To the Editor, Jewish Daily Bulletin:
For a number of months a campaign against unwholesome movies has been carried on by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups. The Catholic group has been motivated by the indecency which has disgraced a number of films during the past few years. The Protestant crusade has been directed not only against obscenity in motion pictures but against the general tendency of the films to present false values as ideals to be followed.
With both of these points of emphasis Jews, I am sure, are in wholehearted agreement. The sooner the movies are rid of immorality, of the presentation of false concepts of living, the better it will be for the country at large. But I would like to suggest that we Jews emphasize an additional point in combatting unwholesome films, and that is the tendency to portray Jewish characters on the screen with a vulgar stereotype which has the immediate result of picturing the Jew in the mind of movie audiences as a wholly extraneous and alien type.
Within recent weeks I have seen a number of films in which Jewish characters play minor roles. One of these was “Cleopatra” in which King Herod was depicted by Joseph Schildkraut. All the cast have faultless, Oxonian accents, except Mr. Schildkraut, who has a slightly Yiddish accent supplemented by a sneering and crafty look. His performance in this picture will give Christians, especially those who do not know the Jews, the impression that Jews are a villanous lot who are hardly able to talk English.
I saw another picture in which the role of caterer at a society wedding is also portrayed by a Jew. He is depicted as a short, plump, stocky individual called Mr. Levy who begins his conversation on the screen by saying something like “Vell, I tell you Mr. Jones…”
This stereotype of the Jew as a cunning, crafty, villaneous individual who invariably talks with an accent has gotten to be a habit with Hollywood and it is doing a great deal of harm to the Jews. I am considerably astonished that our rabbis have failed to press this point in protesting against unwholesome movies. It is this sort of portrayal which presents the Jew as an alien who has not yet taken on the ways of the American people. It is this sort of thing, furthermore, which helps to create in the mind of the Christians the notion that the Jew is a problem.
While we are campaigning for more wholesome movies let us fight to secure a portrayal of the Jew as a normal individual who does not necessarily talk with an accent and who is not much different from his fellow Christians.
New York, October 14, 1934.