Program Details

Coming to Terms: Hollywood's Unease With Its Jewish Self

Kurt F. Stone

Course Description

As just about any film buff knows, with one exception (Twentieth Century's Darryl F. Zanuck), all the major Hollywood studios were created by Jewish men who hailed from Eastern Europe. And yet, such giants as Mayer, Goldwyn, Cohen (Columbia), Zukor (Paramount), Warner and Laemlle (Universal) rarely, if ever, made films with recognizable Jewish themes or obviously Jewish characters. Why this is can be endlessly debated. And yet, when they did make a "Jewish film," it often didn't even star a Jewish actor or actress. In the post-war years, the "new" Hollywood began turning out more and more films with Jewish characters and obviously Jewish actors. Again, why this became so is a topic for discussion and debate. In this course, participants will watch four movies ranging from 1927 to 1942 and see the how producers and directors began coming to terms with their Jewishness in the films they made.


  1. The Jazz Singer (1927): Al Jolson, May McAvoy; a cantor’son defies Jewish tradition and fulfills his dream of becoming a jazz singer.  A movie that utter changed the world of film.
  2. Symphony of Six Million (1932) - Ricardo Cortez (Jacob Krantz) stars as a boy who grows up to become a successful doctor at the expense of Jewishness. Costarring Irene Dunne.
  3. Counsellor-at-Law (1933) - John Barrymore (!) stars as a highly successful attorney who has his Jewish heritage and poverty-stricken background brought home to him when he learns his wife has been unfaithful. Costarring Bebe Daniels.
  4. To Be or Not to Be (1942): Jack Benny and Carol Lombard; During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in a Polish soldier's efforts to track down a German spy.

About the Instructor

  • Kurt F. Stone, DD, is now in his 23rd year with Lifelong Learning. His passion for film is, he says, "genetic," having been born in Hollywood, CA, and raised both in and around the movie industry. Stone is a multi-disciplinary sort of man, who has also written two well-received books on Congress, published nearly 900 essays, is an ordained rabbi and earns his living as a medical ethicist.

    Recipient of the 2004 Excellence in Teaching Award

Upcoming programs presented by Kurt F. Stone.

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