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The Jewish roots of Hollywood

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by Daniel Spichtinger “Paramount”, “Warner Brothers”, “MGM, “Universal” – these are the famous names of the big studios that we see featured in the opening credits of most Hollywood blockbusters. But who were the people who founded these studios and where did they come from?

They were Jewish and they came from Central and Eastern Europe, as the latest exhibition at the Vienna Jewish Museum, entitled “BIGGER THAN LIFE. 100 Years of Hollywood: A Jewish Experience” shows: Adolph Zukor (Paramount) came from Hungary, the Warner brothers from Poland, Louis B. Mayer from Belorussia (MGM), and Carl Laemmle (Universal) from southern Germany.

The exhibition highlights many interesting and now so well known fact about early Hollywood, such as the struggle of the studio owners against the Edison Trust who had IPR rights to many of the technical inventions behind the cinema and didn’t hesitate to send out armed goons to enforce them – this eventually led to the early cinema industry’s move away from New York City to Hollywood, which was further away from the Trust. Once there they formed a trust of their own, owning not only studios but also cinemas and hence having control over the entire production chain – until the studios were forced to give up control of the cinemas by the state, which led to a sharp decline of the movie industry in the 1960s.

The exhibition provides a chronological overview of Jewish involvement in Hollywood from the 19th century to the present days, with sections being devoted to cinema milestones such as “Casablanca”, “Gone with the Winds”, “Easy Rider” as well as darker themes such as how National Socialism & the Holocaust have been featured in Hollywood movies. Through the whole exhibition frequent short scenes from movies, displayed on screens, illustrate the various topics. “Bigger than Life” runs until April 22 and is a “must see” for anyone interested in Hollywood and its Jewish identity.

Jewish Museum Exhibition Website:

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