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Chronicles of Hollywood, Immigrants Coming to California Museum

When history meets Hollywood, it tends to remain within the constraints of a two hour film screening. However, “Light & Noir: Exiles & Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950,” will bring Hollywood’s Golden Age to the California Museum, between May 16 and Oct. 15, in a unique experience for history and film buffs to delve into.

Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center, in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the exhibit seeks to explore over a dozen films, which highlight the experiences of German-speaking exiles, most often of Jewish decent. Through a collection of original costumes, furniture props, film clips, posters, portraits and original immigration documents, the stories will come alive within the exhibit.

“Learning the stories of the people behind these movie classics that we all know and love reveals the films in a fascinating new light,” said Museum Executive Director Amanda Meeker. “It is a perennially relevant story that shows how exiled outsiders became Hollywood insiders, bringing a sensibility to filmmaking at once tragic and comic.”

One such example manifolds in the stories of actors Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre who both fled from Nazi Germany shortly before starring in the classic picture, “Casablanca.” In addition, director Michael Curtiz and composer Max Steiner were both living in exile at the time of filming the Humphrey Bogart classic, considered an ultimate example of the exile film.

In fact, the exhibit and its study of time, highlight the specific contributions Jewish immigrants made to four distinct film genres: exile film, anti-Nazi film, film noir and comedies. Moreover, historical examples of anti-Semitism in America will be on display, while also exploring America’s anti-communist materials in documentary footage.

Following the immigrant struggles and triumphs of directors Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann; composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Waxman; writers Salka Viertel and Lion Feuchtwanger, among many more, the exhibit welcomes guests into the stories often overshadowed by the films themselves.

For more information on “Light and Noir: Exiles & Emigres in Hollywood, 1933-1950,” visit CaliforniaMuseum.org/light-noir.

Become a member at any level by May 5 to attend the “Light & Noir Members’ Premiere Party” on May 10. Learn more at CaliforniaMuseum.org/noir-premiere.

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About the author

Cesar Alexander

Cesar Alexander

Cesar Alexander is assistant editor for Sacramento Press. A native to California, he enjoys writing and discovering the varieties of art, live music, nature and everyday wonders the Sacramento region has to offer.

  • Brendan Carroll

    I am delighted that this exhibition will open shortly. However I hope you won’t mind if I correct a couple of things in your splendid article, regarding Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre. Henreid was Austrian and did not flee Nazi Germany just prior to making CASABLANCA. He actually left Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938 and moved to London where he made several films, before deciding to relocate to Hollywood once the Nazi Blitzkrieg began to destroy large parts of London and effectively shut down British film studios. He arrived in 1941 and his first US film was NOW VOYAGER (opposite Bette Davis). As for Lorre, he was actually a Hungarian Jew who shot to fame in Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M as a notorious child murderer. He too emigrated with Hitler’s rise in 1933, first to Paris where he shared a cheap apartment with Billy Wilder and Franz Waxman and then (unable to find work in Paris) to Britain, where he appeared in Hitchcock’s first version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1934, before moving to Hollywood where he was resident from 1935. His first American film was Josef von Sternberg’s fine – but now forgotten – screen version of Dostoyevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, in which Lorre was a very memorable Raskolnikov.

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