I am neither a historian, decent author or a journalist and the chances are, unless there is a link or reference to somewhere else, the perpetrator is your's truly-Renaud Sarda.
I created this blog as a focal point, to arm friends and people with arguments and facts that they could perhaps use to counter the anti- Israel propaganda, biased media and Israel boycott campaign.
I am a Zionist and a proud Sephardi Jew who will fly the Israeli flag, and defend whatever Israel does.
Search This Blog
Sunday, 22 May 2011
Now that's what I call chutzpah: the Jewish contribution to the entertainment business
A new exhibition celebrates the contribution of Jewish immigrants in helping to create Britain’s popular culture. About time, says Alan Yentob
Amy Winehouse performingPhoto: CLARA MOLDEN
By Alan Yentob7:00AM BST 22 May 2011
I was cruising the internet some years ago, mindlessly pursuing a wager about how far up the US charts Groovy Kind of Love made it in 1966 (No 2, in case you’re interested) when I was stopped in my tracks by an article headed “The Mindbenders 1996”. Well no surprise there, you pop pickers might say. But hold on. You see, this wasn’t a profile of the little-known band who gained their one-and-only mega-hit with Groovy Kind of Love, but a BNP hit list of the most evil entertainers in the world.
It was penned by one Nick Griffin and culled from an even more comprehensive list, bluntly, if prosaically, entitled “Jew Watch”. Here’s a taster: “It is crucial in the battle against the Jewish racisttotalitarianism [one word, apparently] to have a basic knowledge about the Jewish media-dictatorship-monopoly. Today, the film-makers are the people who control the most powerful medium in the world, an art that can create ideals, change language or topple governments.”
Just in case you have any quibbles with these claims, we are reassured that: “The Jew Watch project is the internet’s largest scholarly collection of articles on Zionist history… 1.5 billion pages serve to demonstrate our focus on professionalism.” Wow! Got that, mindbenders? You know who you are: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mike Leigh, Sam Mendes, Woody Allen… Among the multitude of star names from stage, screen and boardroom, I was pleased and proud to see my own, prominently displayed on the “roll call of dishonour”.
So, that’s the entertainment biz, folks, courtesy of the BNP and other scholarly types. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry but, on reflection, if you can’t be on the rich list…
From Wednesday, everyone is invited to the expanded Jewish Museum in Camden to ponder the glorious past – and the future prospects – of the Jewish entertainment business. And, to be fair to Nick and the Nazis, there is a case of sorts to answer since we have had more than our fair share of fun entertaining the nation.
The roots of the Jewish entertainment tradition were in the Jewish communities living in Eastern Europe in the mid-19th century. Professional theatre companies had spread like wildfire across the Russian empire, from Odessa to Bucharest to Poland. Indeed, so great was the appeal of Yiddish theatre that the Tsarist authorities became alarmed by the groups of Jews gathering in large numbers, using satire and humour to poke fun, often at themselves (self-deprecation is a must for Jewish humorists), but all too often at the regime itself. And so, in 1883, Yiddish theatre was banned throughout the empire – and that’s when many of the producers and performers chose to join the migration westwards. As David Mazower notes in his book on Yiddish theatre, up to 2.5 million Jews, forced out by pogroms or simply seeking employment elsewhere, emigrated to Western Europe and America in their search for a new beginning.
The bulk – nearly two million – ended up in America, but more than 120,000 settled in England. When they arrived at the London docks, the majority headed for the nearby East End and Whitechapel to find food and lodging. It was a hard life, but, despite the tenements and the over-crowding, they fostered the traditions of music, theatre and Yiddish folk song they had brought with them. And these flourished.
Nomadic Yiddish actors and singers were sought after and employed, and the theatre became a lifeline for the displaced Jewish community. It kept alive their roots and values, their hopes and dreams.
Mazower claims that, from the 1880s until the early 1920s, there was barely a hall in the East End that wasn’t being used as a theatre, so much so that the theatre companies were often obliged to resort to dance halls and rooms over pubs to satisfy demand.
In due course, the constraints and insularity of Yiddish theatre, along with increasing pressure from outside the community for integration and anglicisation, brought about its demise, but not before the theatre had spawned the entertainment bug in a new generation of aspiring performers who were ready and willing to cross into the gentile mainstream.
One such person was Chaim Reuben Weintrop, the son of Polish immigrants, who had settled in Whitechapel in the 19th century. Better known by his stage name, Bud Flanagan, he was the other half of what eventually became known as The Crazy Gang. By now, in the 1930s, with the economy in ever steeper decline, immigration, which had trickled to a halt, began to increase again, with the spectre of Hitler prompting yet another generation of Jews to flee from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
It was in these testing pre-war years that British popular culture began reasserting itself and Jewish entertainers and musicians embraced the opportunity to be part of it. Between the wars, a host of Jewish musicians and bandleaders, from Geraldo and Ambrose to Joe Loss and Harry Roy, helped define the dance band era.
Bud Flanagan became one of the best-known names in variety, topping the bill with his partner Chesney Allen, at music halls across the country, from the Hackney Empire to the Empire Liverpool. Another sign of assimilation, and another marriage made in heaven, was the pairing of the Englishman Michael Powell and the Hungarian émigré filmmaker Emeric Pressburger. Their unique blend of talents was responsible for two blissfully iconic films: The Red Shoes and A Canterbury Tale, as distinctive a contribution to British cinema as you could ask for.
And let’s not forget Oscar Deutsch, who created the magnificent Odeon cinema chain. In just a decade from 1931 until his death in 1941, 258 cinemas were constructed, helping to transform Britain’s high streets and championing modern architecture in a culture notoriously reluctant to move on. The original odeons were the popular amphitheatres of ancient Greece, but Oscar Deutsch’s publicity team claimed that Odeon stood for “Oscar Deutsch entertains our nation”. Now that’s what we call chutzpah.
The advent of the “talkies” was dominated by a new breed of British moguls and impresarios with foreign names, who took pride in proving themselves “more British than the British”. Sir Michael Elias Balcon was the man who first spotted and employed Alfred Hitchcock and went on to establish Ealing Studios as the home of the quintessential British film. Comedy, of course, is part of the DNA of Jewish entertainment, but the peculiarly British film comedy is a very different animal – and that, too, was sired by Jewish talent. A couple of brothers, Gerald and Ralph Thomas, were responsible for directing the entire canon of Carry On and Doctor films. But the godfather of British film, the mogul of moguls, has got to be Sándor László Kellner, better known as Alexander Korda, whose ego and ambition proved a match for his American Jewish counterparts, big studio bosses like Louis B Mayer, Jack Warner and Harry Cohn.
America’s success in the realm of entertainment has tended to overshadow – or, more accurately overwhelm – the British experience. From Gershwin to Goldwyn, from the Marx Brothers to Mel Brooks, there’s barely a branch of show business that hasn’t been shaped by the immigrant experience. The Irish and Italians have played their part, but you’ve got to hand it to the Jews. However – with due deference to jewwatch.com – I think we British may have underplayed our hand. For instance, despite the fact that the pioneers of British commercial television, the Bernsteins and the Grades, weren’t shy or retiring backroom boys, there has been no sign of any attempt to create the definitive “Jewish sitcom”, the equivalent of Seinfeld or, earlier, Bilko. OK, there was The Rag Trade, but it’s only now, with Simon Amstell’s Grandma’s House on BBC Two and Channel 4’s Friday Night Supper that home-grown Jewish comedians are taking tentative first steps.
Over the years, the British approach has been more subtle – on occasion, even subversive. One of the funniest moments in any sitcom that I can remember is when Alf Garnett, the irredeemable but likeable “bigot” from Till Death Us Do Part is confronted by his socialist son-in-law and accused of being a Jew. “How would you like it if I called you a Yid? You’re Jewish, aren’t you,” he taunts him, only to be greeted by an expression of utter horror and humiliation, and Alf’s repeatedly hysterical response, “What are you talking about! I am not a Yid!! I am not Jewish!! It’s lies. It’s all lies.”
In real life, Warren Mitchell, who played Alf Garnett, was a liberal-minded Jew, but many of Alf’s fans were blissfully unaware of the fact and, in some cases, dangerously approving of a man whose racist views sounded comfortingly familiar, and whose charm, above all, disarmed them.
A generation earlier, a not dissimilar subterfuge managed to conceal from the great British public that their favourite English gentleman, the actor Leslie Howard, was actually born Leslie Howard Steiner, despite his perfect fit for playing the part of Professor Higgins in Shaw’s Pygmalion and the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Howard was reputed to be an agent of allied intelligence and was tragically and prematurely gunned down by the Luftwaffe in 1943, dying a hero’s death.
Like Bud Flanagan, who rallied the troops in the Second World War with his stirring rendition of Who Do You Think You’re Kidding, Mr Hitler?, Leslie Howard Steiner had squared the circle, managing to honour his Jewish heritage and make an indelible mark on the land and culture he inherited when his father emigrated to England from Eastern Prussia a generation before.
'Entertaining the Nation’ opens at the Jewish Museum in London on May 25; see jewishmuseum.org.uk