The Library will be closed on Monday, May 27, 2024, in observance of Memorial Day.

Jewish American Heritage Month: Industry Trailblazers

Wendy Horowitz, Librarian, Photo Collection,
Movie industry trailblazers of the Jewish community of Los Angeles

The history of the Jewish community of Los Angeles began before California became a state: Jewish settler Jacob Frankfort arrived in 1841 while the region was still a Spanish colony. A decade later, as the Jewish population in Los Angeles grew, they established themselves as merchants, tailors, and restaurateurs. Within a few more decades, they expanded their professional reach into banking, real estate, and politics. However, by the early 20th century, a handful of Jewish entrepreneurs from the vaudeville and theatrical circuits around the country made their way to Los Angeles, formed their own film production companies, and established the movie industry in Hollywood. From these fledgling film studios emerged Paramount, Warner Bros., Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and Columbia, and the movie moguls that ran them helped transform the former rancho into the sprawling metropolis we know today.

Since this year’s Jewish American Heritage Month coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of MGM Studios, the LAPL Photo Collection looked through our archive for a selection of photographs of Jewish Americans, native and naturalized, who were pioneers, innovators, and ground-breakers in the film business. They are studio chiefs, writers, directors, and artists whose creativity and determination blazed a trail for others who continue to break through societal barriers of gender, race, and ethnicity.


Samuel Goldwyn, born Szmuel Gelbfisz, was a partner in the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company before becoming one of the most successful independent film producers of his time.

Famous stars are pictured with Samuel Goldwyn in 1919

Pictured from left: Samuel Goldwyn, actress Mabel Normand, and actor Charlie Chaplin, [1919]. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Costume designer Edith Head, born Edith Posenor, won eight Academy Awards for costume design, making her the most awarded female in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Head fits one of her creations on model Eileen Coughlin
Edith Head fits one of her creations on model Eileen Coughlin, [1955]. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Jack Warner, born Jacob Warner, along with brothers Harry and Sam, established Warner Bros. Studios in 1923. In 1927, their studio released The Jazz Singer , the first feature-length movie with synchronized sound.

Portrait of Jack L. Warner

Portrait of Jack Warner, dated July 11, 1938. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Max Factor, born Maksymilian Faktorwicz, was a make-up artist and an innovator in the advancement of theatrical make-up for use in the film industry. His success in creating cosmetics that would harmonize with bright studio lights made him an expert in the field of make-up for the film industry, eventually leading him to market his own brand of cosmetics to the general public.

Max Factor tests color tones on a man’s face and a woman’s back
Max Factor tests color tones on a man’s face and a woman’s back. Circa 1933. Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection

Irving Thalberg was one of the youngest and most successful film producers of all time, earning him the nickname "The Boy Wonder." At twenty, he oversaw production at Universal Pictures, then became the head of production at the newly formed MGM at age twenty-three.

Irving G. Thalberg
Portrait of Irving Thalberg at his desk at Universal Pictures, circa 1924. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Film producers Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor founded Paramount Pictures in 1916. In 1927, the studio won the first ever Academy Award for Best Picture for the feature film Wings.

Adolph Zukor, left, and Jesse L. Lasky, circa 1921
Pictured are Adolph Zukor, left, and Jesse L. Lasky, circa 1921. Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection

Louis B. Mayer, born Lazar Meir, was a film producer and co-founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1924 and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 1927.

Group photo of Harry Rapf, Louis B. Mayer and Irvine Thalberg
Pictured from the right are producer Harry Rapf, Louis B. Mayer, and Irving Thalberg, circa 1924. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Carl Laemmle started one of the first movie theaters in Chicago, branched out into distribution and then production, eventually becoming one of the founders of Universal Pictures.

Marion Davies presents Carl Laemmle with loving cup

Carl Laemmle jokingly accepts a solid silver "loving cup" from actress Marion Davies, [1923]. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection

Recommended Reading


Book cover of Lion of Hollywood : the life and legend of Louis B. Mayer
Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer
Eyman, Scott

Book cover of Mayer and Thalberg : the make-believe saints
Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-believe Saints
Marx, Samuel

Book cover for Irving Thalberg : boy wonder to producer prince
Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince
Vieira, Mark A.

Book cover of City of dreams : the making and remaking of Universal Pictures
City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures
Dick, Bernard F.

Book cover of Early Paramount Studios
Early Paramount Studios
Stephens, E. J.

Book cover of The Warner brothers
The Warner Brothers
Yogerst, Chris

Book cover of Warner Bros : the making of an American movie studio
Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio
Thomson, David

Book cover of Max Factor : the man who changed the faces of the world
Max Factor: The Man Who Changed the Faces of the World
Basten, Fred E.

Book cover of Max Factor and Hollywood : a glamorous history
Max Factor and Hollywood: A Glamorous History
Thomas, Erika

Book cover of Edith Head : the life and times of Hollywood's celebrated costume designer
Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood's Celebrated Costume Designer
Chierichetti, David

Book cover of Edith Head : the fifty-year career of Hollywood's greatest costume designer
Edith Head: The fifty-year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer
Jorgensen, Jay

Book cover of An empire of their own : how the Jews invented Hollywood
An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood
Gabler, Neal

Book cover for From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood
From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood


 

 

 

Top