In The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, Ben Urwand reveals that some movie moguls chose to do business with the Nazis instead of making films about them.
Why did you start this research?
Nine years ago, I heard an interview with Budd Schulberg, the screenwriter and author, who claimed that in the 1930s, Louis B. Mayer [the head of MGM] used to meet with the German consul, a Nazi, in Los Angeles and that Mayer would make changes to his movies based on the consul’s recommendations. This comment, which surprised me at first, seemed to be a plausible explanation for the absence of Nazis from American movies in the 1930s. I decided to investigate.
Why did it take you so long?
Most of the materials of the major Hollywood studios do not exist anymore or are kept out of the reach of researchers. Most of the Nazi materials were destroyed during WWII. The archival materials that remained were scattered and hard to find, and it often took many visits to individual archives to uncover all the available evidence. Over the course of nine years I watched around 400 movies and visited around 20 archives, and gradually I started to make connections between the materials I found in the various places. It wasn’t simply a case of going through one set of materials in a particular archive; rather I had to go through many sets of materials to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
What was the hardest thing about translating your findings into the book?
Even after I had uncovered all the available materials, I knew that I had to tell the story in a way that was both faithful to the original documents and that preserved the tenor of the encounters between Hollywood and the Nazis. In the early stages, I was so surprised by some of the materials I found that I had an urge to inject my own opinion. I quickly realized that this would be a huge mistake; I was going to be the first to tell the story, and I felt a sense of responsibility—I could only make claims that were supported by the available evidence. Throughout the writing process, therefore, I often had to suppress my own reactions and put together the pieces of the story with extreme care. This was difficult in itself, but to do it while communicating the shocking nature of my findings to a general audience was absolutely necessary.
What surprised you the most?
A document I uncovered at the National Archives that revealed that MGM exported its profits out of Germany from December 1938 onward by financing the production of German armaments in Austria and the Sudetenland.