New Films Added to the Jewish Homegrown History Mix

Just nine days until Jewish Homegrown History closes! And now’s a great time to come back or see the exhibition for the first time. Three recently remixed and newly added films are now on view, thanks to The Labyrinth Project team that created the installation. These new home movies came to Labyrinth’s attention through contacts made at our Home Movie Day at the Skirball in the spring.

Here’s a quick rundown and a few screengrabs of the new films:

FAMILY SECRETS: EVADING HISTORICAL TRAUMA
Peter Vanlaw did not discover that he and his German émigré family were Jewish until he had a heart attack in his fifties. His story is driven by unsolved mysteries concerning his grandmother’s suicide, his mother’s mental breakdown, and his father’s repeated attempts to escape family history. Combining melodrama and historical trauma, this story supports scholar Michele Citron’s claim that “home movies were powerful and necessary fictions that allowed us to see and explore truths that could only be looked at obliquely.” Edited by Daniel Bydlowski.

 In 1929, Peter Vanlaw’s parents, Kurt Weinlaub and Lilly Rayfish, were newlyweds enjoying their prosperity at the Winston apartments in Hollywood, but then came the Stock Market Crash that seriously rocked their world.

In 1929, Peter Vanlaw’s parents, Kurt Weinlaub and Lilly Rayfish, were newlyweds enjoying their prosperity at the Winston apartments in Hollywood, but then came the Stock Market Crash that seriously rocked their world.

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The Wheels on the Bus: From Boyle Heights to Beverlywood

The ark at the Breed Street Shul, one of several stops during our recent Jewish Homegrown History Bus Tour.

The ark at the Breed Street Shul, one stop during our recent Jewish Homegrown History Bus Tour.

I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and like many Angelenos, I came here as an adult. At this point in my life, I have lived in L.A. much longer than my first eighteen years in Chattanooga. I have come to love the story of Los Angeles—my husband is a big hometown booster—and I have visited and learned to appreciate all that Los Angeles has to offer, from San Pedro to San Fernando to San Gabriel to Santa Monica.

A fascinating piece of the L.A. story is the history of the Jews who have settled and thrived here. From its earliest days, Jews have helped to build L.A. as we know it—whether as bankers, merchants, performers, teachers, builders, or Hollywood producers—and they continue to contribute to the fabric of the city through the arts, civic life, industry, and education. This ongoing story was brought vividly to life on a warm Sunday in June when fifty curious souls boarded a touring coach at the steps of the Skirball to spend a day exploring Jewish Los Angeles.

The catalyst for this day trip was Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity, and Intermarriage, on view at the Skirball for just one more month. The exhibition presents personal stories of growing up in Los Angeles and California through the use of cleverly edited home movies and wonderful added audio commentary. Visitors quickly learn of the challenges of moving to California in the 1930s and 1940s, adapting to a new environment, and encountering the various cultural groups that were also settling here.

The bus tour was ably conducted by Dr. Bruce Phillips, a professor of sociology at Hebrew Union College and Senior Research Fellow at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Bruce is a demographer: he studies patterns of settlement, affiliation, intermarriage, and immigration. He gathers the raw data and then attempts to deduce from it the stories of our lives. The ways he finds information are amazing. For example, by browsing the 1930 Los Angeles telephone directory, he was able to learn where Jews lived by pinpointing the houses of worship.

To prepare for the daylong bus tour, Bruce and I took the telephone directory records and headed out to find the long lost synagogues. We ended up as far south as 42nd St. and Grand Ave., where today we find the Greater Faith Temple, which was once called Congregation B’nai Amuna. Many of these old synagogues are now churches, but they all retain the original cornerstones with Hebrew dedications, as well as distinctively Jewish ornamental decorations on their facades. We were excited to bring our bus tour to these landmarks of Jewish homegrown history.

Our first stop was Greater New Vision Missionary Baptist Church on Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd, where Pastor Lucious Pope welcomed us. This building was the former home of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, which now sits proudly in Westwood on Wilshire Blvd. The church has retained the original designs in the sanctuary as well as the name in Hebrew on the front. As we peeked inside on a Sunday morning before regular services, the Greater New Vision congregants were warm and welcoming. Our visit to their church also gave us insight into the changing demographics of our city: the African American church now shares its space with a Spanish-speaking evangelical congregation. Continue reading

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Paper Mates: Phoebe and Henry Ephron

How can you not love seeing Kate Hepburn and her beloved Spencer Tracy together? Here they are in Desk Set, one of the best films by screenwriting duo Phoebe and Henry Ephron. © 20th Century Fox / Courtesy of Photofest.

How can you not love seeing Kate Hepburn and her beloved Spencer Tracy together? Here they are in Desk Set, one of the best films by screenwriting duo Phoebe and Henry Ephron. © 20th Century Fox / Courtesy of Photofest.


In thinking about the exhibition Jewish Homegrown History and the impact that Jewish individuals and communities have had on the fabric of Los Angeles, I immediately thought, “Hollywood!”

Most of us know the great Jewish men of Hollywood, like Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Danny Kaye, MGM Founders Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, and the four brothers of Warner Bros. We also know Jewish women who found fame on the silver screen, like Lauren Bacall, June Havoc, and Molly Picon, to name a few. But what’s less known are the behind-the-scenes contributions that Jewish women have made to the industry and to the culture of L.A. Perhaps this is because of a gender-bias in “the biz,” or an oversight by historians. Whatever the reason, I was happy that a quick search on the Jewish Women’s Archive led me to a plethora of information about the important and well-known films either written or co-written by Jewish women.

The Skirball’s new, upcoming film series The Write Stuff celebrates these hidden gems, the great films of the Golden Age of Hollywood penned by Jewish women screenwriters. In these early days, i.e. the 1930s to the 1950s, women were mostly relegated to acting roles. Thankfully, some were able to break through this glass ceiling to become not only great screenwriters, but also directors, producers, editors, etc.

Fannie Hurst wrote the novel <em>Humoresque</em>, for which Phoebe and Henry Ephron adapted the screenplay. This tragic film starring Joan Crawford is a tear-jerker. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy of Photofest.

Fannie Hurst wrote the novel Humoresque, for which Phoebe and Henry Ephron adapted the screenplay. This tragic film starring Joan Crawford is a tear-jerker. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy of Photofest.

Some of the women who won early renown as screenwriters were: Sonya Levien (Daddy Long Legs [1931], which was remade in 1955 by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, and Interrupted Melody [1955]); Fannie Hurst (Humoresque [1920] and Imitation of Life [1934]), and Betty Comden (Singin’ in the Rain [1952], The Band Wagon [1953], and The Barkleys of Broadway[1949]). These films went on to win prestigious awards for best screenplay and best writing, not only attesting to these writers’ achievements, but also paving the way for future generations of women screenwriters, many of whom remain on our “favorites” lists today.

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Researching My Mexi-Jewish Homegrown History

A portrait of my great-grandma Sarah “Sally” Goldbaum, which is now part of the Jewish Homegrown History online archive. The companion exhibition is now on view at the Skirball.

A portrait of my great-grandma Sarah “Sally” Goldbaum, which is now part of the Jewish Homegrown History online archive. The companion exhibition is now on view at the Skirball.

My name is Sarah Goldbaum, and Goldbaum is my great grandmother’s maiden name. Does that make me Jewish? I guess it depends who you ask.

For a long time, all of us in our family were unfamiliar with our Jewish roots. As far as I knew, my mother and grandparents were Catholic. Growing up, I’d heard the story of my grandfather Al changing his last name from his father’s surname, Molina, to his mother’s, Goldbaum. It was part of family lore.

Two summers ago, I began sorting through a box of old family photos. I talked to my mom, aunt, and grandmother, eager to find out who the people in the pictures were, where they came from, and so on. I was hoping to piece together whatever we could from memories, scribbled photo captions, and Ancestry.com. Based on information from the U.S. Census and the University of Arizona Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives, we discovered that we were Mexican on my maternal grandmother’s side and Prussian Jewish on my maternal grandfather’s side.

Soon we were able to fill in some of the blanks. After just a couple of months, I was contacted by another Goldbaum on Facebook. He lives in Ecuador. “I think we’re related,” he wrote in a direct message. There are so many Goldbaums that I figured we probably weren’t, but sent him a link to some family photos anyway. I was amazed at his response: “We are definitely related!”

My family tree, from the Prussian Jewish brothers listed up top, down to me and my new Facebook friend, Roberto Goldbaum.

My family tree, from the Prussian Jewish brothers listed up top, down to me and my new Facebook friend, Roberto.

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Home Movies: Then, Now, Forever?

Jewish Homegrown History

Skirball visitors watch some of the many home movies screened in Jewish Homegrown History, organized by USC’s Labyrinth Project. Bring your own home movies to Home Movie Day at the Skirball this Sunday, April 22, and find out how best to preserve them for the future. Photo by Daniel Bydlowski.

With the exhibition Jewish Homegrown History now on view, there’s something I’ve been wondering about: When you hear the term “home movie,” what comes to mind? I dare say that the image will vary considerably based on when you grew up.

If you were a Depression-era kid, born in the 1930s and 1940s, most home movies were an elaborate affair shot in 16mm film and screened using a large projector much like the ones used in school classrooms back in the day. It was an expensive undertaking that only a few could afford and was reserved for special occasions.

Baby Boomers remember small 8mm handheld cameras, which could shoot about eight minutes of footage and whose images had no accompanying sound. In order to shoot indoors, the camera operator had to mount a gigantic light bulb, which, in addition to providing the necessary lighting, could also blind and burn its subjects! Dangers aside, we would gladly dance in front of the camera—run around like wild animals, leap off furniture, dive into swimming pools. Continue reading

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