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Mar 2010 Journal

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Past glories

The AJR Journal has always prided itself on the high quality of its literary, artistic and cultural content, including the reviews it publishes. Among the Jewish refugees from Hitler, with their rich cultural heritage, were a number of highly knowledgeable experts in various fields of culture, on whom the AJR Information was able to draw for the erudite and polished reviews of books, plays and films that graced its pages. But reviews are by their very nature ephemeral, and reviewers who delight one generation can all too easily be forgotten by the next.

It is therefore a pleasure to welcome the appearance of a book devoted to the work of the renowned reviewer and critic Paul Marcus, commonly known by his initials PEM (the ‘E’ being included for euphony only). The book is PEM: Der Kritiker und Feuilletonist Paul Marcus, edited by Jens Brüning, a longstanding champion of refugee writers forgotten in Germany. Brüning worked for many years to restore the works of Gabriele Tergit, a leading refugee writer and frequent contributor to AJR Information, to their rightful literary status; he was responsible for the recent reprint of the original version of Tergit’s 1931 bestseller Käsebier erobert den Kurfürstendamm (reviewed in our June 2004 issue).

Like Tergit (born Elise Hirschmann), Paul Marcus was a young Jewish intellectual drawn irresistibly to the rich, dynamic and innovative cultural scene of Berlin during the Weimar Republic; like Tergit, he had to flee the Nazis, eventually settling in London. Marcus was born in Beeskow, not far from the capital, in 1901, into an assimilated Jewish family; his father was a businessman. Against his father’s wishes, Marcus opted for a career in journalism, specialising in cinema and the performing arts, then a particularly flourishing section of Berlin’s artistic world. He started by writing for minor journals of varying degrees of repute, but also for the Berliner Börsen-Courier, and graduated to the Neue Berliner Zeitung–Das 12 Uhr Blatt, for which he wrote until he emigrated in March 1933.

Marcus went first to Vienna, where he hit upon the idea of publishing a weekly newssheet to keep his fellow refugees informed about the activities and whereabouts of Jews and others from the cultural world who had been forced into exile. So PEM’s Privat-Berichte first appeared in May 1936, drawing on the extraordinarily wide knowledge its author had acquired during his years of reporting on Berlin’s cultural scene. From October 1936, it transferred with its author to London, where it continued until August 1939, reappearing in 1945 as PEM’s Personal Bulletins. These formed the basis for PEM’s much-loved column in AJR Information, ‘Old Acquaintances’, which appeared regularly from January 1948 until his death in April 1972.

PEM’s reports demonstrate his encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of theatre, cinema, cabaret and, later, television in which actors, producers, directors, film stars, authors, composers, screenwriters and others from the German-speaking lands were active. He was ideally equipped to keep his refugee readers informed about the successes and failures, the travails and tribulations, the anniversaries and, sadly, the deaths of those they had admired and adored in pre-emigration days. Brüning’s edition of PEM’s writings brings this out very clearly; it nicely complements Thomas Willimowski’s biography Emigrant sein ist ja kein Beruf: Das Leben des Journalisten PEM (2007). PEM himself produced one bestseller, Heimweh nach dem Kurfürstendamm: Aus Berlins glanzvollsten Tagen und Nächten (1952), which, as its title implies, conveys the author’s ‘homesickness for the Kurfürstendamm’ and his memories of Berlin’s ‘most glittering days and nights’.

Marcus’s journalism before 1933 reveals the enormous energy and enthusiasm with which he threw himself into his chosen field. He made it his business to know, or at least know about, everyone in the film business, the theatre and the popular performing arts. He revelled in the freedom to populate his pieces in the Feuilleton (the arts and entertainment section of a newspaper) with exuberant and sharply observed snapshots of people and productions, spiced up with titbits of news about the performers. He was among those who elevated film reviews from mere advertisements for films to serious film criticism. Yet at the same time, his articles are often set in the racy nightclubs frequented by Berlin’s actors and directors, or the offbeat cabaret establishments where rising comedians, satirists and singers made their name.

Before 1933, PEM ignored political affiliations. His series of articles entitled ‘Wir trafen gestern’ (‘Yesterday We Met’) profiled both people who fled Germany after 1933 and people who stayed, both Jews and future Nazis. The series featured, among others, Robert Siodmak, who went on to direct the classic film noir The Killers in America, the actress Mady Christians, a star who also emigrated to the USA and appeared in the anti-Nazi play Watch on the Rhine, and the composer of songs and cabaret shows Friedrich Holländer, famous for the song known in English as ‘Falling in Love Again’, sung by Marlene Dietrich in the film The Blue Angel.

But the series also included politically more dubious figures, like the Austrian Gustav Ucicky, who during the Nazi period was to direct Heimkehr, a dreadful piece of Nazi propaganda. In 1931 Marcus even wrote a piece, ‘Jannings führt sein Fräulein Tochter aus’, with a sympathetic account of the actor Emil Jannings, who had played the lead in The Blue Angel but later became a notorious Nazi, introducing his daughter to Berlin nightlife. As late as 1934, in a piece on the Viennese cabaret star and comedian Fritz Grünbaum, a Jew who was to die in Dachau, Marcus listed Ucicky alongside Kurt Gerron, the Jewish actor/director who created the role of Tiger Brown in the Brecht/Weill Threepenny Opera and was later forced to make a Nazi propaganda film about Theresienstadt concentration camp, whence he was deported to Auschwitz.

However, after his emigration to Britain and in the wake of the incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich, Marcus employed his prodigious store of knowledge to assail the falsehoods and dishonesty of those who had gone over to the Nazis. In an article for the Pariser Tageszeitung, a refugee paper, in 1939, he exposed the mendacity of Emil Jannings’s autobiography, showing how it was fabricated to meet the criteria of Nazism. The great director Ernst Lubitsch, in whose film Dubarry Jannings had first found international fame, was not mentioned, as a Jew who had long since settled in Hollywood; nor was Erich Pommer, who had produced The Blue Angel and restarted Jannings’s career; nor were the writers of that film, Robert Liebmann, a Jew who was to disappear in the Holocaust, and Carl Zuckmayer, whose play The Captain of Köpenick had made him persona non grata in Nazi Germany.
This exposure of those who had colluded with the Nazis was one of many fascinating features of PEM’s writings after 1945, for his knowledge spanned the pre- and post-Hitler eras in a way few could equal. His principal target was Veit Harlan, director of the notorious anti-Semitic film Jud Süss (1940), followed by Leni Riefenstahl, and he did not hesitate to express his disgust when the Austrian actress Paula Wessely, who in 1941 had uttered the words ‘Ich kaufe nicht bei Juden’ (‘I don’t buy from Jews’) in Ucicky’s Heimkehr, metamorphosed into a half-Jew driven to suicide in the 1948 film Der Engel mit der Posaune.

PEM’s column in AJR Information brimmed with the names of emigrants from Germany and Austria who became famous in exile in Hollywood or London: directors like Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, Berthold Viertel and Billy Wilder, producers like Erich Pommer, and agents like Paul Kohner – PEM had known Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) well in younger days of shared poverty. Actors who featured regularly included household names like Peter Lorre, Fritz Kortner, Ernst Deutsch, Fritzi Massary, Elisabeth Bergner, Oskar Homolka, Anton Walbrook and Lilli Palmer, with whom PEM was invited back to Berlin for the 1957 International Film Festival. Names from the world of (light) music – PEM had a fondness for operetta – included Mischa Spoliansky, Hans May and Robert Stolz.

PEM made a point of promoting German-speaking actors whose careers flourished in Britain: Martin Miller, Lucie Mannheim, Albert Lieven, Karel Stepanek, Frederick Valk, Sybille Binder and Wanda Rotha. He praised the work of the cameraman Otto Heller, admired the films Emeric Pressburger made in partnership with Michael Powell (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes), publicised the highbrow foreign films screened at Georg Hoellering’s Academy Cinema, and was a close friend of the great cartoonist Vicky (Victor Weisz). He kept his sharp eye on youthful talent, drawing attention to young performers like the actor and singer Agnes Bernelle and the actor Renee Goddard, whom he saw in 1954 in John van Druten’s play I Am a Camera and who later rose to senior positions in Associated Television and Channel 4; she is one of the few living links to PEM and his era.
 

Anthony Grenville

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