junior Fellow Ben Urwand’s new book, to be released in October.  I was initially appalled when I saw a puff-piece in TABLET. (See I had not yet read the book and expected some archival research that would establish the veracity of Urwand’s title.) In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined such a mendacious book published by one of the most prestigious academic presses. In this brief blog, I will mostly focus on the depths of antisemitism between the wars, and then suggest that calling the moguls “Jews” plays fast and loose with what it means to be a “Jew” in America, today or any other day. For a related blog that quotes from Urwand, see

I suggest that the interested reader look at both an article from History News Network from circa 2002 on Joseph P. Kennedy’s antisemitism, which may look “extreme” to the eyes of the reader, but was not different in intensity from that of his contemporaries, let alone from that of much of the Left today. See  “Joseph Kennedy and the Jews.” Or, see Steven Alan Carr’s Hollywood and Anti-Semitism (Cambridge UP, 2001), that poses “the Jewish question” as “the Hollywood question” in a masterful review of antisemitica in America, and nullifying Urwand’s claim that there were lots of good Jews in the movies before the cowardly, money-mad moguls capitulated to Hitler’s German consul in Los Angeles. Carr also shows, through implication, that Urwand’s startling thesis is nothing new. Quoting The Nation, September 20, 1941: ” ‘Far from being too vigorously anti-Nazi’…the film industry ‘as long as they could, avoided making films that might endanger their markets in Germany and Italy. Business was their first consideration.’ ” (p.269)

Then read David Denby’s recent unfavorable review of Urwand’s book, that makes many points I would have made, namely that Urwand spends much time in speculation about why such and such a film was not made, but makes wild surmises that are not verified by his evidence., also  (Yet another unfavorable review says mostly that business is business, and Urwand is naïve to make so much of the censorship; see ) In yet another review (, Thomas Doherty’s competing book HOLLYWOOD AND HITLER, 1933-1939, is compared with Urwand’s nasty book, but the description of Doherty’s conclusions does not match what Doherty actually wrote: Doherty is said to praise Hollywood for resisting Nazism, but Doherty trotted out the Warner brothers as exceptional only to castigate them as caving to HUAC and the Martin Dies Committee by producing super-patriotic movies that hid controversies in U.S. history, such as labor unrest. And in his concluding sentences, he wonders what he, Doherty, would have done about coming out against the Third Reich were he in the shoes of the Hollywood moguls.

None of this should surprise us. Ben Urwand begins his acknowledgments with tributes to some of the New Left Berkeley faculty: Michael Rogin, Lawrence Levine, Leon Litwack and Martin Jay (the latter a noted critical theorist and historian of the Frankfurt School  that blamed mass media for the corruption of the working class, hence the working-class failure to stop Hitler). And the book is getting support in high liberal venues: see, in a long and informative article by Alexander C. Kafka.

The novelty of COLLABORATION exists in the claim that Jewish moguls allowed Hitler and his minions to control “Hollywood” not only throughout the 1930s, but on into the war years, and worse, inured to the Pact, Hollywood continued its baleful influence by suppressing the horrors of the Holocaust until decades after it became known. Urwand’s earlier work was on aboriginal rights in Australia, and his latest work wants to present America as a capitalist, hence fascist country, in cahoots with the Third Reich, and carrying on its mission. There are even suggestions that American movies “infused” Nazi culture, an innuendo comparable to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. (See I do not intend to blame Goldberg for his take on movies (not his target), but rather on the progressive nanny state and eugenics as inspiring fascist programs in Germany.)


I have only dipped into the vast literature on the history of film. As far as I could tell, Joseph P. Kennedy’s role in virtually inventing the complicated financing of the movie industry (as revealed in Cari Beauchamp’s book published in 2008 after crucial Joe Kennedy papers were unsealed in the Kennedy Library), was unknown to the various authors I have read: two by Thomas Doherty (1993, 2013); David Welky (2008); and one co-authored by Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black (1987).  Of these scholarly works, Welky’s seemed the least biased.

For one thing, Welky gave several paragraphs to Joe Kennedy’s speech to fifty Hollywood “moguls” in late 1940, which I quote here: “…Recalled to the United States during the British negotiations [regarding the import of US films], the ambassador accepted Jack and Harry Warner’s invitation to speak to movie executives. His talk during the three hour lunch on the Warner Bros. lot left the gathering of fifty industry leaders speechless. Kennedy told them the United States should limit aid to Britain in case the Nazis won the war, an event he thought likely. More important, he asked producers to “stop making anti-Nazi pictures or using the film medium to promote or show sympathy to the cause of the ‘democracies’ versus the ‘dictators.’” Pictures like The Mortal Storm, Escape, and Arise, My Love, an anti-Nazi comedy released by Paramount a few weeks before Kennedy’s visit, did more harm than good because they highlighted Jewish control of the movies. Many Anglos blamed the war on the Jews, Kennedy warned, and anti-Semitism was on the rise in Britain. He advised producers to “get those Jewish names off the screen.” After Kennedy’s lecture, screenwriter Ben Hecht remembered, “all  of Hollywood’s top Jews went around with their grief hidden like a Jewish fox under their Gentile vests.” MGM and Paramount canceled several anti-Nazi projects, including Heil America, Heroes, I Had a Comrade, and Invasion.

[Welky, cont., quoting Kennedy] …The “Jewish boys…are quite nervous about the conditions and they have reason to be…Smart British interests have already taken over the Jewish boys…and have sold them an idea they already had, that they must work for England, even if it means getting us into war.” (pp.244-45, THE MOGULS AND THE DICTATORS) Compare these quotes to Urwand’s brief reference to the Kennedy speech, referring to Ben Hecht’s warning to the movie heads: “Hecht told the studio heads not to buy into Kennedy’s arguments that such pictures would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States. He said that such thinking had been designed merely to play on their fears.” (p.234) (Which contradicts Urwand’s earlier axiom that profits were primary and fears of increased antisemitism were either minor or submerged in the lust for shekels.)

Ben Hecht is the only good Jew in Urwand’s book; indeed his departure from his early Zionism seems to have inspired Urwand. But Urwand hasn’t cited  PERFIDY (by Hecht) that displayed Hecht’s own social climbing and insult at the home of an antisemitic New York socialite, while Hecht went on to blame Rudolf Kastner,  a Hungarian Jew,  for collaboration with the Nazis.  (See This is a big and apparently unresolved fight.) Urwand is following longstanding trends among left-wing Jews: apparently to condemn anti-Semitism (thus distinguishing themselves from contemptible commercial Jews), while separating antisemitism from anti-Zionism. The remainder of this blog considers the distinction between “intellectual Jews” (like Urwand and his mentors at UC Berkeley) and “commercial Jews” (like the moguls). [Update: since writing this blog, I have read Hecht’s autobiography, and Urwand utterly misunderstood Hecht’s objection to “Zionists.” Hecht supported the Irgun and called the Anglophile Jewish Agency members “Zionists.” Could Urwand have even read the final section of A CHILD OF THE CENTURY? See my blog on that subject

The money-grubbing commercial Jews. I write these thoughts on Yom Kippur eve, September 13, 2013. I have asked the question, “What is a Jew”? Urwand and multiculturalists in general, take ruling definitions of Jewishness for granted.  As readers of my blogs know by now, the multiculturalists in the dominant culture define Jewish identity by race. It is not only a practice and belief system, much of which I share as a secular Jew.  Rather, the “intellectual Jews” [liberals and leftists] are put in a different box from the lower-class and unseemly “commercial Jews.”

I first heard this distinction in 1959, at a party hosted by the Harvard Law Review. It might have been a prominent professor who made that statement, and being twenty one years old and a babe in the woods, I had no comeback, and it would have been impolite to embarrass my fiancé, whom I married shortly afterward. His name was Ron Loeb, and he told me at the time how recruiters from the big NYC and Washington law firms would come to Harvard, warning that “our clients don’t want Jewish lawyers in our firms.” Ron (who made Law Review) told them that was really too bad, because 18 out of the 25 Harvard Law Review third year crop were Jewish. Note the date.  It is 1959.

Reading Urwand’s  book gave me anxiety attacks. It was not only horribly written from a historian’s point of view, for it was based almost entirely on speculation and innuendo, not to speak of its subtextual identification of Jews with Nazis.  Yet, in today’s ideological atmosphere, so toxic to “the Jews” (all of whom may be imagined exactly like the immigrant Jews who were prominent in founding the international business of cinema, unless as acceptable, assimilated Jews they are antisemitic themselves). Though Urwand’s book will find even more kvetchy reviewers, the fundamental questions will remain unanswered: “What is a Jew” and what institutional constraints have figured in the censorship of movies?

So far, besides the constraints of an international market, I have found through reading, the Will Hays Office (supported by Joe Kennedy), Joseph Breen and the Legion of Decency, and the Office of War Information (described in detail in Koppes and Black). But more than these censors, like other immigrants, the early movie moguls adapted to the regnant populism that appealed to the mass market, inhabited as it was by other immigrants. (Upper and middle class WASPs were mostly off elsewhere uplifting urban folk.)  And the movies remain populistic, with the support of movie critics and other journalists who partake of the general  sadism and masochism we see all around us.

The following photo and caption was used in David Denby’s New Yorker review (linked above), but not in the Urwand book.

"Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films"

“Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films”


  1. Urwand does not cover how much antisemitism was in the USA during the 30’s and how anxious the movie moguls were. Leo Frank was lynched in 1915 for a murder he did not commit. Very few Jewish men forget about that in the 1930’s. Joseph Kennedy’s little talk in 1940 scared them. Father Couglin on the radio scared Jews all over the USA. The filmmakers corporations were headquartered in NYC because the only banks that would lend them money were the few banks that were controlled by Jews here in NYC. All the big banks were happy to accept their deposits, but NONE but those few in NYC would lend them money.

    Except for NYC, from around 1900 until WW2, Jewish boys in the USA used to be chased down by good Catholic boys around Easter, have their pants pulled down and would then be held down on the ground with their limbs splayed out. Then a half-dozen or more uncircumsized boys would piss on the Christ killer. That’s the type of thing Jewish men never forgot, although they would never talk about it.

    Entire industries developed because banks would not lend to Jews. Factoring and commercial finance began in NYC because banks would not give working capital loans to Jewish owned firms. Even RCA and Sears could not get loans from banks and insurance companies in the 1920’s and 1930’s because Julius Rosenwald at Sears and Sarnoff at RCA were well known Jews. Instead, RCA and Sears sold bonds through Goldman Sachs and the like.

    Comment by bigguyboleslaw — December 22, 2013 @ 9:06 am | Reply

    • I have never seen the charges from bigguyboleslaw cited in academic sources, but they are entirely plausible to me. If you have contradictory evidence, please comment.

      Comment by clarelspark — December 22, 2013 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

  2. […] Ben  Urwand’s book, see, and No reviews, even those dismissive of Urwand’s peculiar view of “collaboration”, […]

    Pingback by The pitfalls in writing history of the movies | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 23, 2013 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

  3. […] ADDED! September 13, 2013 Dr Clare Spark has written two posts critical of Urwand, his book and Harvard University Press for publishing The […]

    Pingback by UPDATED! The dark side of book publicity is revealed as negative reviews flow in for Ben Urwand’s The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler | Hollywood Essays ♛ — October 18, 2013 @ 12:18 am | Reply

  4. Seems to me mass media is inherently authoritarian & moguls would be expected to be pro-Nazi, in the same way that “Bible epics” favor the Egyptian or Roman visuals. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, the Nazi-ish ‘evil empire’ continues to inspire our filmmakers. The ragtag rebel who takes down the empire is a sentimental fiction; as the credits roll we remain fascinated by the gargantuan state machines. I’d put Mircea Eliade’s Nazism, and possibly Ingmar Bergman’s, in a similar light: the Hollywood mode of storytelling requires a dominating master (like in “Funny Girl”). Note media theorist Marshall McLuhan in 1938 is indulgent toward Nazism, seeing a goal he shares of eliminating the “Peter Pan” state encroaching on modern civilization (“the condition of perpetual fantasy and emotional immaturity”).

    Comment by urpower — October 9, 2013 @ 4:43 am | Reply

    • To urpower: That is a speculation with little basis in fact and in history.

      Comment by clarelspark — October 9, 2013 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

      • Just the facts ma’am. I wish to read more about the pro-Nazi anti-Semite Walt Disney but good luck with that. (From the unauthorized bio of him: “You could buy a copy of Mein Kampf on any newsstand in Hollywood.”) The entertainment culture like the literary imagination itself is devoted to the strong man, the Ahab if you will. Or dances around it blithely- cf. Diana Vreeland’s darting by a bloodbath during a trip to Germany. Where America’s “thought leaders” were against Hitler, as with Dorothy Parker or Lillian Hellman, etc., it was out of concern he might prevail over their beloved Stalin. I plan to read Urwand’s book & assume the reality was much worse.

        Comment by urpower — October 10, 2013 @ 1:45 am

  5. […] On Yom Kippur eve, I wrote a blog criticizing Ben Urwand’s new book Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. The subject of Hollywood movies, anti-Nazi or not, as collaborating with bogus versions of the real world of oppressive relationships, was not his subject matter. I left the Left (of which Urwand is a part)  because those I thought were my friends and allies thought schematically and did not value attachment to the search for truth above ideology; this loyalty to career and status  above mental health killed a few of them. (On my blog on Urwand, see […]

    Pingback by Authenticity and the “bottled-up” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 16, 2013 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

  6. Clare, watch this sentence. Could be interesting, could be dangerous “So far, besides the constraints of an international market, I have found through reading, the Will Hays Office (founded by Joe Kennedy), Joseph Breen and the Legion of Decency, and the Office of War Information (described in detail in Koppes and Black).” … My input: In terms of the financiers, the early movie-moghuls were neither (Jewish) heroes nor (Jewish) villains. Certainly, none of them would have had enlightening answers to the question, “What is a Jew? and what institutional constraints have figured in the censorship of movies?”‘ They did finance some beautiful movies (several or more of them written by Hecht) many of which are as beautifully Greek, tragic, and philosophical as they are Jewish, fatalistic, and utterly American. America in 1920 is the long tail of the Mediterranean Melting Pot (ca. 4th century B.C.).
    Anti-semitism would, however, prove very useful during the 1950s Red Scare (beginning in the 40s) as a state-based opportunity to expropriate a significant portion of the legacy of Jewish ownership of media production, distribution, and exhibition in order to lay the groundwork for what would become the late 20th century’s integrated (and actively censored) tv and film industries. It started with the DOG persecution of FOX in ca. 1928 (accompanied by the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon PCA) amidst the wildly immigrant, permissive, and inventive world of early Hollywood. Kennedy–no matter how you judge him, overall–probably helped to preserve some of the remnants of the anti-conservative Hollywood as it had been before the impact of the kind of state interventions threatened in 1920 and then actively implemented beginning in 1948 (Paramount Decrees). In any case, the world was never the same after the threat of government intervention descended on 1920s Hollywood’s filmic way of exercising free speech. The FCC is the leading reminder today of the kind of state-authorized Bible-thumping that censored and disciplined early Hollywood (and Radio too, for that matter).

    Comment by Jason Ajita Mark — September 16, 2013 @ 3:26 am | Reply

    • Since this comment was posted, I have read Steven Alan Carr’s Hollywood and Antisemitism (Cambridge UP, 2001). Carr certainly demonstrates the squelching effect of “Bible-thumping” (as Mr. Mark puts it) holdovers from the 19th century. But Carr also demonstrates that “the Hollywood question” was really about anti-Semitism as dispensed by Henry Ford, and by the forgers of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. My point was that Urwand’s book is deeply anti-Semitic, and further reviews of mine will detail its failure as anything resembling responsible history. The jihadists will love it. As for anti-Semitism and McCarthy-ism, the Communist party “Jews” gave up any religious affiliation as part of their joining proletarian internationalism. And the opening up of the Soviet archives briefly after 1989, shows that the “witch-hunters” were usually correct.

      Comment by clarelspark — September 27, 2013 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

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