Networking Hollywood and Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s
Sa, 14/12/2019 – 11:00
German Historical Institute, London School of Economics
Presentation by Katharina Prager at the conference „Translating, Travelling, Transferring Ideologies. Gendered Practices in Transnational Political Networks“
This paper explores how Salka Viertel adopted and transferred gendered concepts of exchange. It wants to show how she became an activist for some causes but not for others. Finally, it focusses on the visibility of her contributions – then and now.
Salomea Sara ‘Salka’ Steuermann (1889–1978) was born into a Jewish family in the small town of Sambor, Galicia. Her father was the mayor of the town and it was quite clear (already to the young children) that her mother’s contribution to his position was essential. Auguste Steuermann took a keen interest in the latest societal and cultural developments, hosted guests and kept a large “family” informed in extensive letters. Salka Steuermann learned all these cultural practices as well as several languages but refused to enter an arranged marriage like her mother. Even though her aims to become an actress were not fostered like her brother’s artistic career, she was finally allowed to leave her family and become an actress. In her autobiography Salka Viertel described this experience as a “modern woman” as a time of freedom and independence, on the one hand, and sexual harassment and new dependencies, on the other. After twenty years on the stage in life in the multinational Habsburg empire and later the Weimar Republic, after ten years of marriage to the writer and director Berthold Viertel (1885–1953) and after giving birth to three sons, Salka Viertel followed her husband to Hollywood in 1928, after their own theatre company failed and they were left with a substantial amount of debt. While Salka Viertel was never a writer’s wife like Katja Mann or Friederike Zweig and found it ‘absurd’ to ‘renounce [her] profession […] for financial reasons also’, she was however clearly in charge of organising the everyday life of her family and the upbringing of the children. In Hollywood, also because of her age and language, she first felt reduced to a ‘film-wife’, but soon built up her own informal networks again (and could establish herself as a screenwriter due to these networks), hosted guests in her house (soon famous as “Salon” and meeting place of the Exile community) and got involved – often as a founding member – in various political organisations like the Screen Writer’s Guild or the Anti-Nazi-League.