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Not at All Quiet on the Western Front: The Great War Initiation of a Hollywood Veteran

(The following is a cross-post by Zachary Maiorana. It originally appeared on the In the Muse Blog.)

Caricature of Hollander in a humorous ex libris design by a friend. Hollander’s comment reads: “This…creature with the Reger head is not completely devoid of malice.” Max Reger was a prolific composer and a contemporary of Hollander. “Two scrapbooks documenting the Deutsches Theater an der Westfront founded by Fritz Grunwald at Tournai during WW I, 1917-1918,” Call number ML95.H67 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress.

Zachary Maiorana interned in the European Division this summer updating lists of e-resources that are especially valuable for European studies. He alternated with interning at the Smithsonian, as well. Zach graduated in May from Ohio State University with a B.A. in an Honors program which included English and Linguistics and minors in History and German. The following is a guest post from Zachary Maiorana.

Born in 1896, Friedrich Holländer, known better in the United States as Frederick Hollander, seemed destined for musical greatness, if only judging by his family credentials. His father, Victor, was a famous composer in his own right, and the accomplished Holländer family included academics, authors, newspapermen, critics, and various other international cultural movers and shakers.

Raised in Berlin, Hollander was a precocious teenager. He studied at both the Stern Conservatory, where his uncle Gustav was the head, and the Prussian Academy of Sciences. At the outset of World War I, Hollander was only 18 years old, yet he was already directing musical performances to entertain German troops on the Western Front. His work there was part of Sergeant Fritz Grunwald’s troop entertainment program, created to raise morale during the long stretches in the trenches throughout the war. Despite initial insistence from military leaders that the performances be exclusively wholesome and patriotic, Grunwald insisted that the shows be designed as pure escapism for the soldiers, who were made miserable by rampant death and disease. As a result, many of the plays, operettas, and comedies that Hollander conducted featured raucous and risqué themes.

While serving as musical director for a German army theater during World War I, Hollander kept two scrapbooks, now in the possession of the Library of Congress. They offer an intimate view into wartime life on the front, tracking the countless performances for troops at theaters in occupied towns. Playbills, postcards, and photos adorn each page. One finds incredible photos of bodies strewn in the streets beside the very venues where concerts and plays were set to occur.

Photos in Hollander’s scrapbooks depicting the aftermath of shelling in Ostend, Belgium. Hollaender, Friedrich. “Two scrapbooks documenting the Deutsches Theater an der Westfront founded by Fritz Grunwald at Tournai during WW I, 1917-1918,” Call number ML95 .H67 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress.

Photos of the Opéra de Lille, an opera house under construction when the Germans invaded in 1914. German soldiers transferred the furniture and equipment to the city’s other opera house, the Théâtre Sébastopol, for use during the duration of the occupation. “Two scrapbooks documenting the Deutsches Theater an der Westfront founded by Fritz Grunwald at Tournai during WW I, 1917-1918,” Call number ML95 .H67 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Hollander from his autobiography. Hollander, Frederick. Von Kopf bis Fuss; mein Leben mit Text und Musik. Mùˆnchen: Kindler, 1965. Call number ML410.H7445 A35, Music Division, Library of Congress.

After the war, Hollander became successful on the Weimar cabaret scene, composing and performing in Germany, and beginning to score films. He reached iconic status in 1930 when he co-wrote the soundtrack for the Marlene Dietrich classic, “Der Blaue Engel, or The Blue Angel,” which featured the legendary hit “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt” (I’m ready for love from head to toe) translated into English as “Falling in Love Again.” Since then, the song has been performed by such singers as Billie Holiday, the Beatles, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Marvin Gaye. Hollander named his memoirs, “Von Kopf bis Fuss: mein Leben mit Text und Musik” (From head to toe: my life with text and music), after the song.

Following the rise of Hitler, Hollander, like so many other German Jews, fled to the United States and was soon writing hits for American films. His English-language novel “Those Torn from Earth” is based on his experiences as a refugee. His success continued in Hollywood, building a 25-year career, receiving four Academy Award nominations, and acquiring countless famous friends along the way. He returned to Germany in the 1950s and took part in the revival of the cabaret scene, eventually dying in Munich just short of his 80th birthday in 1976.

Playbill from the operetta, Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II, as performed in Sedan, directed by Fritz Grunwald and conducted by Hollander. “Two scrapbooks documenting the Deutsches Theater an der Westfront founded by Fritz Grunwald at Tournai during WW I, 1917-1918,” Call number ML95 .H67 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress.

 

Hollander’s prolific life encompassed 60 years of music, books, films, and history. While his legacy is most recognizable in the songs that are still performed and listened to today, the scrapbooks from his youth as a wartime entertainer offer a striking glimpse into life during World War I. He kept portraits of himself sketched by artist friends, and recorded the photos and stories of his travels along the front. The images and mementos track the army’s movements through Belgium, France and the Netherlands, reminding us that, although trench warfare prevented the army’s forward movement, life for the soldiers was by no means static.

“Over a year and a half we criss-crossed through France and Belgium,” Hollander wrote in his autobiography, “We played in the opera in Brussels, and in a barn in Le Cateau. Every two days brought new orchestras, orchestra rehearsals—operettas and comedies for the soldiers who come from the field to the stage.”

Most of Hollander’s autobiography is devoted to intrigues in Hollywood social circles, and being surrounded by celebrities like Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy. By contrast, his reminiscences about the Great War are relatively brief. “Not every bomb hit, but some were pretty close,” he says. “Then we would interrupt the performance, and, until the ‘all clear’ was given, the performers and officers would have social gatherings in the air raid shelter.” Soldiers and performers alike became numb to the everyday presence of danger and terror.

Portraits of Hollander in 1916, left, and 1918, right. Hollaender, Friedrich. “Two scrapbooks documenting the Deutsches Theater an der Westfront founded by Fritz Grunwald at Tournai during WW I, 1917-1918,” Call number ML95 .H67 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scrapbooks are valuable artifacts–as memories of the lives of young artists, as records of military life during brutal conflict, and as an account of Hollander’s early life which foreshadowed his future encounters with intrigue and adventure during some of the most notable moments of the 20th century.

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