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An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  544 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award for history, this "wonderful history of the golden age of the movie moguls" (Chicago Tribune ) is a provocative, original, and richly entertaining group biography of the Jewish immigrants who were the moving forces behind the creation of America's motion picture industry. ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 8th 1989 by Anchor (first published September 1st 1988)
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Dec 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Not that it was bad but I was disappointed in this book. The subjects that interested me the most, the majority of movies made then portraying characters that represented how the Jews viewed themselves in American society, the schisms between the more established Jews who had immigrated from Germany and the ones from eastern European countries, the muscling in and manipulation of Hollywood by Jewish political groups like the ADL and AJC, and the gradual evolution of Hollywood into a tool of glob ...more
Jan 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Almost all the major film studios were started by Jewish immigrants who rose to amazing power from the 1920s to the 1950s (when the corporations took over). They were able to do this partly because gentile elites looked down on the movies. A major thesis of the book is that these moguls who were immigrants and Jewish shaped America's self-image through their films, which in no way reflected their own lives. Think "It's a Wonderful Life," etc. And they exaggerated the portrayal of American life a ...more
Kit Fox
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Another book that reminds us how boring America would be without Jews.
Sep 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about how the common experiences of 1st generation Jewish immigrants, usually with absent or unsuccessful fathers, strove for success and assimilation, and approval from gentiles and previously assimilated Jews. Thesis is that they created a world they could control, onscreen and off and were afraid of doing anything to draw attention to their religion, fearing a backlash from gentiles and loss of power. Didn’t get along with next generation of Hollywood Jews—writers and actors ...more
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Hollywood was founded by a bunch of Jews who recognized the potential of the movies and were willing to use all their business acumen to exploit every facet of the industry. Their personalities, hopes and dreams became part of the American Culture through the movies they made. Even with all the power and money they had they were never accepted into mainstream society and were always looked down upon as interlopers. Gabler tells the story wonderfully. If you want to know how Jewish immigrant drea ...more
Steve Schechter
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Before every film was a bloated 200 million dollar franchise fest, movies were about people. And back in the halcyon days of moviemaking, studios and the films they produced took after those people. The first Hollywood moguls are the subject of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. Meticulously researched and well-paced, Neal Gabler’s book is a fantastic addition to any classic film lover’s library.

Gabler gives each of the studio founders an exhaustive opening chapter. He trac
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fascinating and insightful read, one of the finest books of film history I have ever read.
Neal Gabler traces the history and motivations of the 'founding fathers' of the American film industry; late 19th-century Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, they found themselves rejected by the established American trades in the east and turned the originally disreputable business of moving pictures into one of the most influential and iconic insitutions of American life.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I remain fascinated by the history of the movies, and this book, focused on the seven men who wound up running the biggest studios over a long period of time, fills in some gaps in my knowledge of the way things were. Most of these men were born in Eastern Europe and emigrated to America at a very early age; those who weren't were children of such immigrants. They all took advantage of this new medium which was being ignored by the rich and powerful at the turn of the 20th Century, and built up ...more
Susan Grodsky
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I hate to make any criticism of this very long and deeply researched history. Let's just say that I wished for more context and less detail. And that the book was written in 1988 so the lens offered by the "#MeToo" movement is absent.

Here is some of what I learned:

The studio heads featured (Carl Lammle of Paramount, Harry Cohn of Columbia, the Warners of Warner Brothers, Louis Mayer of MGM) were all first or second generation Americans.

They typically got into movie production in a roundabout w
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Despite the dubious subtitle, this is really a social history of the early days of Hollywood, when it was a business with little or social status and consequently of little interest to the WASPs who ran American business and the dramatic arts. The colourful entrepreneurs who set up the great studios which dominated the industry until 1960, such as Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner and Adolph Zukor, are presented here as barrow-boy types, with an eye for a business opportunity in an open field (literal ...more
Skip Ferderber
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
An interesting read... I felt that the writer over-tightened virtually every action to the Jewish heritage of these moguls...But maybe he's right. Some of the legal issues that occurred during their long reign. needed a better short summary: I find myself making frequent trips to Wikipedia to find a more concise definition in several of the issues (cf: William Fox' attempt to control MGM). I also wish there had been more "Hollywood" in this core story about Hollywood; having grown up there and s ...more
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book
Surprisingly engaging book about the founders of the great Hollywood Studios (MGM, Fox, Columbia, etc). These people (Zukor, Mayer, Warner, etc) were all immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe. They were strong-willed men who wanted to escape their past and assimilate into their vision of the American Dream. They gravitated to the movies because, early in the 1900s, movies were seen as low class. So an opportunity was opened to people who were willing to grab it. These men created monopolies: studio ...more
Jim Berkin
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
A history of the development of the major Hollywood studios & the movie industry itself, framed in the angle of how nearly all of the moguls were Jewish immigrants from Russia & East Europe. Shut out of other parts of the business world by old prejudices (well, maybe not old considering some of the headlines in today's world) they started their own industry, one that has become synonymous with American culture. Well written & a good read. ...more
Amy Wolf
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A superb history of the Jews in Hollywood by a noted film historian. Gabler explains that since emigrant Jews were barred from traditional industries -- like white shoe investment banking -- they were essentially forced to create their own business: Hollywood. They subsequently had their own country club, beautiful L.A. homes, polo teams, etc. Just a fascinating & beautifully researched chronicle. Highly recommended!
Feb 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: movies
If you're at all interested in the history of movies, this is highly recommended. The background bios of section one got a little too detailed for me, I found my interest waning, so I skipped to section two and found myself fascinated at the day-to-day lives of the moguls. Oh, to see LA in the 20s and 30s! ...more
Alex Ortiz
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Want to learn about the history of hollywood and a great over view of how hollywood became the west coast glamor.
Varapanyo Bhikkhu
Jan 27, 2021 rated it liked it

When British journalist William Cash wrote about Jewish control of Hollywood in the October 1994 Spectator, Hollywood and its academic support troops reacted with rage verging on hysteria. In the Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler, author of An Empire of their Own: How Jews Created Hollywood, attacked Cash's article as "an anti-Semitic bleat from a reactionary crackpot" that could be dismissed "if it didn't have a respectable platform in the Spectator and didn't play to a pre-existing prejudice that
CS Pine
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read providing background into the major players responsible for the growth of the motion picture industry and its evolvement. It was a little difficult to follow at times because it jumped around quite a bit, but it was still a fascinating story with lots of behind-the-scenes history of the personalities involved, how stars were treated back when they were under contract with the various studios, and the struggle these Jewish men had amongst themselves as well as their ongoing ...more
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who is deeply curious about what's behind the Hollywood curtain, this is a must-read book. An Empire of Their Own is a rich tome documenting the sheer inspiration and complexities of Hollywood.

What I liked most is how Neal Gabler delved into the lives of the Hollywood moguls. By understanding their struggles and motivations, we truly appreciate the foundation of the image we appreciate - even denigrate - today.

This is a beautifully written piece that I highly recommend for those eage
Kent Hayden
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
From the beginning, Jews saw a chance to make a good business of new technology. From Displaing to ditribution to production, the movie industry was moved into the large entertainment business. Its heyday was roughly 60 years. Huge studios like MGM, Universal, Warner Brothers dominated the lives and livelihoods of employees and families.

I enjoy the way it was written and well researched. If you like Hollywood history, don't pass this one up.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is incredibly informative and well-written. For anyone curious about the history of Hollywood's early days and the rise of movie moguls this book is it! I didn't quite finish it as I was reading it for a book club and life got in the way, but I learned a lot reading it. ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful and informative history of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the lives and philosophies of those who founded it.
Maggie McGarry
Apr 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very interesting back story on the Hollywood we know today
Derek Henderson
Apr 24, 2021 rated it liked it
Nicely written. For me, the most interesting parts were the early immigrant lives of the moguls. Eventually there was just too much detail and too many characters to keep track of.
Edward Waverley
Aug 07, 2012 marked it as to-read

Quote: “The Birth of a Nation was wildly successful. Unfortunately, it is one of the few examples of the Right successfully using film to change the culture.”

There is a reason for that — a tiny ethnic minority left the east and the Edison / white dominated film and social organization where they could not get a foothold and headed out to California to re-group and start a film industry to counter ours. This happened partly as a result of the success of Bir
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
An interesting book, by all means, but unless you're really into the history of Hollywood, it gets boring halfway through. It's a little unfocused - sometimes it's about the individual lives of studio moguls, sometimes about general events and process, sometimes about particular cases as anecdotes, and it is easy to understand why the author felt all of these are necessary, they are, but as a reader I got the feeling he fails to deliver in most respects. It's not old-school, chronological, clear ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, hollywood
A substantial hunk of this book involved the whole HUAC/witch-hunt/Commie story, which I wasn't really expecting (I would categorize that as after the "invention" of Hollywood).

I would have liked more specifics about specific movies and directors, tying it into the Jewish angle if necessary, but we didn't get much of that except for Frank Capra (funny, he doesn't look Jewish). I am whining. I do find most of these early moguls to be compelling guys, perhaps one or two merit me finding dedicated
Ed Vansciver
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This is less a review than a reading impression/note. I suspect that I will be abandoning this one. It is long. I'm not too far into it and already I'm tired. Unfortunately, this is because the author recounts every little vignette and business deal in the careers of the principals, from way back when they immigrated and began in other lines of work. All that is only mildly interesting to me. I appreciate the research that must have gone into it. I'm guessing letters, diaries and newspaper accou ...more
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is so great that I am actually reading it for the second time. The first time I read it for content; now I am reading it for style.

It is the story of the sons of Jewish immigrants who created the great production machines of the Hollywood studio era -- Mayer, Cohn, Zucker, the Warner Brothers. These men have so many similarities that differentiating them from one another presents a daunting task, but Gabler rises to it brilliantly. A must-read book for anyone who's interested in the hi
Nov 11, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting account of the early movie moguls, recommended for anybody interested in the history of Hollywood. The early chapters detail their biographical backgrounds and careers before the movies, and the book drags a little at this point. Once you can clear this initial hurdle, the story picks up speed and you get a look at how the heads of the studios used the movies to create their own ideas of America. The author argues convincingly that this is largely due to a need to assimilate and m ...more
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Neal Gabler is a distinguished author, cultural historian and television commentator who has been called “one of America’s most important public intellectuals.” His first book, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History and the Theatre Library Association Award for the best book on television, radio or film. On the centenary of the fir ...more

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“What Mayer did in the thirties― what he was situated to do as a Jew yearning to belong― was provide reassurance against the anxieties and disruptions of the time. He did this by fashioning a vast, compelling national fantasy out of his dreams and out of the basic tenets of his own dogmatic faith― a belief in virtue, in the bulwark of family, in the merits of loyalty, in the soundness of tradition, in America itself.” 1 likes
“The real tragedy, however, was certainly the Jews’. Their dominance became a target for wave after wave of vicious anti-Semites—from fire-and-brimstone evangelicals in the teens and early twenties who demanded the movies’ liberation from “the hands of the devil and 500 un-Christian Jews” to Red-baiters in the forties for whom Judaism was really a variety of communism and the movies their chief form of propaganda. The sum of this anti-Semitic demonology was that the Jews, by design or sheer ignorance, had used the movies to undermine traditional American values.” 0 likes
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