Jewish minds have been shaping history for as long as we have written records and they continue to shape the modern world, including our own city of Los Angeles. You’ve likely seen films produced by Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Universal Pictures, but you’re probably not familiar with the Jewish history behind these production companies.
Paramount Pictures was formed in the mid-1910s when Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky merged their individual production companies with William Wallace Hodkinson’s Paramount Pictures. Both Zukor and Lasky were born to Jewish parents
Zukor immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1889. He grew up poor but was financially successful in the fur trade before realizing that there was
Lasky was born in San Francisco in 1880 to poor Jewish parents. After trying a startling number of career paths, including panning for gold and opening his own nightclub, Lasky decided to try his luck at the film industry. Despite his initial success, he was ousted from his company after losing $20 million in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. He died as an outcast from the movie industry.
Warner Bros. was created by four brothers named Jack, Sam, Albert, and Harry Warner. The boys were born to Jewish parents who immigrated to Baltimore from Poland to escape an oppressive government. They grew up poor, and perhaps because of their impoverished upbringing, the four brothers actively sought financial opportunities.
The creation of Warner Bros. can be attributed to Sam Warner. As a young man, Sam was shown a Kinetoscope – an early film device– and was inspired to open his own movie studio with the help of his brothers. Unfortunately, their first major success only occurred after Sam’s early death.
The subsequent success of the company made Jack greedy, and he eventually executed a plan to force his brothers out of the company, which severed their relationships with him forever.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, known for its famous roaring lion image, was formed by the merging of Metro Pictures, Mayer Productions, and Goldwyn Productions.
Metro Pictures was owned by Marcus Loew, a Jew who grew up impoverished in New York City. He left school at the age of nine to work, and he succeeded in the business of owning theatre companies before shifting focus to Hollywood.
Louis B. Mayer, the owner of Mayer Productions, was born in Ukraine to Jewish Russian parents who immigrated to Canada to escape oppression. He was also born in poverty, but he was financially successful as a theatre-owner before creating Mayer Productions in Los Angeles. Although at one point he was the highest paid man in America, Mayer was ousted from MGM after the merge.
As you can see, there are jews behind nearly every clapperboard in the film industry. But when we make movies, it’s not just about producing films. It’s about touching the lives of millions of Americans, regardless of race, religion, age, or political orientation. Specifically, jews in the film industry tell a common narrative of escaping poverty and oppression to achieve one’s dreams and create a legacy that outlives one’s life. It’s about overcoming one’s past to create a community for the future. More than anything, it’s about being Jewish.