American Dream Machine
By Matthew Specktor
Tin House Books, 464 pages, $25.95
Some people will always believe that the Jews run Hollywood. But even if Spielberg, Katzenberg, Weinstein, Bruckheimer, Zucker and the rest of their pals could comfortably form a minyan, the number of Americans who believe that Jews control the film industry has dropped to 22% of the population, compared to nearly half of the country in 1964.
As in any career or industry commonly thought of as Jewish (finance, the garment industry, medicine, etc.), a handful of Jews found success in movies and television for the same reason Jews found themselves trading money for gentiles or sewing shirts on the Lower East Side: because there was opportunity. Jews didn’t invent the film industry in the early 20th century, but they saw a chance to make it bigger and better, and that’s just what men like Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn (born Szmuel Gelbfisz) did.
Writing novels is another line of work that Jews are supposedly good at, and though the novel has chronicled the Jewish-American experience better than any other art form over the last century, the Jew in Hollywood novel has only had two truly great and shining examples: Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust” (1939) and Budd Schulberg’s “What makes Sammy Run?” (1941).