A friend of mine from a venerable entertainment-industry family once used a great piece of old-timey show-business jargon to describe a movie he didn’t like.

It was too center-door fancy, he said with a shrug. I’m not sure I know exactly what it means, but I can guess. In a theater, the center door is directly upstage from the audience. When a character enters from that door, it’s an unambiguous declaration that the star has arrived. It’s hard to come in through the center door in a natural, spontaneous way.

Something that’s center-door fancy is a little overdone and overproduced. Center-door fancy is something that’s nice-looking, but maybe too nice-looking. The hairstyle of a game-show host, the matching tie-and–pocket square of one of the commentator guys on Sunday football, the dance moves of a South Korean boy band—these are all center door fancy.

The phrase comes, I’m guessing, from that great wellspring of show business jargon and tradition, the Yiddish theater. If you close your eyes, you can hear one of the impresarios at the Orpheum on Second Avenue in Manhattan, sometime in the early 1910s, dismissing a production with a wave of his hand and saying, in a thick Mel-Brooks-2,000-Year-Old-Man accent, Too much with the center-door fancy!

Here’s a phrase I’ve heard since my very first day in show business: Throw it away. My boss at the time was a hugely successful director, and at my very first rehearsal, I heard him tell one of the actors that he was working too hard to make a certain line funny. He was pushing it, and that was killing the joke.

Throw it away, the director said. And when they did the scene again, the actor said the line with barely an inflection.

And of course it worked.

I suspect that Throw it away came from the same place as center-door fancy—an empty Yiddish theater in lower Manhattan during a rehearsal of, say, Mazel Tov, Molly, a director calling out from the darkened loge, a show that was opening in a week and that still felt too stiff, too formal, too uptown.

That jargon, and that sensibility, traveled uptown eventually. It could be seen in the Broadway productions of the Gershwins, the Marx Brothers, George S. Kaufman, and not too long after, Neil Simon.

But the practical show-business savvy embedded in the Throw it away ethos went further afield. It also made the trip way across town, to the backlots and sound-stages of Southern California where many of those same folks went to work in the sunshine and to forge a new business. Hollywood was a place where the ability to act and stage a scene without a lot of center-door fancy was the recipe for stardom and riches.

It’s always been a rich irony that indelibly “American” movies such as Some Like It Hot and High Noon were directed—and in many cases, written and directed—by Jews who were here in America to create American myths only because they had fled the German and Austrian monsters who then killed the rest of their families. Everyone knows this, but it’s always fun to hear it again: Little Israel Beilin was born in 1888, in what is now Belarus. He eventually ended up, if the legend is correct, in 1940 in a resort hotel in Palm Springs in the middle of the night, trying to come up with a killer tune for the movie Holiday Inn. The song was “White Christmas,” and the songwriter was by that time calling himself Irving Berlin, which I can tell you as a lifelong Episcopalian was a name change that wasn’t foolin’ nobody.

The brilliant and hilarious actress Jackie Hoffman—you may have seen her in Feud: Bette and Joan on FX, or on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building—often performs a version of “White Christmas” entirely in German, which is as funny and creepy as it sounds. It’s also a powerful reminder that the roots of America’s most goyische anthem were planted in Tolochin in the old Russian Empire, by the son of Moses and Lena Lipkin Beilin. But what makes Hoffman’s performance of the song truly effective is how she throws it away.

Look, there’s no reason to weasel-word it: The history of Hollywood, which is to say the history of 20th-century American culture, is impossible to talk about without talking about Jews. So it was a surprise to learn that the Academy Museum—a newly opened space dedicated to movies and moviemaking by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, built at a cost of $500 million—doesn’t have much to say about the Jews who made it all happen in the first place.

Indeed, when the museum opened in September, the exhibitions seemed carefully orchestrated to avoid the issue altogether. There were galleries devoted to diversity, to special effects, to women. There were exhibits about cameras and composers and art directors. All the collections are glossy and polished, and the whole museum—much of which can be experienced online—is a fascinating and well-assembled telling of the history of the movie business…as long as you don’t notice that there aren’t any Jews in it.

After some critics spoke up about the oversight, its directors announced a six-week film and lecture series highlighting the contributions of Austrian Jews. Vienna in Hollywood: Émigrés and Exiles in the Studio System will celebrate the work of directors Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Fred Zinnemann, and Otto Preminger; actors Hedy Lamarr, Peter Lorre, and Paul Henreid; producers Eric Pleskow and Sam Spiegel; screenwriters Vicki Baum, Gina Kaus, and Salka Viertel; as well as composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Ernest Gold.

The series sounds fantastic—it opens in December and runs through the end of January 2022—but it still seems carefully designed to elide certain parts of the story of Hollywood.

When the men and women of Vienna in Hollywood: Émigrés and Exiles in the Studio System arrived in Los Angeles, they found an industry in full bloom. The studios were up and running and making payroll every week, restaurants were full of carousing movie stars, the boulevards were lined with shops and apartment towers—the stage, in other words, had been set.

The men—and they were all men—who did the building, men with names like Goldwyn and Zukor and Warner and Laemmle, had arrived years before. And it’s they who are missing from the galleries and exhibitions of the Academy Museum, and here’s why: because, for the most part, they were rat bastards.

Even by the standards of the time, the men who built Hollywood were tyrannical, ruthless businessmen. One of the reasons the movie business moved to Los Angeles, aside from the plentiful sunshine and cheap land, was to put 3,000 miles between it and Thomas Edison’s patent lawyers. Edison, who claimed to be the inventor and patent-holder of the movie camera, insisted that the Jewish show-business entrepreneurs owed him money. Their strategy was, simply: If we’re big enough and rich enough, Edison’s claims won’t matter.

It turned out they were right. Left to grow a hugely profitable and influential business by themselves, the men who built Hollywood did so with unfettered enthusiasm. Along the way, as we all know, they bullied and manipulated and (probably) raped and pillaged.

And they also made some amazing motion pictures that helped Americans understand who they were and what they were becoming. Any truthful telling of the history of the movie business needs to tell their story, too. But we’re having a hard time these days figuring out how to tell a warts-and-all tale. We’re still tying ourselves into knots about Thomas Jefferson. Imagine if the Academy Museum had installed a statue of Jack Warner, one of the founding fathers of the movie business.

So cultural institutions like the Academy Museum elect to sweep the ugly parts off-screen. It’s easier to avoid the mishegas. The way things are now, they think it’s safer to keep the Academy Museum center-door fancy.

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