The Waldorf Conference • A Play

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Cast of Characters

Mendel Silberberg

General Counsel for Motion Picture and Television Producers and Columbia Pictures. For 30 years he was Chairman of the Jewish Federation Council's Community Relations Committee. His law firm — Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp -- represented Columbia for 30 years and RKO for 20 years. Silberberg was also Louis B. Mayer's personal lawyer as well as lawyer for Mayer's estate. He was Republican and was close to Nixon and Earl Warren (before Warren turned moderate).

In 1945 Silberberg visited Louis B. Mayer at MGM with a gaggle of Jewish leaders in tow. They forcefully suggested that Mayer give up his involvement in horse racing because it was bad for the image of the Hollywood Jew. Mayer threw them out of his office. Then on February 27, 1947 Mayer auctioned off his horses.

Mendel Silberberg was the Rabbi Magnin of Los Angeles's secular Jewish community. He was from an old-line L.A. Jewish family that was so assimilated that he was raised as a Christian Scientist. Through his early political work he had cloud with the Chandler family that owned the Los Angeles Times and with the state's Republican party, where he was known as a "fixer." These political connections led him to Mayer, who literally shaped Silberberg into a Jew for his own political purposes.

Silberberg's access to Times owner Otis Chandler helped stem the anti-Semitic infiltration of that paper when, on March 13, 1934, pro-Hitler pressmen printed and folded hate literature into an edition of the paper. Mayer goaded Silberberg into enlisting Chandler's help fighting anti-Semitism. When other anti-Semitic activities occurred in LA in the 30s, LA's Jews formed the Community Relations Council whose chairman was Silberberg. This made him Hollywood's accepted Jew.

By the start of WW2 Silberberg was #2 Jew in America after Rabbi Magnin and also -- thanks to his studio connections — the most powerful entertainment lawyer in the industry. Even Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures respected Silberberg, who often mediated in fights between the Cohn brothers, Harry and Jack, who detested each other. Silberberg's articulation of the Jewish image in movies -- both on screen and in the studio offices — is key. He once formed a bloc with Dore Schary to keep RKO president Peter Rathvon from canceling "Crossfire" (released in 1947) because it was about the murder of a Jew.

The "Crossfire" issue is significant, for it sensitized America's Jewish organizations to the controversy over any Jewish theme in movies (ironic, since Richard Brooks' novel, The Brick Foxhole, from which "Crossfire" was adapted, was about the murder of a homosexual, not a Jew). East Coast Jewish organizations (ADL, American Jewish Committee, etc.) felt betrayed by Mendel Silberberg who was presumably supposed to take care of all this mishegoss.