The Last Tycoon explores the dark history of Hollywood by combining a fictional story with real-life characters. The main characters of the series, including Monroe Stahr (Matt Bomer) and Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer), are fictional, but find themselves clashing with individuals from history. The most prominent real-life figure in The Last Tycoon is Georg Gyssling (played by Michael Siberry), but even the most learned classic Hollywood buffs may not recognize that name. But Gyssling's mission in Hollywood has a major impact on The Last Tycoon and also impacted the industry the show is dramatizing.
Gyssling is mentioned in the book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler by Ben Urwand as a key figure in the supposed collaboration between major Hollywood studios and leaders in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party. The Last Tycoon shows Monroe butting heads with studio executives who are actively suppressing films that may have an anti-Nazi message to them.
The Gyssling character seen in The Last Tycoon, however, also believes that films that are pro-immigrant or portray Jewish characters positively are also a great risk to Hitler's party. In the show, Gyssling seems to have a great deal of power and influence over Hollywood, but why would so many Hollywood executives listen to him? As Pat Brady says in the pilot episode "You cannot have art without commerce", and Germany apparently came with cash.
Urwand's book details an intimate relationship between Nazis and executives who were interested in having their films screened in Germany. The writer claims that Germany had one of the most profitable movie markets in the world, and having a film banned from Germany meant that studios were facing a significant loss of profit. Urwand believes that Gyssling was the man whose sole duty was to police Hollywood and decide which films were and were not welcome in Germany.
According to Urwand, Gyssling forced multiple studios to alter their films to seem more sympathetic to Nazi powers. In a piece for The Telegraph, he alleges that Gyssling asked Warner Brothers to "not use the word 'Jew' in a speech" that expressed sympathy for a Jewish character. If any films popped up that were anti-Nazi by design, this man supposedly pushed the studios to shut down production and keep them from getting made in the first place. It's assumed that the version of Gyssling seen in The Last Tycoon shut down multiple films in the past, and has now made a major enemy by shutting down Monroe's passion project, American Dream.
While Gyssling is a major figure in Urwand's version of events, multiple historians have disputed the author's claims. Thomas Doherty wrote that Uwrand's claims are "slanderous and ahistorical", and David Denby of The New Yorker argued:
"That a man like Georg Gyssling was allowed past the front gate of an American film studio is a disgrace, and Urwand deserves credit for bringing his role out of obscurity. But the charge of 'collaboration' is inaccurate and unfair — a case of scholarly sensationalism."
While Gyssling was a very real figure who showed up in Hollywood, the depiction of him in this Netflix drama may not be completely accurate. Whatever Gyssling's true level of influence was, his much debated history makes him an ideal antagonist for The Last Tycoon.