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An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood Paperback – August 8, 1989

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Editorial Reviews Review

That subtitle may inspire in some readers waves of ethnic pride, and in others waves of ethnic revulsion, but the point of this book is that its claim of origin is quite literally true. And what makes it an interesting read for political types is the way it demonstrates that no matter how much the founding Hollywood moguls and their successors tried to peddle an idealized, escapist form of entertainment, bubbling up under and around their every project was ideology, racism, ethnic prejudice, class friction, domestic and international politics and all the other raw, seething stuff that distinguishes this country from all others. In Gabler's hands, the Industry draws a picture of American political history in spite of itself.

From Publishers Weekly

The author presents "an entertaining, wide-ranging, in-depth account" of the Jewish studio executives, theater owners, producers, writers, lawyers and talent agents who dominated the American film industry until shortly after WW II. "Gabler vividly recreates a way of life now gone forever," commented PW. Photos.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 8, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385265573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385265577
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
Neal Gabler explores the fascinating question of how Hollywood was created primarily by a remarkable group of men who fit into a remarkably small demographic: European Jewish immigrants, most of them poor, most of them from Manhattan's lower east side, none of them practicing Jews, most of them from families with weak father figures. But together they moved to an almost completely protestant city and created the most successful form of popular entertainment in America, presenting an idealized version of American life for a nation in a constant for new national myths. The most fascinating thing about the book is the gap between the mythical world that they were presenting and their own backgrounds. For Louis B. Mayer, Andy Hardy's America was for him the real America, an America where there were strong nuclear families headed by strong fathers, doting neo-Victorian mothers, and obedient, respectful children. Economically most people were Middle Class, the tenor distinctively Middle American, and almost always Christian. Gabler argues that for most of these men, what they provided was not America as it existed, but the America that they wanted to be a part of.

Almost all of the major studios were founded by men who more or less fit Gabler's description. There are a number of major and minor characters in Gabler's story, the most prominent being Adolph Zukor, who was instrumental in creating Paramount; Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal; William Fox of Fox Pictures, which later merged with Twentieth Century; Louis B. Mayer, who built MGM into Hollywood's largest studio; Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Brothers; and the belligerent Harry Cohn of Columbia.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on May 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Film scholar and critic Neal Gabler offers a surprisingly well-researched, academically sound, and insightful study of the scions of early Hollywood and their vision for America. Ironically, and somewhat paradoxically, he finds that the early movie industry was largely founded by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. As outsiders in WASPish America, they nonetheless excelled at creating a vision of the United States that incorporated some of its most cherished principles and desires. Such studio executives as Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, and the Warner brothers ensconced a vision of America at its best that stood far removed from the reality of their lives.

As Gabler wrote of these industry leaders: "What united them in deep spiritual kinship was their utter and absolute rejection of their pasts and their equally absolute devotion to their new country....something drove the young Hollywood Jews to a ferocious, even pathological, embrace of America. Something drove them to deny whatever they had been before settling here" (p. 4). Gabler believes that these Jewish leaders "colonized the American imagination" (p. 7). Over time, their films embodied American values; the irony is that they were made by people alienated from that culture. As Gabler concludes, "the Jews reinvented the country in the image of their fiction" (p. 7).

This is a very interesting and useful study of the role of film in defining the American character in the early twentieth century.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By michaela824 on June 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is, to the extent of my explorations, the only book on what would seem to be a pair of significant questions about American mass culture: why did the Jews take control of the motion picture industry in its earliest days; and how did that fact shape their creations and the culture they influenced? For its uniqueness, its thoroughness in investigating the relationships of the early film moguls to their religious heritage, and its wealth of detail regarding their lives, I applaud it. I find myself, however, yearning for a second book, or a revised edition, for this first exploration leaves much untouched.
Neal Gabler states early on that the moguls' vision of "America" shaped not only the fictional realities of their films but the reality of America itself, in that it was through Hollywood that we developed much of our self-image. Apart from passing mentions, however, such as noting that our later vision of a lost, small-town America was largely shaped by memories of the Andy Hardy series beloved by Louis B. Mayer, he does not develop that important thread.
There are also a few frustrating narrative lapses that set me to reviewing the index to see if I'd missed something (which I hadn't). The author leads us through the story of Paramount's Adolph Zukor, whom he presents as perhaps the most important and emblematic of the moguls, to a point at which Zukor is poised to seize a commanding role in the national distribution of films. Gabler then cuts away, and when we return to Zukor we find that his expansionist efforts have failed and his position at the studio is now in jeopardy, though we are not shown how.
I recommend this as a fascinating beginning to an exploration. I hope there will be more books like it to develop the story further. Perhaps, in time, we will even see books that will treat the same questions with regard to popular music, comedy, and other fields so shaped by the Jewish people.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert Wellen on December 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gabler's book took me a while to get through (mostly since I read it before going to bed and I was always exhausted), but was worth the journey. Gabler writes vividly (with constant analysis) of the who and the WHY of early Hollywood. He deals with their stories, motives, and dreams. It is a fascinating history and social history--for those into religion and cinema. It gets a bit long at the end--the Red Scare seems to go on forever and confusing, but worth the trip. Gabler sheds light an important part of history. Thanks, Neal.
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