Hollywood, Hitler and showbiz

GOOD MORNING: Hollywood, Hitler and showbiz: With the week’s airings of “Anne Frank” and “Conspiracy” and the continued space being given the success of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” no conversations these days ignore the power and importance of free expression by the arts. And it was during one of these conversations that its importance had perhaps been overlooked or forgotten with the passage of time. The conversation started with just a few of us, who had seen “The Producers” on B’way, telling other guests about the show. The occasion was the ninth wedding anniversary celebration of Shirley (Mitchell) and Jay Livingston. Bob and Rosemary Stack were two of the intimate group and when talk of “Anne Frank” began, he revealed visitors to the “Anne Frank House” had told him there was a fan foto of him on the wall of that little apartment which she was soon to leave to start her death march. Stack reminded how the little girl loved the “Hollywood” she had heard about and the people in it — like Robert Stack. “She dreamed of going to Hollywood one day,” Stack told us. He emphasized his recollection of the Anne Frank story by telling his own story. He was 20 years old and was at MGM working in “The Mortal Storm” directed by Frank Borzage. Margaret Sullavan, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Young, Frank Morgan and a long list of magnificent actors rounded out the cast of Americans as Germans. Sidney Franklin was the courageous producer. Stack recalled, “One day a member of the Swiss consulate in L.A. — there was no German consulate here in 1940 and the Germans relayed their messages through the Swiss — visited the studio. He said he’s been told by the German high command to deliver this message: “Everyone appearing in ‘The Mortal Storm’ will be remembered WHEN (not ‘if’) Germany wins the war.’ ” Everyone on the set heard about it — you know how gossip spreads on a movie set. Robert Young — who played the Nazi heavy, was worried and said, “What about my kids.” Hitler even threatened Louis B. Mayer with boycott of all MGM films. Stack admitted, “Actually, we didn’t know the effectiveness of what we were doing.” Daily Variety‘s review, said, “With the devastating directness of a Stukas diver, ‘The Mortal Storm’ is a film bomb which is about to explode in American theaters with such force as to dispel public equanimity, (if, in fact, any exists) towards the vicious operation of Nazism and its fanatical proponents.” Variety reviewer John C. Flinn Sr. said of the film set in 1933 Germany, “Nor is any attempt made to hide the intent of the picture behind a screen of double-talk or pictorial fantasy. ‘The Mortal Storm’ pulls no punches. The film acquits itself handsomely of the mission to urge that it shall not happen here.” In his review, Flinn points to the importance and power of a movie “that demands universal screening in Americana theatre. There will be squawks,” he noted. “Then again, there will be eyes opened which heretofore have looked listlessly upon what happened there, believing it could never happen here.”

THE CONVERSATION CONTINUED as Stack recalled, two years later, he was being directed by another movie giant, Ernst Lubitsch in “To Be or Not to Be.” Once again, the handsome, blonde, pale-eyed Stack was cast in uniform, this time as a Polish aviator Stanislav Sobinski, enamored of Carole Lombard, the actress-wife of hammy legit impresario Jack Benny (forerunner of “The Producers'” Max Bialystock?) It was Lombard’s last movie. America was but a few months into the war when “To Be or Not to Be” hit the nation’s screens. And its was 41 years later that Brooks remade it co-starring his wife, Anne Bancroft, in the Lombard role and Tim Matheson in the Lieutenant Sobinski role. (Stack had gone from ersatz aviator to real-life lieutenant in the Navy before returning to Hollywood, and in 1956 got an Oscar nomination for “Written on the Wind.”) Of course, Brooks returned to his legit character in the movie “Producers,” carrying the seed with him to the musical version this year. This Hitler was Hollywood and Broadway’s leading man — although he never knew it. But the New Yorker continued carrying the torch for him in its recent cover in which an entire B’way audience is in stitches — all, that is, except one — Adolf. So, congrats to today’s and tomorrow’s creative talents who will, with laughs and tears remind all of the power of the pen.

IF YOU’RE NOT SAFE IN BEVERLY HILLS, where are you safe?” That was George Schlatter talking after he, wife Jolene, Barbara Sinatra and her son Robert Marx were mugged three years ago while walking on Foothill Road. Four assailants attacked the group with Marx landing in the hospital after being struck in the head. Now, Barbara is readying to sell the house and move into a penthouse condo she’s purchased in a security building on Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood. It was one (of three) formerly owned by Marilyn and Harry Lewis and has a 360-degree view of the city. I know it’s beautiful — I saw it when the Lewises owned it … And talking real estate, the Wilshire Blvd. site where Planet Hollywood Beverly Hills had a short — but glamorous — life, will now become one of the 28 Burberry stores in the U.S. The English haberdashery was established in 1867, will open in September, and it now joins the elite list of shoppes in the area that includes Rodeo Dr., Canon Dr., and of course Beverly Drive — where there’s another landmark where the elite meet — Nate ‘n’ Al’s.