July 30, 2012
Anne Frank’s Hollywood dreams
Perhaps the greatest thing about Hollywood is its ability to inspire. Though its name connotes a city and an industry, to me, it’s also always represented an ideal. Beyond the biz and the box office, Hollywood is about a world where dreams and glamour and creativity are paramount; it is a conceptual canvas for our deepest desires, a benign narcotic for the imagination.
A young Anne Frank certainly saw it that way. In a beautiful little piece for The New Yorker, Richard Brody writes of his visit to the Anne Frank house, where he discovered a little known fact: Anne Frank idolized Hollywood.
You can view a wonderful photograph of the wall here.
Among what remains of the clippings on the wall, Brody observed myriad pictures of movie actors: “Greta Garbo as Ninotchka…Simone Simon, wearing Chanel…Ginger Rogers.”
This little detail, though seemingly trivial, is enough to imagine what role these images played. They were aspirational. Any teenage girl who plasters her wall with pop culture paraphernalia is making a declaration about her identity: This is what I find interesting, beautiful, special… This is what I’d like to do, who I hope to love, what I’d like to look like.
The significance Hollywood held for Anne, a bright, exceptionally literate Dutch girl, had much to do, I suspect, with its mythology. Since it was a condition of Anne’s father, Otto Frank, to leave the house exactly as the Germans had left it—ransacked, emptied, abandoned—in order for it to be opened to the public, what survived are real vestiges of the Franks’ wartime sustenance. It is easy to imagine Anne during those many dark nights in hiding, staring up at her self-selected Hollywood icons. It was an easy escape, the only one allowed or even possible.
But of all the things Hollywood represents, it centralizes a mythology about the power of stories to move and transform us, and change our lives. In that way, Frank not only idealized Hollywood but succeeded in it.