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The Sun And Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood

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She also appeared on screen in the German version of Garbo’s debut in her first full sound film of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, directed by Jacques Feyder which Garbo herself preferred to her the English version, also released in 1930, directed by Clarence Brown, Viertel playing the old prostitute role of Marthy (who Marie Dressler played in English version). Yet these glimpses can’t compensate for the absence of real women in the copious nonfiction, where at best they are underrepresented and at worst virtually erased. Because her generosity extended to those sympathetic to socialist and Communist causes, after the second world war her passport was seized and she was deemed “a premature anti-Fascist,” not blacklisted but “greylisted” For awhile she was able to keep the Santa Monica salon because Charlie Chaplin gave her funds, but ultimately had to sell. His administration chose to maintain the stringent quotas for refugees that had been established in 1924, reluctant to stir up an already robust homegrown xenophobia.

A valuable and graceful book that rescues Salka Viertel from being mostly famous as a minor character in Greta Garbo's life. After the war ended, Salka — unable to land screenwriting gigs — eventually sold her house (to producer John Houseman) and moved to Klosters, Switzerland, to be near a beloved granddaughter and her raffish son Peter, whose second wife was the actress Deborah Kerr.In less­er hands, this book could have been noth­ing more than a vehi­cle to name­drop, but native Ange­leno Rifkin unearths the larg­er, mov­ing sto­ry of how Sal­ka Vier­tel pro­vid­ed not just a famil­iar cul­tur­al base, but a true safe haven for fel­low Jew­ish immi­grants.

Before long, she brought her sons to California, setting up household in a Tudor-style cottage on Mabery near the ocean in Santa Monica. Perhaps Berthold Viertel had it right when he wrote: “One does not wander without punishment under the palms. Hav­ing read the biogra­phies and mem­oirs of Thal­berg, Cukor, Ish­er­wood, Gar­bo, and many oth­ers, she can see dimen­sions to their rela­tion­ships that Vier­tel could not. Z. Sakall, Ernst Lubitsch, Fred Zinnemann, Otto Klemperer, Peter Lorre, Arnold Schoenberg, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Franz Werfel.Irwin Shaw, Thomas Mann, Heinrich Mann, Christopher Isherwood, Arnold Schoenberg, Billy Wilder are but a few.

Whether famous or not, though, all of them recognized that they could no longer live in a Europe under Nazi rule. The desolate American years of Heinrich and his wife, Nelly, form just one of the many fascinating but often distressing side stories told in “The Sun and Her Stars. She has also been a contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Times Literary Supplement, American Scholar, and other publications. In 1911 she played briefly under Max Reinhardt in Berlin, whereupon she followed an offer in 1913 to go to Vienna to work on the Neue Wiener Bühne. to speak out against intolerance, censorship, political inquisitions, and the curtailing of human rights in the name of national security—all seeds of fascism in the United States that threatened to sprout as poisonously as they had in Germany: in the end, none of this has been deemed thus far to be worthy of our attention.With hind­sight, Rifkind could see the impact of Viertel’s hos­pi­tal­i­ty, her finan­cial and moral sup­port, on the lives and careers of so many refugees to Hol­ly­wood in the 30s and 40s.

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