Author: Lester D. Friedman
America became conscious of its films and its Jews almost simultaneously. From primitive, Flickering one-reelers, through Hollywood's golden age, and up to contemporary films, moviegoers who may never have met or even seen Jews in daily life encountered them on local movie screens. Celluloid Jews appear in a variety of shapes and sizes— sinister shysters, pathetic victims, baffled buffoons, sympathetic workers, struggling students, gallant warriors, star-crossed lovers, and sadistic gangsters being just a few. But ironically, and in spite of their numbers, Jewish film characters have received scant attention from scholars and historians, while the screen sagas of other minorities, notably Blacks and American Indians, have been studied in some depth. This critical silence regarding Jewish-American films (movies centering on Jewish issues rather than directed or produced by Jews) and Jewish-Amer-ican screen characters (figures defined as Jewish within the films rather than roles played by Jewish performers) is even more surprising considering that men like Samuel Goldwyn, Nicholas Schenck, David O. Selznick, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Harry Cohn, Carl Laemmle, Jesse Lasky, William Fox, B.P. Schulberg, and Jack Warner long dominated the movie community. Films featuring Jewish characters have, from story idea to final cut, historically faced a gauntlet of highly placed Jewish executives.