Past Event

Lecture by Steven J. Ross

March 27, 2022
3:30 PM - 5:30 PM
Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room, Lenfest Center for the Arts 615 W. 129 St., New York, NY 10027

"Kill the Hollywood Jews: The Prewar Origins of Film Noir"

For many Hollywood studio heads, producers, and writers, the postwar sense of dread, of criminality unpunished, and of corrupt or indifferent cops that came to characterize the postwar film noir genre was borne out of prewar experiences with Nazis, fascists, and government authorities in 1930s-1940s Los Angeles. Indeed, no film noir crime drama rivaled the real-life threats faced by Hollywood Jews in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

When Nazi death plots and plans to blow up nearby military installations were ignored by local and federal authorities, Hollywood Jews responded by secretly funding a spy ring that operated from August 1933 until the end of WWII.  

It was a good thing they did, for their spies uncovered a series of death plots aimed at attracting international attention to the Nazi cause and sparking a wave of deadly pogroms throughout America. Their most nefarious plot involved blowing up the homes of 24 of Hollywood's most famous figures: 22 industry Jews (including Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Paul Muni, Eddie Cantor, B.P. Schulberg) and two Christian movie stars known to be too friendly to Jews, Charlie Chaplin and James Cagney, who spoke fluent Yiddish.  

In this lecture, Steven J. Ross will argue that the dark cynicism and sense of corruption that characterized film noir came in part from the additional discovery that Nazi and fascist plotters were aided by members of the LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s Department. 

Steven J. Ross headshot

About Steven J. Ross

Steven J. Ross is Professor of History at the University of Southern California and director of the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life. His most recent book, Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America, was selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History for 2018 and received the Richard Wall Memorial Award given by the Theatre Library Association for 2018; it has also been on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List for 21 weeks. His previous book, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Film Scholars Award and was selected by the New York Times Book Review as a “Recommended Summer Readings” for 2012. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America received the Theater Library Association Book Award for 1999 and was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Best Books of 1998.”

Ross’ op-ed pieces have appeared in the Los Angeles TimesWall Street JournalWashington PostTimeInternational Herald-TribuneHollywood ReporterPoliticoHuffington Post, and Daily Beast. He has lectured throughout the U.S. as well as in London, Paris, Sydney, Auckland, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. Steve’s work on movie stars and politics has also led to appearances on programs broadcast on U.S., Canadian, British, French, Swiss, German, and Australian television—as well as numerous documentaries about Hollywood.