There was a time in the 1930s and '40s when Los Angeles, until then considered a barbarian desert outpost by effete Eastern snobs, became the European culture capital in exile.
An influx of the greatest Jewish artists from Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, fleeing Nazi persecution, settled in Brentwood and Santa Monica, attracted equally by employment in the movie industry and the balmy (smog-free) climate.
The journeys of 11 of the brightest names who left the Old for the New World are chronicled and visualized in the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, "Driven Into Paradise."
Represented are filmmakers Billy Wilder and Michael Curtiz; composers Arnold Schoenberg and Ernst Toch; writers Vicki Baum, Lion Feuchtwanger, Salka Viertel and Franz Werfel; and artists Otto and Gertrud Natzler and Emilie "Galka" Scheyer.
Through interactive graphic panels displaying musical scores, manuscripts, novels, letters, photographs and film and music clips, curator Tal Gozani encapsulates the cultural ferment of the decades and the émigrés' contributions to the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It boggles the mind to recall that one ex-Hungarian, Michael Curtiz, directed such classics as "Casablanca," "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "White Christmas," while Austrian-born Billy (Samuel) Wilder created "The Lost Weekend," "Double Indemnity," "Stalag 17," "The Apartment," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Some Like It Hot."
While the works of authors Baum ("Grand Hotel") and Werfel ("The Song of Bernadette") became hit movies, other artists were too avant-garde for their time and place.
"Driven Into Paradise," an expression coined by Schoenberg, is being shown in tandem with the Skirball's "Einstein" exhibit, a tribute to the most famous refugee of all and an occasional Southern Californian.
The émigré exhibit is complemented by special programs, including "Kaffee und Kultur" (March 20), "Memories of Jewish Refugee Women" (May 1), the "Paradise Found Film Series" (March 22-April 19) and the six-session course "I'm Not From Here: Creative Encounters for Newcomers to Los Angeles" (April 4-May 23).
"Driven Into Paradise" runs through May 8 in the Skirball's Ruby Gallery. Admission is free. For information, call (310) 440-4500, or visit www.skirball.org.
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