The Golden Age of Hollywood, What and Who Will be Remembered! Richard J. Garfunkel May 14, 2020

From 1920 through 1940 was probably considered Hollywood’s Golden Age. In the early part of this era, Hollywood had come of age with the change from dominance of the Director, to that of the Star. The early films were dominated by directors from DW Griffith to stage directors from the theater to foreigners, like Erich von Stroheim (in actuality, his name was Erich Oswald Stroheim, and he was Jewish and not a Junker), who’s masterpiece was Greed and others as Joseph von Sternberg to the great comic directors Max Sennett and Charlie Chaplin.

The Hollywood Moguls, who ran the major studios: MGM, Paramount, Columbia, and Warner Brothers, went through a consolidation period and by the mid to late 20’s their ownership was securely in place. People like Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Adolph Zuckor, and Harry Cohn, became household names. Other competitors would come into the business like United Artists, as stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, the lighting personnel and all the others. Of course, beyond Chaplin, Pickford and Fairbanks there was the concerted effort to import Europeans to Hollywood, The greatest of those, Charlie Chaplin, along with film producer and director, DW Griffith decided to make their own movies. Smaller firms would eventually emerge like RKO, Universal, International along with independent producers; the most notable being Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer’s son in law, David O. Selznick of Gone With the Wind fame. Eventually the last big player to emerge was 20th Century-Fox.

Thus, the Golden Age went from the dominance of the Director to the rise of the Hollywood Star. The studios decided to make stars of actors, sign them to long-term contracts and use them as they wished. In this way, they had much greater control of their industry. The Director became a hired hand, just like the writers, and all the other components of making films, from the camera operators, to the film editors, was Rudolf Valentino, and others like Vilma Banky, and Ramon Navarro. In the same vein, other American stars of that era were Buster Keaton, John Barrymore, Lon Chaney, and Lilian Gish. Eventually, one star would preempt and eclipse all the others, foreign and native born, Greta Garbo. She would be a major star in both eras of the Golden Age.

As the Silent Era basically ended in 1927 with The Jazz Singer, and its dynamic star Al Jolson. The Sound Era, of Talking Pictures would kill off almost all the great stars of the silent era, including the Gish sisters, Mary Pickford, Fairbanks, Navarro (Valentino had died in 1926 at age 31), John Gilbert, Lon Chaney and many, many others, who were unable to have the proper speaking voice, unable to read lines, or had heavy foreign accents. The ones who remained were mostly stage actors, with great voices like Ronald Colman, John Barrymore, Leslie Howard, and others who were able to speak well and deliver their lines, like Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Mary Astor, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Carol Lombard, William Powell, and Boris Karloff.

Thus, the Golden Era of twenty years could be divided into two distinct eras; 1920 to 1929 and 1930 to 1940, when WWII started to change the whole dynamic of Hollywood. In the latter era scores of Jewish and other European refugees flocked to both America and Hollywood.

The beginning of the New Age and thus the eventual decline of Hollywood and the studio system would probably have begun with Casablanca which featured mostly foreign actors, aside from the main star, Humphrey Bogart, which included; Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Sidney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, and European refugees: most notably, Madeleine Lebeau, Leonid Kinsley, Curt Bois, SZ Sakall, Marcel Dalio, Ludwig Stossel, Wolfgang Zilzer and their Director, Michael Curtiz ( a Hungarian Jew, born Mano Kaminer).

Historically, the most profitable era of Hollywood’s Golden Age expanded exponentially as the talking movies emerged in the period from 1928 through 1930. The Hollywood studios also began to build and buy up the existing inventory of movie theaters. This allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of “in-house” outlets for immediate distribution of films. But, in the postwar era that would change dramatically. Eventually United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.,(1948) (also known as the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948,) a landmark United States Supreme Court antitrust case decided the fate of film studios owning their own theatres and holding exclusivity rights on which theatres would show their movies. It would also change the way Hollywood movies were produced, distributed, and exhibited. The Supreme Court affirmed (a District Court’s ruling) in this case that the existing distribution scheme was in violation of the United States antitrust law, which prohibit certain exclusive dealing arrangements. In plain language, the studios were force to sell the theaters.

The case is important both in U.S. antitrust law and film history. In the former, it remains a landmark decision in vertical integration cases; in the latter, it is responsible for putting an end to the old Hollywood studio system. Another earlier ruling, emerged from the contractual system used universally in Hollywood. Industry lawyers in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s took the position that an exclusive personal services contract should be treated as suspended during the periods when the artist was not actually working. Since no artist could be working every single day (that is, including holidays and weekends), this interpretation meant that two, or later seven, years of actual service would be spread over a much longer calendar period, thus extending the time during which the studio system had complete control of a young artist’s career.

In response, actress Olivia de Havilland filed a lawsuit on August 23, 1943 against Warner Bros. which was backed by the Screen Actors Guild. The lawsuit resulted in a landmark decision of the California Court of Appeal for the Second District in De Havilland’s favor on December 8, 1944. In a unanimous opinion signed by Justice Clement Lawrence Shinn, the three-justice panel adopted the common sense view that seven years from the commencement of service means seven calendar years. Since De Havilland had started performance under her Warner annual contract on May 5, 1936 (which had been renewed six times pursuant to its terms since then), and seven calendar years had elapsed from that date, the contract was no longer enforceable and she was free to seek projects with other studios.

Another earlier case served to erode the almighty power of the studios. Bette Davis, a major star under contract to Warner Brothers, was unhappy with the type of pictures she was forced to make by the studio. She also felt that to advance in her career meant being offered good scripts with talented directors. However, in the studio era of Hollywood, actors had very little control about what films they were offered. In 1936, she left in protest and went to England on a two film deal. The studio, however, procured an injunction against her for having left the States to do films in England. She fought back by taking them to court. Unfortunately, she lost the battle — yet, all the more remarkably, rather than being blackballed by the studio, from then on she started getting the kind of parts she felt she deserved. The power of the studios wasn’t broken, but the ability of major stars to balk at what they were assigned, go into voluntary retirement, for a time, or create adverse headlines, started the erosion of studio power.

As this Golden Age continues to fade into the past, movies made before WWII are now over 80 years old. The original audiences for those films are mostly gone, and the generation of their children is aging quickly. Most of the Baby Boomers who were born right after WWII and grew up with those movies and the star system, are in their 70s. Their grandchildren will be mature almost 100 years after the start of WWII. With that in mind, will this generation care about these movies?

What then will be the memorable films that this new generation watches? Will they ignore almost all the black and white films? Will they reject the films that showed American Blacks, Italians and other ethnics in deprecating roles? What will their feelings be about the films which ignored the reality of the rise of fascism in Europe? Almost all the studios ignored the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany and the abuse of their Jewish population, except Warner Brothers. Even the mere mention of Jews being victims in Germany were removed from films like, Mr Skeffington. Great films like, Gone With the Wind along with others about the antebellum era like, Jezebel, The Little Foxes, The Little Rebel, Young Abe Lincoln, Showboat seem to have denigrated the incredible abuse and brutality of slavery. In fact, it basically ignored one of the greatest crimes in history. Almost all the roles in Hollywood offered to Black Americans were in subservient roles, as: maids, servants, street cleaners, porters, etc. In truth, those were the jobs that most Blacks were allowed to have. They weren’t the only groups who were stereotyped.

Of course, there were many great films in that era, which culminated in their most memorable year, 1939, with pictures like the afore mentioned Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory, Gunga Din, Ninotchka, and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Many of these same films are still quite enjoyable, certainly well made, and to a degree, relevant. As for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it was an enjoyable film that was hardly realistic, but it certainly sent a message. Let us not forget that in 1938, and other years there were some wonderful films, but are they really relevant to audiences 80 to100 years distant, in the 21st Century? Are they mostly a stylized, unrealistic, and romantic view of life in America, which distorted the world as it really existed? As WWII changed the reality of thinking around the world, one very stark, and realistic Hollywood film, The Grapes of Wrath, released in in 1940, comes to mind. No other film of that period so graphically illustrated the desperation of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that devastated Oklahoma and the heartland of America.

There have been countless books on that era and the major films from the beginning of the modern era of movies until our entry into WWII. Of course, not long after this Era started to wane, two films came forward that are widely accepted as the best of the best, Citizen Kane (1941) and Casablanca (1942). Both films were quite different from each other. One, Citizen Kane, came from a complete upstart and newcomer to Hollywood, the Boy Genius, Orson Welles. The other, Casablanca, was a pure creature of the studio system from Warner Brothers. No two films of that Era could be so completely different. As for Casablanca, it was dominated by stars with a remarkable cast, bolstered by scores of European refugees. It created a character in Humphrey Bogart, which had been evolving from the Maltese Falcon and High Sierra, both released in 1941. He became the prototype of an anti-hero, the cynical, tough, vulnerable, world-weary, character whose honesty and personal motives were ones to be questioned. After Casablanca, and with over twenty years’ experience as an actor, he would become, at age forty-three, the most enduring star of the postwar era and the 2nd half of the 20th Century. As for the Citizen Kane, its creator and major star, Orson Welles, at age 25, was truly a wunderkind. But, no matter how interesting and brilliant he was, he would never reach that same level of artistic and dramatic achievement and notoriety. By the way, Citizen Kane was made outside the major studios on the lots of RKO Pictures.

As for the stars of the 2nd half of the Golden Era, the ones who come to mind, who I think will be remembered are; Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire. There are some other marvelous stars, which include, Paul Muni, Frederic March, Ronald Colman, Leslie Howard, Gary Cooper, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Carol Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Gary Grant, Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Olivia De Havilland, Joan Crawford, and John Barrymore. Interestingly, a star of the later 1940s and the 1950’s, Gene Kelly, has stated, that in the future, only Fred Astaire will be remembered. He may have a point.

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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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