Academy Museum Donors: What About the Jews?

Cecil B DeMille, Adolph Zukor And Sam Goldwyn
Photo via John Kobal Fdn/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
November 21, 2021

Among the gripes about L.A.’s new Academy Museum is the pretty noticeable downplaying of the movie industry’s founding fathers—the “moguls,” the mostly Eastern European Jews who are the reason “Hollywood” is located in Los Angeles in the first place. Visitors are treated to lavish displays on Spike Lee, Hayao Miyazaki and Pedro Almodovar, but see much more muted (and far less flattering) mentions of transformational figures like Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, or the Warner brothers, not to mention the stars of the so-called Golden Age.

The private grumbling has begun to spill into the press, and it’s certainly a topic of frustration among some older, Jewish Academy members I’ve spoken to, especially on the Bel Air circuit. (My Jewish mother, who is definitely not on the Bel Air circuit, also shook her head in disapproval when I told her about the controversy.) Now I’m told a few of those angry members are withholding financial donations in protest, refusing to give money to a museum they believe is denying its heritage.   

I chatted with Museum director Bill Kramer about this topic last week, and he was very aware of the criticism. “We hear that, and we take that note very seriously,” Kramer told me. “As with any segment of our history, we don’t want to erase. We have been in active conversation with concerned members of the community about upcoming exhibitions and programming that speak to these concerns.” Hence the Dec. 10 symposium, Vienna in Hollywood: The Influence and Impact of Austrians on the Hollywood Film Industry, 1920s to 2020s.

Kramer knows that with a nearly $500 million price tag, the museum can’t really afford to alienate donors of any religion, especially one so entrenched in Hollywood. He has launched an ambitious $22 million fundraising effort for fiscal 2021-2022—and he’s already 80 percent there, I’m told, thanks to the first of what will be an annual gala that raised $11 million in September. The museum is finalizing the sale of naming rights for “pillars” on the property at $1 million a pop, and it has signed up more than 19,000 museum “members” since opening, averaging 200 a week. He says if donors are withholding money, he hasn’t noticed the hit yet.

What the Academy Museum really needs is a shrine to Lew Wasserman’s glasses.