Hollywood Essays is now on iBooks!

Hollywood Essays iBook front coverThe new Hollywood Essays iBook, with a wonderful foreword by film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, features 15 of my most popular essays about the Mayer family of Hollywood and the stars and filmmakers they worked with during the golden era of motion pictures.

This ebook contains the amazing and evocative family photos that are at the heart of each of my essays, along with additional materials, such as Photoplay magazine pages, other fantastic photographs and links to full movies and other media. The ebook was designed in iBooks Author.

To buy Hollywood Essays for just $5.99, or to download your free sample chapter, click here. Please note that most of the essays in the ebook collection are now no longer available on this blog.

Attention classic Hollywood bloggers: there 10 free preview copies available. Please leave a comment below so that I can provide you with your coupon code.

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Blog closed

Thank you for visiting HollywoodEssays.com – it has been closed until further notice, however will remain a resource for the fight against Ben Urwand’s book The Collaboration. To see a complete list of the 30+ rebuttals, critical reviews and controversy coverage, click here.

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Face to face with Ben Urwand: the question I asked and his reply

photo(1)Tonight I attended Ben Urwand’s talk about his book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler at the Sydney Jewish Museum, interestingly titled, “The Arrangement Between Hollywood and Hitler.” This was evidently his only presentation in Australia.

If you have been following this blog, or my account on Twitter, you will know I have been fighting tooth and nail since late June to ensure the world hears from the many eminent film scholars and historians who have made serious allegations of shoddy scholarship against Ben Urwand and his book. This battle has been fought almost entirely through online rebuttals and critical reviews, as well as via blog posts, tweets, emails and comments.

Links to 34 rebuttals, critical reviews and controversy coverage here.

So to come face to face with Urwand, to pose a question to him live, was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss – even if I also knew it would be his room, so to speak, with an audience loaded with his family and friends (Urwand is from Sydney) and attendees who would be inculcated by his sensationalist claims and dazzling ‘evidence.’ This was exactly what happened as Ben Urwand rolled out his multimedia presentation to suitable gasps and the shaking of heads across the packed crowd of around 130 people.

I was shocked to see him start his presentation by claiming the inspiration for his nine years of research and subsequent PhD thesis and then book, as coming from a Paramount memo signed off by an exec with “Heil Hitler,” when in fact, Urwand has said on numerous occasions publicly and in his book’s introduction that it was a comment from Budd Schulberg that Louis B. Mayer had shown movies to the Nazi consul, George Gyssling, that got him started.

When his presentation concluded, the first question was from an elderly man to the effect that wasn’t Warner Bros morally above the other studios? – indicating Urwand’s premise had been accepted hook, line and sinker and as such, the man’s desire to find some “good Jews” amongst all of the other Jewish moguls Urwand had spent 40 minutes portraying as on par with the Nazis.

I raised my hand to ask the next question, and when the microphone was given to me, I introduced myself as a grandniece of Louis B. Mayer. There was a ripple of gasps across the room. My question was as follows:

“Your PhD thesis, and then your book, were predicated on a comment by Budd Schulberg, who was known to hate Louis B. Mayer, that LB would screen movies for George Gyssling, the Nazi consul. Here is the key portion of the quote in your book:

‘. . . I heard about the way that Louis Mayer would kowtow, we were amazed when we heard it, but he was definitely doing it. I think the consul even came to the studio and looked at his pictures and said yes, that’s all right, no take that out, it was unbelievable.’ Refer endnote 163

What proof do you have for this serious accusation, which you have repeatedly referred to, considering your own endnote #163 about Schulberg’s comment simply refers to a transcript of him referring to hearsay and even Schulberg does not mention his source for this claim, nor did he witness this, i.e. “we were amazed when we heard about it” – so where’s your proof?”

photo(2)Urwand suddenly became tongue-tied and began to refer to something else – I think Louis B. Mayer’s comments on another topic – but I pulled Urwand back and said that was not what I had asked: I asked about his proof for endnote 163. After a couple of minutes of stumbling around for something coherent to say and some very interesting body language, Urwand simply fell back to his constant refrain when he has been challenged over his six month long, international book tour, “It’s all documented in my book.”

photo(4)The problem is Ben Urwand, it isn’t. Your endnotes would make M.C. Escher proud.

A question was then asked about the validity of telling the Jewish moguls’ story from the perspective of German archives. Isn’t that exactly what Hitler and the Nazis would have wanted – to control the narrative of their most hated? Through The Collaboration, the long dead Nazi regime gets to do just that, as in this story, the bad guys are the Jews; the pervasive and frightening anti-semitism within America is stripped away; the constrictive regulatory environment; and the moguls’ covert and other personal efforts, such as paying for spies to infiltrate pro-Nazi groups, and private, unrecorded actions, all get in the way of Urwand’s fable. Instead, everyone has a good laugh about Hitler’s love of King Kong and Mickey Mouse.

Urwand was then asked if he would update the book if errors were identified. He answered that in all of the criticism he received, not one error had ever been found but yes, if there were any, he would. Of course, most of the rebuttals have found errors and all point to hugely manipulative errors of omission.

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Mark Horowitz, author of The Myth of Jewish Hollywood’s Collaboration With the Nazis published in Tablet Mag on December 20th, 2013 in the comments section, “…filled with errors…and outright fantasy.”

I was grateful for two brave questions from a Hebrew teacher and historian who pressed Urwand to consider his book’s almost total lack of context for the majority of the years his text covers and his manipulative choice of the word “collaboration” in his title. The questioner even supplied him with a more appropriate German word but again Urwand staunchly defended his loaded choice. Interestingly, the next question again took up the word collaboration, but unfortunately she also followed with praise for the book’s endnotes when, in fact, they are like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland.

I went into this event with no expectations and certainly the only thing I came away with was a sense of personal pride that I showed up on behalf of the much maligned Jewish studio heads and executives, including uncle Louis, who cannot speak for themselves and so defend their legacies against this callow book. Though the last few months have been exhausting, I am so glad I could bring the effort of so many directly to Urwand’s door for his one Australian appearance.

I am grateful for the immense support I have received through Twitter (especially film journos and classic film fans), via my blog and from family, friends and colleagues. I am in awe of the powerful and thorough rebuttals and critical reviews written by knowledgeable and dedicated academics, historians and esteemed film bloggers (all listed here), many of whom have become part of the support network that seemed to organically embrace me during some very tough times. I have also received numerous emails and messages of support from many who have not chosen to speak publicly but felt strongly enough to be in touch.

My final message echoes what prominent film academics and historians have said: it is time for Harvard University Press to withdraw this deeply flawed book from sale. The idea that Ben Urwand continues to receive profits off the back of The Collaboration is shameful. But more than this, having witnessed how he manipulates his audience at his personal appearances (read film historian Joel W. Filner’s account of this from Urwand’s presentation at the prestigious Wiener Library in London on November 4th) we know he has no regard for the ramifications of his showmanship. He simply wants to sell books.

Thank you and I hope you all have a wonderful, happy and restful holidays. I’ll be back with more Hollywood Essays in 2014.

(Special thank you to Farran Nehme aka @selfstyledsiren who came up with two excellent questions for tonight’s session but sadly, I was only able to ask one.)

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3 Things You Didn’t Know About Louis B. Mayer

Louis B Mayer cartoon

Three things you didn’t know about Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss, Louis B. Mayer:

1. Your money or your life

On June 26, 1942 Louis B. Mayer received a rambling three page letter purportedly from six men who wanted him dead but would accept $250,000 to let him live. The letter began: “MR MAYER, IS YOUR LIFE WORTH $250,000 TO YOU BECAUSE IF IT ISN’T – YOU WILL BE A VERY DEAD MAN INSIDE OF TWO SHORT WEEKS!” A news clipping from the Los Angeles Times was attached about an unsolved murder. At the top had been scrawled: “THIS MAN THOUGHT WE WERE KIDDING.” A post card was sent a week later demanding the money should be left addressed to “Robert Sexton” at the Ambassador Hotel. On July 13th, two men – Meyer Phillip Grace (39, a former boxer) and Channing Drexel Lipton (25, noted as a gas attendant but the son of former MGM writer Lew Lipton) – attempted to pick up the parcel and were immediately arrested by the FBI. The matter went to trial but despite it looking like an open and shut case, Grace and Lipton were acquitted. Strangely enough, there is an Australian connection: Channing Drexel Lipton married in Sydney in 1955.

2. Dr. Louis B. Mayer

In May 1939, L.B. was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of New Brunswick for “cultural advancement of moving pictures.” He later attended a luncheon given by the New Brunswick Premier, A. A. Dysart and his cabinet, where he was also bestowed the “freedom of the city of Saint John” by the mayor. In his speech L.B. told the audience, “Refuse to be discouraged. Sweat and sweat some more, work and work some more. If you have anything at all you’re bound to get there. I have a great investment in Saint John. My mother lies buried in Saint John. I’m coming home to my mother. I am sentimental enough to feel she knows I am being honored by my home folks. I believe she knows and is smiling. My heart is overflowing.”

3. Female doctor

Jessie Marmorston became L.B.’s doctor after he witnessed her take charge when one of the men at a Sunday night poker game frequented by MGM execs died of a massive coronary. Marmoston was issuing orders, telling everyone what to do or get out of the way. L.B. was stunned and asked who this woman was. Someone said she was a doctor and then and there he decided she would be his doctor too. L.B. saw Marmorston almost daily – he would send his car to pick her up from her home – and not only relied on her as his personal physician but also vented about his family and the business. Marmorston became his sounding board and her regard for him in return was enormous. Despite their very close friendship, Marmorston always called him “Mr. Mayer” and he always referred to her as “Doctor.”

RIP ~ Louis B Mayer ~ July 12, 1884 – October 29, 1957

With thanks to Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman.

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What Ben Urwand has taught us: the package is not the product

Ida Mayer Cummings and Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford (right) with my great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings, Louis B. Mayer’s sister. The two women were dear friends, and it was through Ida that Mary become a devoted benefactor of Jewish causes in Los Angeles. Date unknown.

For those of you who follow my blog or follow me on Twitter and elsewhere, you will know that I have been shocked at the instant acceptance that Ben Urwand received from the media and in other forums for his sensationalist claims that Hollywood’s Jewish moguls collaborated with Hitler and his regime. Basically, as soon as Urwand’s publicists, Golberg McDuffie, sent out their presser about his book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, there was a collective “we knew it!”

Expert rebuttals to The Collaboration are collected in a handy timeline here.

As a grandniece of Louis B. Mayer and my generation’s family historian, I’ve seen plenty of anti-semitic portrayals of his time at the helm of MGM, so I put a lot of this early acceptance down to the ‘greedy Jew’ shibboleth. If you’re Jewish, you develop bat senses for this one early on. I’ll never forget the adult son of a dear friend of mine talk about his boss tickling the “Jewish piano” – he meant the cash register.

Ben Urwand is Jewish and I understand this was used in promoting him and his book (his Hungarian grandparents are almost always mentioned in articles), which clearly lent his claims a powerful stamp of endorsement. It was a case of: “Hey, everybody! This guy’s Jewish and he’s slamming other Jews. It’s gotta be true!”

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the warm welcome from Jewish media outlets, like Haaretz and David Mikics writing in Tablet Mag, who concluded his glowing review of The Collaboration with the repulsive concept that the moguls were responsible for the Holocaust. (On a side note, Mikics did not disclose

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Hollywood Essays on Vimeo! The Mysterious Death of Ted Healy, Founder of The Three Stooges

Exactly what happened after the initial altercation with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli is not clear, but Healy would later be found at a Hollywood hotel where the hotel doctor sewed up a huge gash over his left eye. Along with this wound, Healy looked like he had been severely beaten. He was taken home but he soon after slipped into unconsciousness and began convulsing. Within hours he was dead. 5 minutes.

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Hollywood Essays on Vimeo! The George Burns Smuggling Fiasco mini-documentary

In 1938, George Burns and Gracie Allen were two of America’s most beloved entertainers but their world would come crashing down thanks to a shadowy ‘diplomat’ who offered George Burns, and his pal, Jack Benny, an offer they couldn’t refuse. 5 minutes.

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