The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood
"If Salka is remembered today, it's not for her screenwriting career or her role in the antifascist emigration; it's most often for her alleged lesbian relationship with Garbo," tuts Donna Rifkind in The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
A Jew raised in Galicia, Salka Viertel (1889-1978) had been a working actress for two decades when Hollywood came calling--for her Viennese theater director husband, Berthold. In 1928, the couple left Berlin for the U.S. In 1932, Viertel began working as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where her chief task was finding vehicles for Garbo. On Sundays, she hosted salons at her house in Santa Monica. Anyone in her circle of émigré artist friends might drop by for chocolate cake and conversation about the latest worrisome news from abroad.
Viertel wasn't content just to talk about the Nazi scourge. She procured the affidavits necessary for artists and others trying to flee persecution in Europe. She convinced her rich and famous friends to sponsor refugees, and she donated money to the cause. Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939 emboldened her to do more. She took refugees into her home, tried to find them jobs and helped them to assimilate into the new world, as she had.
Rifkind proves with The Sun and Her Stars--her first book and the first English-language biography of Viertel--that she's a formidable storyteller. "Without immigrants, there would be no Golden Age of Hollywood," writes Rifkind. And without Salka Viertel, Old Hollywood's lights would have shone less brightly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer