Archival Spaces 285
Vienna in Hollywood Symposium
Uploaded 24 December 2021
Two weeks ago I attended and was a speaker at the Symposium, “Vienna in Hollywood. The Influence and Impact of Austrians on the Hollywood Film Industry 1920s – 2020s.” The event was hosted by the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, USC Libraries, USC’s Max Kade Institute, and the Austrian Consulate General of Los Angeles and was the first event of its kind staged by the new Museum. Friday, 10 December was hosted by the Doheny Memorial Library at USC, while Saturday 11 December took place in the Museum’s beautiful new downstairs screening room. Unfortunately, due to COVID, a number of the speakers coming from Europe could not attend in person and presented their work via Zoom, including the first speaker.
After the usual opening addresses by the organizers, the morning sessions began with Katherine Prager (Vienna City Library) who discussed “The Vienna Circles in Hollywood.” Beginning with the circle around the critic Karl Kraus and theatre/film director Bertold Viertel, she not only elaborated on the many intellectual circles of Vienna, none of which survived intact in America, but also described the Vienna Library’s extensive holdings of estate collections and correspondence. Next, Paul Lerner (USC) introduced the audience to the psychoanalyst (and possible charlatan) Fred Hacker, whose Topeka Menninger Clinic hosted numerous Freudian psychiatrists from Vienna en route to Los Angeles. Lerner also delved into the influence of psychiatry on Hollywood, e.g. that Marilyn Monroe on the advice of her psychiatrist turned down the role of Anna Freud in John Huston’s Freud (1962) or that producer Joseph Mankiewicz’s whole family was in analysis. The morning session ended with Frank Stern (U. Vienna) discussing the early German films of Hedy Kiesler, aka Hedy Lamarr, who apparently caused a mini-scandal with her film Man braucht kein Geld (1931,) before her worldwide scandal with Extase / Ecstasy (1933).
Two philological papers followed after lunch. Jacqueline Vansant (U. Michigan) discussed the image of Kaiser Franz Joseph in Hollywood films of the 1930s/40s, while Lisa Silverman (U. Wisconsin) looked at Billy Wilder’s Heimatfilm, The Emperor Waltz (1948), both papers noting Hollywood’s benevolent view of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, despite Austria’s complicity in the Holocaust. In the same vein, Anjeana Hans (Wellesley) analyzed via Zoom American studio remakes of Franziska Gaal’s independent Austrian films, including Koster’s Spring Parade (1940). While Robert Dassanowsky (U. Colorado) made a case for a failed Hollywood-Vienna film agreement in 1936, Regina Range read letters by Vicki Baum, Salka Viertel, and Gina Kaus concerning their impressions of Los Angeles, and, finally, Donna Rifkind recreated the atmosphere in the house of Salka Viertel and her famous Santa Monica Salon.
Day two at the Academy began with Noah Isenberg’s keynote, in which he explicated the Austro-German origins of Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), as well as its naughty phallocentric jokes, punctuated by numerous film clips. Next, Todd Herzog’s (U. Cincinnati) gave a close reading of Joseph von Sternberg’s Austrian war/spy melodrama starring Marlene Dietrich, Dishonored (1931), while Andreas-Benjamin Seyfert (UCLA) and I reviewed the Hollywood career of film director William Thiele.
After lunch, Patricia Allmer (U. Edinburgh) introduced the work of Hollywood specialty dancer Tilly Losch, who had memorable scenes in The Garden of Allah (1936) and Duel in the Sun (1945), but few other Hollywood roles, pursuing instead a career in painting. The next panel was dedicated to composers: Steven C. Smith on Max Steiner, Nobuko Nakamura (U. Vienna) via Zoom on Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Heather Moore (USC) on Hanns Eisler. Steiner was of course one of the most prolific and successful Viennese composers in Hollywood, while Korngold despite Hollywood success regretted that his serious music was not acknowledged by American music critics. Co-Curator of the event, Doris Berger concluded the day with a panel of Austrians working in Hollywood today.
A nitrate film screening of Casablanca (1942), brought the symposium to its conclusion, adding an artistic dimension to the proceedings, just as had Isa Rosenberger’s MTV short, “Café Vienne: Dedicated to Gina Kaus,” and Christine Wieder and Klaudija Sabo’s documentary RoughCut: Vienna Exile Below the Line.
Everyone was in agreement that the symposium was very well-organized and featured excellent hospitality. As is always the case with such symposia, the presentations were a mixed bag, both methodologically and qualitatively, some announcing one topic, then discussing another, some stringently academic others anecdotal; one speaker managed to misspell the names of all three directors whose documentary films they were discussing. Nevertheless, this was an excellent start to the Academy Museum’s extracurricular programming and one hopes they will be encouraged to host other symposia in future.