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"The Stereotypic Image of the Jew in Hollywood Films": manuscript draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1970 (year approximate) to 1996 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Unpublished manuscripts file.

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man000928. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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During his first year in the office of President, Jimmy Carter, at a film festival said: "What the remainder of the world knows about the United States, it learns from the movies." I would expand upon that comment by saying that what Americans know about America, its people, the rest of the world and its people, they learn from the movies.
As a nation, Americans view more movies than they read books. When we rely of what is seen in the cinema to be the primary source of our education, knowledge and understanding of the world around us, we take great risks because we place the responsibility of the accuracy of the data we receive in the hands of cinematographers and not social scientists who might have done a bit more serious research on the subjects.
Forty years ago, not many Americans did much traveling. Before World War II, the average American rarely traveled more than a hundred miles away from his place of birth. Indeed there had been those sporadic spurts of migration during the war years and even the era of the depression. HOwever, as a rule, Americans were fairly stationary.
Much of what Americans learned about the world and its people during those waning years of the "age of innoncence", was indeed learned from the movies. Our lessons in geography, in those instances where films were made on location, was accurate. Audiences were able to see what mountains really looked like as well as jungles, deserts, timberlands, grasslands, the many cities of the world, the small hamlets which are noted in history, the oceans and even the varying climates which exist in those many places. The one element of the puzzle which we got the least accurate information about was the people of all of those places.
Throughout the world many different races and cultures exist. Hollywood, due to its object of seeking to generalize quite often addressed the subject of people in the most elementary terms and somehow, in so doing, developed a stereotypical perception of those groups. It was fairly easy for whatever Hollywood presented to be accepted by a viewing audience who had not availed itself of the other opportunities of discerning the more correct understanding of those places and people.
Media, be it print or electronic, has few basic purposes or objectives. Among those objectives are:
To educate.
To entertain.
To inform.
To persuade.
The movies, as an electronic media representative has as it primary objective to entertain. However, due to an absence of data about the subject of the moment being presented, it also, in subtle or circuituous ways educate and persuade.
We all know something about racial or ethnic groups based on what we have seen in the movies. That knowledge has historically been stereotypical. In considering the more obvious groups, Indians, Asians, Mexicans, women and blacks, we can easily detect the stereotypes and see not only how those movies influence the manner in which those groups are perceived but also the unconscious effects those same movies have on the self-concept of those groups.
Indians.............With representative films.
Asians...............With representative films.
Mexicans...........With representative films.
Women................With representative films.
Blacks...............With representative films.
STEREOTYPE........An over generalization of a group based on inadequate data.
Stereotypes makes wife easier. We do not have to consider each person that we meet as an individual. We find it much easier to say that a person who is black is such and such, a person who is female is such and such, a person who is Mexican is such and such. We say those kinds of things in our process of stereotyping an entire group and when we find that someone does not fit the stereotype of the group which we use for our own convenience we write it off by simply saying: "He's not like the rest of them." Such utterences by those of us who are basically good people should give us an idea of what kinds of things those who are not are saying and how damaging their views of others are.
In considering the subject of stereotypes and Jews and Hollywood, we find many instances of such stereotyping. Being unable to analyze the entirety of the subject matter in the time that we have here, let us just say that in those years before 1940, Hollywood all but ignored the Jewish charater in film with the obvious exception of those Biblical stories of the early years of the "SILENT ERA". We Might divide Hollywood depiction of the Jews into the following genres or eras.
Silent Era...
W.W. II............
... .Holocaust.
....Anti Semitism in films
Realistic portrayals
Contemporary--The Chosen, Woody Allen films, Streisand and others.
Part of what film must do is be certain not to befuddle. During the silent era, a good majority of the film company owners, producers and directors were themselves Jewish. That era is characterized by extreme anti-jewish sentiments in the United States. The Jewish population being relatively small in comparison to the overall population of the country followed of course of seeking to avoid any direct cause of being brought up in general conversation of the populace. In short, for very obvious reasons, Jews in America went through a period of hiding out. In some of the larger cities where there were sizeable conclaves such anonimity was all but impossible. In smaller towns, especially in the South, where their numbers were much smaller and the antagonisms were more pronounced, they remained low keyed. In 1927, jews made up 3.6% of the U.S. population and that percentage has not changed much since that time.
Due to the circumstances which those groups who have been placed outside of the mainstream of America find themselves, it is often necessary for them to call upon some inner-strength from their cultural heritage to support them in their circumstance. We find it with blacks, hispanics, Indians, Asians, women and Jews. A good part of it is the result of the shared experience of of the group. It might manifest itself in many ways. With the latter group it is best exemplified by the teachings of Hasidism and the spiritual relationship which exists between God and man and man and man. It tells us thaf'the God of the Bible and of Hasidism is the loving God whose love includes the demand that man make real his humanity through bringing every aspect of his
life into his relation to God.
1. The Marx Brothers..........65
2. Charlie Chaplin..............112
The Life of Emile Zola........p. 78.
4. The Dolly Sisters.................114
Gentleman's Agreement118. 125 response/reaction to
Films of the forties, therefore, emphasized the continuing assimilation of the decade's Jews in mainstream American life. The move to the suburbs that forced many affluent Jewish-Americans to reconsider the role of Judaism in their lives never reached the nation's movie screens. Encouraged by their ambitious parents to embrace American values, the children of immigrants had thought it necessary to abandon their Judaism to better accommodate themselves to American life. This was something their heartbroken parents had never forseen would happen. Now the children of the second-generation Jews drew their lapsed parents back to the elements of their forefathers' religion so hastily abandoned in the scramble for social and economic success. As one commentator says, "It was fine for the grandsons to remember when the sons had forgotten."
The immigrant moguls were incapable of shedding their first-generation insecurities, and as such, their films preached accommodation to the dominant Gentile culture rather than a search for new ways to fit Judaism into it. No real approaches to what it meant to be a Jew in America were ever offered by the studio heads, even in films like Gentleman's Agreement and Crossfire. Instead, the answers of the first generation were dressed in new garb and recycled for the second and the third, sadly undmindful that the problems had changed and the audience had matured. Hollywood still refused to confront the two overriding Jewish issues of the decade in any meaningful manner; the Holocaust and Israel's creation. Perhaps the horror of the camps could not be so quickly assimilated.
or perhaps the emergence of Israel as a political fact was to controversial a topic. Whatever the reasons, Hollywood basically ignored both. In Address Unknown, Grisella asks her hostile audience if "calling a man a Jew robs him of his humanity?" For Hollywood in the forties, one might rephrase her question: Why does identifying a character as Jewish rob him of his religion, his uniqueness and his heritage.
We must all remember for what purpose we are on Earth