Did The Nazis Really Invest In Hollywood? 'The Last Tycoon' Explores A Historical Controversy
A modern take on the intrigue of classic Hollywood, Amazon's period drama The Last Tycoon premiered July 28. The show takes a behind-the-scenes look at the kinds of deals aspiring artists made with studio executives when Hollywood was still the wild west of the entertainment industry. While many of these deals involve something as simple as trading favors for roles or the social politics of picking certain screenwriters over others, The Last Tycoon implies that there were larger political forces interested in the business. One of the major subplots in The Last Tycoon shows the Nazis investing in Hollywood. The prospect may seem too absurd to be real, but some historians believe that studios really were taking money from Hitler's party.
The Nazis were well-versed in propaganda, and Hitler reportedly identified Hollywood as a useful tool for advancing his own interests. According to an excerpt from a book called The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler published by The Hollywood Reporter, the rising dictator wanted to promote the party's own pieces of film propaganda and ensure that films that carried anti-Nazi messages did not see the light of day. Any funded film that the party objected to would have to be edited to satisfy German powers. This also included making studios cancel any films that may promote empathy for the types of people the Nazis wished to snuff out. This is why The Last Tycoon's protagonist, Monroe Stahr, takes a stand against German forces in Hollywood. When they force his studio to pull the plug on a biopic about his late Irish-immigrant wife, he starts planning to make a film powerful enough to topple their empire.
Ben Urwand's 2013 book suggests that the collaborations between Nazis and Hollywood executives portrayed in The Last Tycoon were not only real, but common occurrences. In the '30s, The Collaboration attests, the German film market was the second-largest in the world next to America, meaning that films could risk losing a great deal of money if they didn't succeed in Germany. The Nazis recognized this and threatened to prevent American films from entering Germany unless they made edits in favor of portraying the Nazis in a positive light.
In a piece Urwand wrote for The Telegraph, he claims that entire scripts and films were scrapped, including a script entitled The Mad Dog Of Europe and another entitled Three Comrades, the latter written by The Last Tycoon author F. Scott Fitzgerald, which targeted and criticized the Nazi Party and Germany. American Dream, the fictional movie teased in The Last Tycoon, is similarly shut down. Monroe's crusade to stand up to those who wish to suppress artistic protest is what sets off the events of The Last Tycoon, but in reality no one person stopped the Nazi influence over Hollywood. The only thing that changed this relationship was the end of World War II.
The truth of some of Urwand's claims are still disputed. The New Yorker's David Denby told the BBC he considers The Collaboration "a disgrace." Brandeis University historian Thomas Doherty called it "slanderous and ahistorical." Urwand himself responded, "Any claims I make are based on archival materials. Everything in my book is documented."
Whether you believe the truth of them or not, these documentations serve as the basis for one of the most chilling elements of The Last Tycoon.