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Academy Museum exhibit honors Hollywood's Jewish founders

Academy Museum exhibit honors Hollywood's Jewish founders


Schmuel Gelbfisz, Lazar Meir and the Wonsal brothers aren't names that immediately come to mind when you think of Hollywood legends, but Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and the Warner brothers are.

These monumental Hollywood figures changed their Jewish names to ones they thought were more acceptable to Americans in the early 20th century, hoping to increase their chances of success. Although their studios have achieved tremendous achievements, creating some of the best films of all time, the birth names of these men are not widely known.

The Academy Museum aims to change that.

A new exhibit titled Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Film Capital, which opens to the public on Sunday, explores the stories of Jewish filmmakers and studio founders who helped make the Los Angeles area the capital world of entertainment. This will be the museum's first permanent exhibition.

We want people to come away with a richer understanding of how this city is so closely tied to this industry and also a deeper understanding of why this is specifically a Jewish immigrant story, a said Dara Jaffe, associate curator at the Academy Museum, who led the project. exposure.

The immersive exhibition traces the development of the major Hollywood studios and the golden age of cinema in the early 20th century through the perspective of Jewish immigrants who were at the heart of the industry establishment.

Since its opening in 2021, the Academy Museum has been harassed by critical for barely highlighting or acknowledging the group of predominantly Jewish filmmakers who developed the industry. Eastern European Jewish immigrants who laid the foundation of Hollywood and their first-generation Jewish American children were not featured in the museum's ambitious exhibits that emphasized and celebrated the work of often marginalized groups at Hollywood.

Jaffe said the museum always planned to eventually include the stories of the Jewish founders in their exhibits, but he also understands the criticism about the lack of representation at the time the museum opened. She said she valued feedback while preparing the exhibit to ensure that filmmakers and Jewish communities felt it accurately represented history.

“We fully believe that this is fundamental to who we are as a film museum, representing this industry, and it is core to who we are as a film museum in Los Angeles,” Jaffe said. It's important to us that every visitor who comes can experience this story of the founding of Hollywood and Jewish studio heads.

A large table display and the words

The exhibition weaves the stories of a developing Los Angeles and film industry with the lives of Jewish immigrants and first-generation Jewish Americans who founded and built Hollywood as we know it.

(Joshua White / JWPimages / Academy Museum)

With the exhibit opening during American Jewish Heritage Month and at a time of rise of anti-SemitismJaffe said she wants visitors to leave the exhibit with a deeper understanding of the relationship between Jewish people and cinema and to understand that the history of that relationship does not fuel more anti-Semitism.

There have been so many times over the last couple of years where I wish this exhibit was already open so we could point at it and say, 'Please come and learn more,'” said Jaffe. It's a relief that it's finally open.

Author and film critic Neal Gabler, who in 1988 wrote An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, served as an advisor to the exhibit and will speak on opening night. In the widely cited book, Gabler writes that Jews often faced obstacles entering other industries and that entertainment was an area in which they saw an opportunity to develop their own businesses.

Gabler wrote in his introduction that Jews created their idealized America on screen with strong families led by valiant fathers, ardent patriotism, and resilience and, in doing so, American values ​​were defined by their work.

Two sections of the exhibition, three distinct parts, highlight these Jewish founders and their respective studios Universal, Fox (later 20th Century-Fox), Paramount, United Artists and Warner Bros., to name a few- some, and how they built the idea of ​​America. Dream.

The Studio Origins section features multimedia screens that detail the founding of each of the majors, as they were often called, and delves into the stories of their respective founders. It also explores how the studio system operated from the late 1920s to the late 1940s, when the eight major studios dominated production and often signed actors and filmmakers to long-term contracts.

A photo of a seating area with a large screen to show a documentary at the Academy Museum.

The exhibition includes a short documentary about the lives of the studio's founders and their experiences with immigration and anti-Semitism.

(Joshua White / JWPimages / Academy Museum)

An original short documentary titled From the Shtetl to the Studio: Hollywood's Jewish History, focuses on the immigration stories of the founders and the challenges they faced while building Hollywood. It details how experiencing anti-Semitism and oppression affected their careers. Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies and grandson of Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, narrates the documentary, which features archival footage and video clips.

The exhibit also includes an animated table and projections to illustrate how Los Angeles evolved alongside the growing film industry. The immersive display maps the city from 1902, when the first dedicated movie theater was built in Los Angeles, to 1929, the year of the first Academy Awards. Jaffe said she wanted to make sure the exhibit organically balances the stories of the founders and the city.

Hollywood is both a place and an idea. There is the geographic city of Los Angeles and Hollywood as a mythological symbol, Jaffe said. There was film in Los Angeles before the Jewish founders established the studio system, but it was truly the studio system that transformed Los Angeles into the idea of ​​the mythological symbol of Hollywood.




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