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You bet they do - and what of it?

By Ben Stein

[reproduced from the E! Online Homepage. Originally posted at the URL http://www.eonline.com/Features/Specials/Jews/ - the document has now been removed]

 

"Hollywood is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews - and they should have a greater sensitivity about the issue of people who are suffering. Because...we have seen...the greaseball, we've seen the Chink, we've seen the slit-eyed dangerous Jap, we have seen the wily Filipino, we've seen everything but we never saw the kike. Because they knew perfectly well, that that is where you draw the [line]."
- Brando on Larry King Live

A few days after Marlon Brando scandalized the airwaves by referring to the Jews who worked in Hollywood as "kikes," I got a call from an editor at 60 Minutes. The woman wanted to know how I felt about Brando's use of words and his allegation that Hollywood is "run by Jews."

She suggested the desired answer by noting that her researchers had conclusively proven that Jews do not run Hollywood.

Crafty 60 Minutes had studied the top slots in town. Their research showed that "only" about 60 percent of the most important positions in Hollywood were run by Jews. What did I think?

I managed to disqualify myself by saying that while Hollywood was not really "run" by anyone (it's far too chaotic for that), if Jews were about 2.5 percent of the population and were about 60 percent of Hollywood, they might well be said to be extremely predominant in that sector.

That was far too logical and un-PC an answer, and I never heard from her again.

But Jews are a big part of my thoughts (as they are of every Jew's thoughts). Plus, I live and struggle in Hollywood, so the combination intrigues me. What exactly is the role of the Jew in Hollywood? More to the point, what does it signify, if anything, if Jews have a big role? And, most interesting of all, why do we care?

First, it is extremely clear to anyone in Hollywood that Jews are, so to speak, "in charge" in Hollywood in a way that is not duplicated in any other large business, except maybe garments or scrap metal or folding boxes.

At mighty Paramount, the controlling stockholder is Sumner Redstone. Head of the studio is Jon Dolgen. Head of production is Sherry Lansing - all members of the tribe.

At titanic Disney, the CEO is Michael Eisner, the world's most assimilated Jew, who might as well be a Presbyterian. Deputy head is Michael Ovitz, karate champ but also a Jew. Head of the studio is Joe Roth.

At newly energized ICM, the top dogs are Jeff Berg and Jim Wiatt. At still overwhelming CAA, Jack Rapke and other members of my faith predominate. At William Morris, Jon Burnham and other Jews are, by and large, in the power positions.

This has always been true in Hollywood. The ex-furriers who created Hollywood were Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and all of the great edifice of fantasy-making in Hollywood is their handiwork. Names like Zukor and Lasky and Goldwyn and Cohn are the foundation of mass culture in America and the world.

There is a much quoted note that it took all these Eastern European Yiddish-speaking Jews to create the lasting, worldwide image of America and what America is - the mass culture mirror that America likes to hold up to its face.

This thought is made concrete by the simple line at the beginning of Gone with the Wind that it is "A David O. Selznick Production." It took a Selznick, married to the daughter of a Louis B. Mayer, working with a Thalberg, to create the ultimate vision of romantic America - the antebellum South.

It took a Jew - Leslie Howard - to play Ashley Wilkes, the bedrock image of what a perfect American gentleman is supposed to be.

Thus, the fact of Hollywood's being very largely Jewish is not exactly news. The news is that Hollywood is rapidly becoming ethnically far more diverse than it was only a couple of decades ago, when I first arrived here.

You can take it from the studio level, where probably the most powerful man in town is of the Australian faith - one Rupert Murdoch by name. Murdoch, no one's idea of a Jew, controls a major studio, a major broadcast network and the largest aggregation of TV stations in America.

The head of programming at ABC is a full-on gentile, Ted Harbert. The owner and head of production of what has become the Tiffany studio, MGM, are Kirk Kerkorian and Frank Mancuso, also not members of Temple Israel. And on and on.

It is certainly true that there have always been goyim in Hollywood.

But there are more gentiles in the Industry now, and there has formed a whole new route to Hollywood.

No longer do young men and women work their way up solely by being mailroom clerks or nephews of producers or offspring of men in the linen-supply business.

The standard route to Hollywood now is through Harvard and Yale. Sitcom writers and producers, movie scriptwriters and producers now come from the Ivy League far more than from the streets of Brooklyn. Most of the writing staff of the powerhouse Seinfeld is from the Harvard Lampoon.

So are many of the writers on Married...with Children, Friends and other stalwarts of the box. The route from Harvard Square to Hollywood is now hallowed by success and money. In fact, the agencies now beg and plead for Harvard Lampoon grads the way they once cried for the writers of The Jack Benny Radio Program.

This change from borscht-belt origins to the halls of Harvard as a prime source of writing talent in Hollywood is a quantum shift. Many of the Harvard and Yale alums are, to be sure, Jews, but many are not.

Now, this is interesting to those of us who work here. But it is of no significance at all to the 99.9 percent of Americans who do not.

The only possible significance of whether Hollywood is run by Jews or not must have to do with whether or not the product comes out "Jewish," or in some way different from the way it would if it were made solely by gentiles.

Really, the point is even a little uglier than that. The only real reason why the question of whether Jews "run" Hollywood is at all interesting is because there is some residual thought - apparently as was in the mind of Marlon Brando - that Jews are sinister and alien.

Kike is a low Polish word meaning the nastiest, most alien connotation of Jew. That would mean that the Jewish product of Jewish Hollywood would be somehow subversive in some way. This would be akin to Wagner's notion that Jews had polluted and ruined German music with their innately subversive sensibility.

This is a thought so bizarre and even comical to anyone familiar with Hollywood that it merits laughter more than fear. Yes, of course, the Hollywood product is made mostly by Jews. But these Jews are in love with America.

These are Jews who want to play polo, not davvinn in shul. These are Jews whose children play soccer and learn horseback riding in Malibu.

These Jews, as soon as they have two million to rub together, buy farms in South Carolina (Joel Silver) or vast spreads in Colorado (Peter Guber).

It was the Jews of the '30s and '40s who gave us the vision of America the Good, where money did not count - only goodness. Think of the works of William Wyler (maker of the ultimate pro-American heartstrings movie, The Best Years of Our Lives), or of MGM and its celebration of the swinging good life of Ginger and Fred.

Where does the idea come from of the perfect American family, occasionally quarreling mildly but ultimately working it all out in love and affection? From Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver and I Love Lucy, with their largely Jewish writers and producers.

Where does the idea come from that parents and children, as polarized as they might be, will ultimately love each other? From Norman Lear and his factory for grinding out funny and touching affirmations of domestic life in America.

Where does the idea that blacks can be funny and endearing as millionaires and not just as servants and wide-eyed fools fleeing ghosts? Again, from Norman Lear and The Jeffersons.

Hollywood's current product occasionally repels and even sickens me. I am truly disgusted with its language, its violence, its endless attacks on businessmen and military officers. (On the other hand, it never can attack the CIA enough for me.)

But these are eddies and ripples in the vast tide of Hollywood messages that encourage and hearten us in our daily struggle.

Many Americans get this message far more from Hollywood than from worship, and these are by no means subversive messages.

So now, as the shrinks say, we may perhaps to begin.

If any overall view of the Hollywood product shows it has been a wholesome influence on American life, why is Hollywood itself still so not trusted?

Why can a Marlon Brando attack it so explicitly for its Jewishness and a Dan Quayle and even a Bob Dole and even a Bill Clinton attack it on an ongoing basis for its alleged sinister quality?

I marvel that when people criticize the auto industry for making trucks that catch fire when they are struck and cars that turn over on a turn, no one ever says "the gentile auto industry." No one calls the pharmaceutical industry sinister or attacks it as alien even though it turns out a lot of pills that addict people.

As far as I can recall, Hollywood, and only Hollywood, gets the treatment as being somehow sinister and alien.

Other industries are bad - like big tobacco - but only Hollywood is un-American, even though its product kills a lot fewer Americans.

It's hard to resist the thought that there are only two explanations for this:

- Envy. Life in Hollywood is thought to be fun, well-paid, glamorous and sexy. Naturally, many people sitting in cheerless offices in D.C. or elsewhere want to be in the seat where the mighty of Hollywood sit. Because they have no idea of how to get there, they express envy and criticism of the people who are there.

- Plain old primitive anti-Semitism. About two years ago, as I was having lunch at the Spokane airport, an obviously somewhat off waitress recognized me from my modest acting work and said she had once seen "that Jewish woman with the big nose and the great voice" and did I know her?

"Do you mean Barbra Streisand?" I asked.

Without missing a beat, she asked, "Say, do the Japanese control Hollywood, or do you people still run it?"

It's fear and racism at that level that motivates the issue of Hollywood as sinister and alien. Maybe it's so basic when it comes to Jews that it just will never go away. Or maybe it will take so long to go away that Hollywood will be Korean by then.

For now, Hollywood, in many ways the most successful cultural enterprise of all time and the most potent messenger of American values of all time, is changing, but it is still largely Jewish. And a very angry voice in my curly head makes me add, "What the hell of it?"

 


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