Holocaust museum exhibit explores how refugees influenced Hollywood
It became a matter of life and death. And jobs.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they prohibited Jews from working in the entertainment industry, forcing thousands to leave for other countries, especially the United States.
Among them: acclaimed "Some Like It Hot" and "Sunset Boulevard" director Billy Wilder, Oscar-winning composer Franz Waxman and "Casablanca" character actor Peter Lorre.
The mass Jewish exodus to the American entertainment industry is one of many parts of a new exhibit titled "Light & Noir: Exiles and Emigres in Hollywood," which opens at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie on Sunday, Oct. 11.
Doris Berger, curator of Los Angeles' Skirball Cultural Center, spent two years researching this topic at the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other archives in Southern California. She discovered many books about how refugees from World War II Europe had shaped the golden age of Hollywood. But few museum exhibits had explored the impact of European refugees on Tinseltown.
"Light & Noir: Exiles and Emigres in Hollywood" shows how the conflict in Europe affected a new generation of filmmakers who produced comedies with dark sides and created a new genre of noir, based on American crime writers' stories that integrated techniques popular in German expressionist cinema. Examples of film noir included Wilder's Oscar-nominated "Double Indemnity," starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.
When World War II broke out in 1939, many Jewish émigrés were involved with helping other refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. The exhibit acknowledges their contributions, including those of producer Carl Laemmle, director Ernst Lubitsch and talent agent Paul Kohner.
"They became sponsors of refugees," Berger said, "and promised they would take care of them in the United States."
The exhibit is divided into eight sections, which include stories of early Hollywood, the exodus from Europe and how Jews found refuge in America.
"Light & Noir" also examines the classic film "Casablanca" as an exile film, a cinematic telling of the real struggle faced by many of the people who worked on it, including Lorre and Conrad Veidt, who was not Jewish but opposed the Nazis and fled with his Jewish wife. The exhibit displays props and original costumes worn by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Local actors will perform scenes from "Casablanca" from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at the exhibit's opening.
The museum is also working with the Wilmette Theatre, which will show comedies, film noir and anti-Nazi films addressed in the exhibit.
In addition, "Light & Noir" covers the postwar period and how McCarthyism targeted Hollywood in a segment that uses trial footage and stories of blacklisted filmmakers, such as the Austrian-born Henreid, who went to Washington to protest.
"That was a decision I felt was important because we were telling a story about America and how it related to Europe, but also about the American film industry," Berger said. "One very hard time was after the Second World War when the House Un-American Activities Committee began to hunt for communists. Some people had to leave the country again or were blacklisted from their jobs in a place they thought was a safe haven."
"Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950"Where: Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, (847) 967-4800, ilholocaustmuseum.org
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Exhibit runs Sunday, Oct. 11, through Jan. 10, 2016.
Tickets: $12; $8 for seniors and students; $6 for kids 5 to 11