The Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey will pay homage to Dore Schary, the Newark-born Hollywood mogul who fought other film industry leaders to introduce social messages in his many films.
The honor will come in the form of an exhibit — “Dore Schary: From Newark to Hollywood” — that is on display and will run through Nov. 13 in the atrium of the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
In a program on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 1, Jewish film scholar Eric Goldman will speak on Schary’s contributions to Hollywood and Broadway and his battles for social justice and against anti-Semitism.
“Schary was not afraid of identifying publicly as a Jew,” Goldman told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 7 interview. “That’s the bottom line. He came from a different generation than most of the moguls. They were all immigrants and tried to identify themselves as Americans. They felt that if they tried to identify themselves as Jewish Americans, it would detract from the perception that they were good Americans.”
Unlike other European-born Jewish studio heads who immigrated to America, Schary felt “comfortable with himself as a Jew. That is what made him stand out from the rest of the crowd,” said Goldman, a Teaneck resident who writes and lectures on Yiddish, Israeli, and Jewish films. He is also founder and president of Ergo Media, a publishing and distribution company that specializes in Jewish and Israeli video, and the author of The American Jewish Story Through Cinema.
Part of the exhibit will deal with Schary’s early years in Newark. Born there in 1905, Isadore Schary attended Central High School, but was “thrown out because he took too much time away from class to work in his family’s catering hall, Schary Manor, which was the pre-eminent kosher catering establishment serving the needs of the Jews of Newark,” said JHS executive director and exhibit curator Linda Forgosh. Schary did return to high school to get his diploma at age 19.
Schary acted in and directed plays he wrote with his friend Moss Hart at Newark’s High Street YMHA in variety shows called “Bits of Hits.” Hart went on to fame as a writer for stage and screen; Schary wrote for Broadway and headed off to Hollywood as a writer, director, and, eventually, chief of production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. In 1938 he won an Academy Award as cowriter of Boys Town.
While many of his colleagues disdained films with political themes, Schary “had a social conscience that he wanted reflected in films,” Goldman said. “That’s what he was all about. He was a strong believer in film as a messenger for change and understanding.”
Schary challenged both the Hollywood establishment and many in the organized Jewish community when he insisted on producing Crossfire, a 1947 murder mystery involving the killing of a Jew by an anti-Semite.
Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee believed films dealing with anti-Semitism might trigger more hatred of Jews in the sensitive years after the Holocaust.
That same year, Schary opposed studio heads who called for a blacklist of suspected communists and other leftists who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
“He was a standup guy,” said Forgosh.
Forgosh said she became interested in Schary as an undergraduate at Rider College, when she took a course in film history and learned that Schary had not only made Crossfire but had tackled other sensitive issues such as, in Bad Day at Black Rock, the wartime treatment of Japanese-Americans.
“He was his own man, and that didn’t always work in Hollywood,” Goldman said. “When he refused to resign at MGM and was finally fired, he left Hollywood for New York and went on to write and produce and do more theater. That’s when he got involved with the ADL.”
Schary served as national chair of ADL from 1963 through 1968, then as its acting chair for a year after the sudden death of his successor, Samuel Dalsimer.
During his years as national chair, said Todd Gutnick, ADL’s current director of marketing and communications, “Schary expressed ADL’s concerns about the urban crisis, the situation of African-Americans, and the relationship between African-Americans and Jews. During the height of the activities of the John Birch Society and the radical Right, he spoke out against political extremism and the ‘yahoos’ of the far Right.”
Schary died in 1980; he was buried in the Hebrew Cemetery in West Long Branch.
The ADL is assisting the JHS with the exhibit, as is Schary’s daughter Jill Schary Robinson. She will appear, sharing the memories of her father, in a 20-minute video running on a loop at the exhibit.
Goldman said Schary “set a wonderful model. He was totally unabashed about his Jewish identity and used his office to push concerns on behalf of the Jewish community. He was 100 percent comfortable with his politics as a liberal Roosevelt Democrat. He was an incredible model for the American Jew.”