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The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood

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The little-known story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose salons in 1930s and 40s Hollywood created a refuge for a multitude of famous figures who had escaped the horrors of World War ll. Hollywood was created by its "others"; that is, by women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and so much more. She was the screenwriter for five of Greta Garbo' The little-known story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose salons in 1930s and 40s Hollywood created a refuge for a multitude of famous figures who had escaped the horrors of World War ll. Hollywood was created by its "others"; that is, by women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and so much more. She was the screenwriter for five of Greta Garbo's movies and also her most intimate friend. At one point during the Irving Thalberg years, Viertel was the highest-paid writer on the MGM lot. Meanwhile, at her house in Santa Monica she opened her door on Sunday afternoons to scores of European �migr�s who had fled from Hitler--such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Arnold Schoenberg--along with every kind of Hollywood star, from Charlie Chaplin to Shelley Winters. In Viertel's living room (the only one in town with comfortable armchairs, said one Hollywood insider), countless cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born. Viertel combined a modern-before-her-time sensibility with the Old-World advantages of a classical European education and fluency in eight languages. She combined great worldliness with great warmth. She was a true bohemian with a complicated erotic life, and at the same time a universal mother figure. A vital presence in the golden age of Hollywood, Salka Viertel is long overdue for her own moment in the spotlight.


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The little-known story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose salons in 1930s and 40s Hollywood created a refuge for a multitude of famous figures who had escaped the horrors of World War ll. Hollywood was created by its "others"; that is, by women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and so much more. She was the screenwriter for five of Greta Garbo' The little-known story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose salons in 1930s and 40s Hollywood created a refuge for a multitude of famous figures who had escaped the horrors of World War ll. Hollywood was created by its "others"; that is, by women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and so much more. She was the screenwriter for five of Greta Garbo's movies and also her most intimate friend. At one point during the Irving Thalberg years, Viertel was the highest-paid writer on the MGM lot. Meanwhile, at her house in Santa Monica she opened her door on Sunday afternoons to scores of European �migr�s who had fled from Hitler--such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Arnold Schoenberg--along with every kind of Hollywood star, from Charlie Chaplin to Shelley Winters. In Viertel's living room (the only one in town with comfortable armchairs, said one Hollywood insider), countless cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born. Viertel combined a modern-before-her-time sensibility with the Old-World advantages of a classical European education and fluency in eight languages. She combined great worldliness with great warmth. She was a true bohemian with a complicated erotic life, and at the same time a universal mother figure. A vital presence in the golden age of Hollywood, Salka Viertel is long overdue for her own moment in the spotlight.

30 review for The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mallory

    I am so grateful that I was able to receive this book from Other Press for review. I had no idea who Salka Viertel was before reading this book, and now I cannot imagine the Golden Age of Hollywood without thinking about Viertel and her unwavering support and influence. Donna Rifkind's prose is as elegant and sentimental as Salka Viertel was, and the love she has for her subject is palpable and immense. It will always be a joy to consume a detailed account of a woman whose life and influence was I am so grateful that I was able to receive this book from Other Press for review. I had no idea who Salka Viertel was before reading this book, and now I cannot imagine the Golden Age of Hollywood without thinking about Viertel and her unwavering support and influence. Donna Rifkind's prose is as elegant and sentimental as Salka Viertel was, and the love she has for her subject is palpable and immense. It will always be a joy to consume a detailed account of a woman whose life and influence was squandered and suppressed by a male-dominated history, and this biography of Salka Viertel is no exception.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Julie Failla Earhart

    I don’t often read biographies, unless they are exceptionally well-written and often in the genre of narrative nonfiction. However, I am always eager to hear the tales of Old Hollywood, that time from the 1930s and ‘40s. I don’t recall ever hearing of Salka Viertel. She wrote five of Greta Garbo’s movies (including “Anna Karenina” and “Queen Christina”) and was her BFF. Fascinating woman. This is a well-researched story of one of the forgotten people who worked hard, made movie magic, yet never I don’t often read biographies, unless they are exceptionally well-written and often in the genre of narrative nonfiction. However, I am always eager to hear the tales of Old Hollywood, that time from the 1930s and ‘40s. I don’t recall ever hearing of Salka Viertel. She wrote five of Greta Garbo’s movies (including “Anna Karenina” and “Queen Christina”) and was her BFF. Fascinating woman. This is a well-researched story of one of the forgotten people who worked hard, made movie magic, yet never received an Oscar. I loved reading about the salons that she would host in her Santa Monica on Sunday afternoons, the variety of people who would show up and the conversations about everything under the sun. The first two lines in the introduction hooked me: “The look, the sound, and the speech of Hollywood’s Golden Age did not originate in Hollywood. Much of it came from Europe, through the workd of successive waves of immigrants during the first half of the twentieth century.” Viertel was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1933 to 1937. An immigrant from in what today is in western Ukraine, Viertel came with her parents to America in 1928. The plan was to stay for four years, but Hitler’s rise caused them to stay. Viertel was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1933 to 1937. In some places the story was dry and hard to follow because of all the names I did not know. But when I did recognize such names as Charlie Cahplin and Garbo, my interest was piqued. It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished this book, and honestly I can’t recall a single antedote or passage, but I enjoyed learning about this woman. “The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood” receives 4 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Judy G

    The author biographer did an outstanding thing with this book in recreating a long gone era in 1940s with mix of locations in Europe and in southern CA Santa Monica and in hollywood sets for films mostly films with Garbo (Greta). As a Jew I am drawn to books about us and with a specialty of the nazi germany era with their malevolent murderous plan to kill damage beat rob anyone jewish in the world. Thus to leave behind a few others who are different from the image of a white blond strong Teutonic The author biographer did an outstanding thing with this book in recreating a long gone era in 1940s with mix of locations in Europe and in southern CA Santa Monica and in hollywood sets for films mostly films with Garbo (Greta). As a Jew I am drawn to books about us and with a specialty of the nazi germany era with their malevolent murderous plan to kill damage beat rob anyone jewish in the world. Thus to leave behind a few others who are different from the image of a white blond strong Teutonic figure. Anyway this is an interesting tale that happened of a woman an actress a wife and mother and sister and daughter and friend from Poland living in Germany Berlin. Her husband is a scriptwriter and director and they have opportunity to travel for a time to Hollywood where he will work in a film. Their 3 sons remain in Germany with a housekeeper. She is Saskia Viertel and he is Berthold Viertel. This is her story not his of how she worked in films thru her connection to Garbo and her own talents and brought her children to live with her and her husband went from US to Europe. Besides her talent as a writer she brought into US many famous Jewish men and their wives fr Germany and her home (which she bought during Depression) became a center meeting place. This is that story and there is some joy some heartache some happiness some sadness. It is exquisitely researched and very well written Judy

  4. 4 out of 5

    James A. Feldman

    WARNING: I have just started the book, and will update this review later. It seems as if it will be an interesting book about an interesting person at an interesting time. But readers should be aware that this may not be a a straightforward biography. The first chapter is written as an interior monologue of Salka Viertel as she sits sits in her apartment in Switzerland on a particular day in January 1963. While the author did have access to Viertel's diary, and I have not of course looked at the WARNING: I have just started the book, and will update this review later. It seems as if it will be an interesting book about an interesting person at an interesting time. But readers should be aware that this may not be a a straightforward biography. The first chapter is written as an interior monologue of Salka Viertel as she sits sits in her apartment in Switzerland on a particular day in January 1963. While the author did have access to Viertel's diary, and I have not of course looked at the diary itself, it is difficult to believe that the author possibly could have known in this detail exactly what Viertel was thinking on that particular day at that particular time. The book has extensive endnotes, but few or none of the internal mental processes the author relates are endnoted. I like reading fiction a lot, but it is very distracting to read nonfiction where I have to constantly think about whether a given passage -- especially a passage about internal mental processes at a particular time and place -- are true, false, or merely informed guesses by the biographer. The second chapter seems to have much less of this, so perhaps it is just a strange first chapter. But still, this is troubling in a book that purports to be nonfiction.

  5. 4 out of 5

    LillyBooks

    I'm perhaps a horrible person and I enjoyed the wrong parts of this book for the wrong reasons. I enjoyed the autobiographical components that dealt directly with Viertel's life and her work as a screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1930's and 1940's. I found the movie lot intrigue and the stories behind some famous films interesting, and I admired the ways Viertel dealt with the repeated degradation of women in that industry at that time. However, this is, as promised, primarily a book about her I'm perhaps a horrible person and I enjoyed the wrong parts of this book for the wrong reasons. I enjoyed the autobiographical components that dealt directly with Viertel's life and her work as a screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1930's and 1940's. I found the movie lot intrigue and the stories behind some famous films interesting, and I admired the ways Viertel dealt with the repeated degradation of women in that industry at that time. However, this is, as promised, primarily a book about her humanitarian work, namely in helping Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany obtain visas and then welcoming them into Los Angles and sometimes even her home. It's heart-breaking work, and Viertel deserved someone to tell the story of her generosity. So I'm very pleased this book exists. But I found the stories tragically similar and repeatable. Each was as sad and as desperate, and then as grateful, as the last. I think each of the those refugees deserved to have their story told. I just found it repetitive reading and then I found myself skimming over large sections in order to get back to Viertel's day job as a screen writer. A worthy book on an important subject, but just too depressing for me after awhile.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kitty Galore

    With many thanks to Other Press for their ARC of this book in return for an honest review. This is the second book in as many weeks that I have read from this publisher and have thoroughly enjoyed both of them ("The Heart by Marc Petijean). This one detailed the life of Salka Viertel with particular emphasis upon her movie making career and her humanitarian efforts during WWII. The history of women and their achievements has long been buried under gender bias and has only recently come to the fo With many thanks to Other Press for their ARC of this book in return for an honest review. This is the second book in as many weeks that I have read from this publisher and have thoroughly enjoyed both of them ("The Heart by Marc Petijean). This one detailed the life of Salka Viertel with particular emphasis upon her movie making career and her humanitarian efforts during WWII. The history of women and their achievements has long been buried under gender bias and has only recently come to the forefront as we come to know and admire those females who accomplished great things but whose stories were nearly lost. One of them was Salka Viertel who during her many decades in the U.S. became involved in movie scriptwriting while at the same time befriending and championing Jewish and non-Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe during Hitler's reign of terror and genocide. It is a tale of a woman whose heart and home became a respite for many of the world's great composers, actors, and writers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe Rodeck

    Interesting bio of the woman whose claim to fame was mainly being a super agent/career manager for Greta Garbo while becoming an influential screenwriter and project developer. She typifies the mostly Jewish immigrants who fled continental Europe and landed in Hollywood during the rise of Hitler. Challenging, thought provoking history. Sample: "As the National Socialists created their own system of legal inferiority for non-Gentiles, they also admired America's classification of residents of the Interesting bio of the woman whose claim to fame was mainly being a super agent/career manager for Greta Garbo while becoming an influential screenwriter and project developer. She typifies the mostly Jewish immigrants who fled continental Europe and landed in Hollywood during the rise of Hitler. Challenging, thought provoking history. Sample: "As the National Socialists created their own system of legal inferiority for non-Gentiles, they also admired America's classification of residents of the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Philippines as 'non-citizen nationals.' They looked to America's Jim Crow laws which decreed marriage between whites and Negroes illegal." I mostly enjoyed the Hollywood history and film study of the hits and the flops. To nitpick: too many names even film buffs won't recognize.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Wonderful biography! I enjoy entertainment bios, especially of the 1920s to 1950s. So I came across the name Salka Viertel many times. She was always presented as a side character, and the mention was usually slightly contemptuous. I knew she was an immigrant from Germany or Austria or somewhere like that, and I thought of her as a wannabe, a hanger-on. Not so! I love this book for the enjoyable way it explained her contributions to movie scripts and friendships. She was the big essential for so m Wonderful biography! I enjoy entertainment bios, especially of the 1920s to 1950s. So I came across the name Salka Viertel many times. She was always presented as a side character, and the mention was usually slightly contemptuous. I knew she was an immigrant from Germany or Austria or somewhere like that, and I thought of her as a wannabe, a hanger-on. Not so! I love this book for the enjoyable way it explained her contributions to movie scripts and friendships. She was the big essential for so many fleeing the Nazis who ended up in Hollywood. Salka Viertel was a big-hearted, genuine woman. She had the gift of friendship. She was also a gifted actress and writer. And cook. The book flows, it's a good read. It is well researched and balanced. Nice photos.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Before I read the press release for “The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood” by Donna Rifkind (Other Press), I’d never heard of Salka Viertel. While I knew that many Jewish and non-Jewish refugees who were actors, writers and directors worked in Hollywood or New York, her name was completely unfamiliar. Yet, Viertel not only wrote successful treatments and screenplays, but turned her California home into a European-style salon – creating a safe an Before I read the press release for “The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood” by Donna Rifkind (Other Press), I’d never heard of Salka Viertel. While I knew that many Jewish and non-Jewish refugees who were actors, writers and directors worked in Hollywood or New York, her name was completely unfamiliar. Yet, Viertel not only wrote successful treatments and screenplays, but turned her California home into a European-style salon – creating a safe and comfortable place for those who felt rootless in a country far different from their own. See the rest of my review at http://www.thereportergroup.org/Artic....

  10. 5 out of 5

    Trent

    When one reads serious books about Hollywood in its Golden Era, Salka Viertel's name almost always comes up. I never knew that much about her, until now when this wonderful biography came out. She was an exile from Nazism, was a great friend of Garbo, and once she and her husband Berthold settled in Santa Monica she was a great hostess and comfort to the community of European exiles in the late 1930s and 1940s. This book demonstrates how she got things done, both fighting for the integrity of sc When one reads serious books about Hollywood in its Golden Era, Salka Viertel's name almost always comes up. I never knew that much about her, until now when this wonderful biography came out. She was an exile from Nazism, was a great friend of Garbo, and once she and her husband Berthold settled in Santa Monica she was a great hostess and comfort to the community of European exiles in the late 1930s and 1940s. This book demonstrates how she got things done, both fighting for the integrity of scripts like Queen Christina and tirelessly trying to get more refugees into the US, especially after the fall of France. Highly recommended!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    One of the best pieces of non-fiction I have ever read. I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK FOR ANYONE THAT LIKES DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY (different subject, same type of approach). Amazingly comprehensive and reads like a novel. I am blown away that Donna Rifkind is a first time biographer, because this is absolutely stellar.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Miller

    The Introduction reads to me as though Viertel was writing a memoir instead of Rifkind writing a biography and I somehow found this very off-putting. I could not get into this at all.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bob Luxenberg

    Sorry mom but not well written.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Abramson

    I really wanted to like this book. It’s a thoroughly researched book about a potentially fascinating woman. Unfortunately, I found it overly academic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    jim iwanski

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Welden

  17. 5 out of 5

    dorothea benjamin

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  19. 4 out of 5

    John

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ronni Zinn

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Piburn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Salt344

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Kosiec

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  25. 4 out of 5

    Renée Mee

  26. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan Cortes

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Grothaus

  28. 4 out of 5

    Annie Garvey

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ginna Stringer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Miss M

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