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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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After debuting as Salome Steuermann at the Pressburg Stadttheater (regional theater), Viertel had engagements in typical spas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I read dozens of thoughtful, entertaining, even groundbreaking works about Hollywood in which women who were not wives, secretaries, or movie stars scarcely make an appearance. It was there that she nested, art-directing her stage where she enjoyed her longest-running role as a salonniere, hosting guests on Sunday afternoons, introducing European intelligentsia to Hollywood power — and vice-versa.

Vincent Brook; Review: The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood, by Donna Rifkind. For just one example, the following from the novel Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood, about his character Friedrich Bergmann, based on Salka Viertel's husband Bertholdt: "The face was the face of an emperor, but the eyes were the dark mocking eyes of his slave. Rifkind does a wonderful job of telling the multifaceted and somewhat tragic life story of a brilliant woman. Well known to film scholars and classical music lovers, the Thalberg/Schoenberg impasse is one of the great when-worlds-collide moments in pop cultural and modernist history.Besides those already mentioned, she and Berthold were acquainted with Rilke, Kafka and Einstein, as well as the composer Kurt Weill, satirist Karl Kraus, novelist Alfred Doblin and critic Theodor Adorno. In Viertel's living room (the only one in town with comfortable armchairs, said one Hollywood insider), countless cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born. Through her fundraising work and the co-founding of the European Film Fund, Salka’s impact on the lives of people affected by the Nazi rise to power is not something one can calculate.

Each Sunday afternoon for many years, her Santa Monica home was the scene of weekly gatherings, where the exiles could speak German and enjoy Salka’s extraordinary cooking and gemutlichkeit (“cozy friendliness”). An immersive biography…Chock-full of scandalous affairs and wartime atmosphere, this sparkling account brings overdue attention to a woman who helped make Hollywood’s golden age possible. Among mid-twentieth-century America’s most influential women, Salka Viertel finally gets her due in Donna Rifkind’s marvelous, knowledgeable The Sun and Her Stars .His The Song of Bernadette, published in 1941, was a bestseller, and the film of the same title won many awards.

Their Weimar-on-the-Pacific, where they congregated on Sundays to celebrate their collective escape, mourn their loss of homeland and identity, and enjoy — in German and English — the pleasure of each others’ company (not to mention the strudel and chocolate torte), was 165 North Mabery in Santa Monica. In Santa Monica, she made it her mission to provide a refuge for them in her own home and to absorb them into her social and professional network, all to help them survive in a wholly unfamiliar new world. As the Swedish actress negotiated a new contract giving her the choice of directors and scripts, she challenged the older actress to come up with dramatic ideas. A vital presence in the golden age of Hollywood, Salka Viertel is long overdue for her own moment in the spotlight"--,Provided by publisher.

Rifkind firmly establishes Viertel's unique place in history as someone who singlehandedly comforted a generation of European emigrees who made their way to Los Angeles in the 1930s to escape fascism and the murdering Nazis. Berthold was frequently directing plays in New York City and Europe for long stretches of time with his mistresses. Thus after 1933 she was extra sympathetic to the attempts of the panicked human beings who began to launch themselves desperately, in any way they could, toward the possibility of safety in America. Often below the line and unglorified, women were nonetheless vital to the success of these vast, complex organizations, and some of them wielded genuine influence if not actual power.

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