In the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood became a destination for people working in film around the world, but it held a particular attraction for Europeans. We are all aware of the most famous examples—Marlene Dietrich, Otto Preminger, Hedy Lamarr, and so on—but there were hundreds of others working in American film during this time, and they did much to shape the developing industry. One of those less-known actors was Charles Korvin, the author of a brief autobiography recently published in Austria by Synema/Gesellschaft für Film und Medien. This text, which was originally included in the book Aufb ruch ins Ungewisse: Österreichische Filmschaffende in der Emigration vor [End Page 174] 1945, gives us some insight into Korvin’s life and work, and he stands as a case study of many of the major aspects of twentieth-century history.
For the most part, Europeans who came to work in the American film industry in the 1930s can be divided into two groups, those who came because the United States was rapidly becoming the center of the commercial film world and those who came to avoid oppression in their home countries. Korvin technically fits into both categories; he expressed an interest in going to the United States as early as 1929 and spent the bulk of his early career working in London and Paris, which were often gateway cities for immigration to the United States. He finally did come to Hollywood in 1937, prompted by his work in the documentary Heart of Spain, which detailed the work of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune in the Spanish Civil War. Directing this film would shape Korvin’s future in ways that he could not have foretold at the time. In the short term, it meant that Korvin, whose Jewish heritage made working in Europe difficult to begin with, needed to find a new home. Later, after settling in the United States and building a relatively successful career as a Hollywood leading man, he found himself a victim of blacklisting. According to Korvin, it was only when Stanley Kramer cast him as the captain in his film Ship of Fools that Korvin knew that he was truly offthe blacklist. During the time that Korvin was not able to act in films, he turned to television to keep his career alive, as did many other actors who were excluded from film. This seems to have led to an interesting career in this new medium, culminating in a role in the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust, a groundbreaking production that raised awareness of the Nazi genocide against the Jews and cemented the use of the term Holocaust to describe these events.
My only critique of this book is its length; Charles Korvin had a fascinating life and career, and I would have liked to learn more about him. Of course, Synema could only work with the interviews and writings that Korvin left behind, but it is my sincere hope that someone will be inspired by this text and begin a more comprehensive project. This book should be of interest to anyone who studies the rise of fascism in Central Europe, émigré filmmakers in 1940s Hollywood, or McCarthyism in the United States. [End Page 175]