Hollywood and Broadway: Great Jewish Inventions

Jews are credited with an astoundingly long list of inventions, from the Polio vaccine to psychoanalysis. Last October, I posted on the BJN my own list of Jewish inventions, compiled as part of MoVeRs: Jewish Maverick, Visionaries and Rebels, to illustrate the incredible impact of Jewish inventiveness. (When you Google “Jewish inventions” my list (on Boulder Jewish News) is the third entry. How cool is that?)

Easily the most popular Jewish invention is the weekend. Think about it. Without Moses, we’d all still be working seven days a week. But my own personal favorite Jewish invention is Hollywood. Now there’s something to be proud of.

If you don’t believe Jews invented Hollywood, don’t take my word for it. Join us on Sunday, October 3 at 7 pm at the Boulder JCC for a screening of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” a documentary based on a book of the same title by Neal Gabler.

The film contemplates the fundamental irony of Hollywood in the early half of the 20th century, when movies that portrayed core American values and ideas were created by Jews who themselves did not fit the American ideal their films so aptly depicted. While Jewish moguls such as Paramount’s Adolph Zucker, MGM’s Louis B. Mayer and Universal’s Carl Laemmle held a virtual monopoly on Hollywood, they themselves felt that they did not fit into the American mainstream. This fascinating documentary about a group of immigrants who reinvented American culture features never-before-seen home movies, extensive clips and interviews with the Jewish studio executives, theater owners, producers, writers, lawyers and talent agents who controlled the American film industry until shortly after WW II.

Tickets are $8 and are available at the door, or by calling Kathryn at 303-998-1021, or emailing kathryn@boulderjcc.org.

Jews also were pioneers of musical theater in this same period, and dominated Broadway to an amazing extent. Andrea Most is author of the book, “Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical, ” which outlined the role Jews played in the creation and popularization of this American art form. Most, a professor at the University of Toronto, will be in Boulder on Saturday, October 2, at 7:30 pm speaking on a related topic: “Theatrical Liberalism: The Backstage Musical as Secular Judaism.” Her talk at is at First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St; suggested donation $10 at the

Most is the keynote speaker at a three-day conference organized by CU’s American Music Research Center, and co-sponsored by Movers: Do You Speak Jewish? The topic is “Classic Broadway and Those Who Built It: Theatrical Work of American Jews, African Americans, and First Generation Immigrants in the 20th Century.” Leading scholars in a variety of disciplines will present papers and lead discussions.

Because 2010 marks the centenary of Broadway composer Frank Loesser’s birth (1910-1969), special emphasis is being placed on the decade between his two classic shows, Guys and Dolls (1950) and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1961). A benefit dinner concert consisting of a medley of Loesser songs performed by the resident professional cast of Boulder’s Dinner Theater takes place Monday, October 4. Jo Sullivan Loesser, Frank’s widow and a celebrated Broadway singer herself, will be on hand to participate in the celebration.

Click here for more information, visit http://music.colorado.edu/departments/amrc/events.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn has spent her professional life writing about, teaching, and presenting the arts. Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Kathryn was Director of Menorah and ACE at the Boulder JCC from 2003 through August, 2019. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time." kathryn.bernheimer@gmail.com

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