Was Hollywood Friendly with Hitler?

This 1937 film from Warner Bros., starring Humphrey Bogart, dealt directly with anti-fascism. This 1937 film from Warner Bros., starring Humphrey Bogart, dealt directly with anti-fascism.

Dr. Georg Gyssling, who Doherty calls “Hitler’s man in Hollywood,” is one of the reasons Urwand sees a connection between Hitler and the studio moguls. Gyssling was looking for anti-Nazi material in American films because, of course, any that violated this rule would not be released in Germany – a business market for American films at the time. Hollywood was not just dealing with pressure from Germany; they were also dealing with censorship in America. In early 1930s Hollywood, Joseph Breen, head of the censorship board, and the Catholic Legion of Decency were getting close to enforcing censorship that eventually got its teeth in 1934. From a business perspective, which was the mogul’s primary viewpoint, each film had to be produced for the widest distribution possible.

It is commonly understood that the Warner Bros. studio long stood the strongest against the threat of Nazi fascism. However, Urwand recently told the New York Times:

“There’s a whole myth that Warner Brothers were crusaders against fascism. But they were the first to try to appease the Nazis in 1933.”

There is no myth here. As Thomas Doherty has noted, Warner Bros. cut ties with Germany in 1933 after Nazis assaulted one of their employees. Warner was the strongest anti-Nazi studio and their films prove it. Sure, studios edited some films to downplay direct Nazi references but, again, that was business not politics. If you look at the output of Warner Bros. during the 1930s you will find a strong connection to pro-democratic ideology and anti-fascist narratives (Black Legion, The Adventures of Robin Hood, G-Men, etc). What Urwand misses throughout his entire book is any sense of how Hollywood worked during the Studio Era. The bottom line meant everything.