Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


Esperanto and Cinema Part Four. Esperanto Goes to Hollywood

Author: David Poulson
Published on:August 20, 1999

Esperanto Goes to Hollywood.

The year 1939 is memorable to film lovers for being the year when Gone With The Wind was released.

Clark Gable's performance (which - strangely enough, for I am a great film fan - I have still not seen ) established him as the undisputed leader of Hollywood's male stars.

But, 1939 is memorable to Esperantist historians as the year when the language made a significant appearance in two Hollywood films, one of which has become a classic. (See below). The other film, although very popular at the time, is now deeply buried in the graveyard of third-rate movies.

And yet it would have appeared to have all of the recipes for success. It was made at MGM studios. It was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Robert E. Sherwood which had been a Broadway hit. The stars were Clark Gable and the elegant and sophisticated Norma Shearer, and they were supported by such fine actors as Charles Coburn and Burgess Meredith. In this movie Clark Gable actually dances and performs a notable version of "Putting on the Ritz."

Even with all of these clues I would be surprised if many readers of this Topic have already identified the film as Idiot's Delight. So, what was it all about, where did Esperanto fit in, and why has it vanished?

The film tells the story of a small dance troupe (Clark Gable and his six "Blondes Girls" who were trapped in a European country by the outbreak of the Second World War. The film is an anti-war satire and, to avoid offending any European nation, several of which were ruled by Fascist or Communist dictators, the country in the story was presented as a place were the inhabitants all spoke Esperanto. Nu, vere!

Nevertheless, in one of only two photographs I have managed to see of scenes from this film, there is an army officer wearing what looks very much like a Nazi uniform jodhpurs, knee-high boots, peaked cap and all. And the other still you can find here (it's number 14).

As to why the film has not been revived, as other films from the same period have, I suspect that the producers made a big mistake (only from a historical perspective) in shooting a song and dance comedy in black and white.

An interesting fellow - both a famous film buff and collector of Hollywood memorabilia - is Forrest Ackerman who has turned his house into a museum, open to visitors. He is also an Esperantist of long standing and claims to have a photo of Norma Shearer with a personal message on it written in Esperanto. I asked Mr Ackerman (who is now in his eighties) for more information about this photo but, unfortunately, received no reply.

(Stephen Spielberg, as shown below, got a more friendly reception.)

You can find out more about the "Ackermuseum" and it's owner's involvement with Esperanto at his quirky but fascinating web-site, right here

Forrest Ackerman is also an avid science fiction fan, with a huge collection of books and magazines, so this seems to be a suitable moment to mention that I will be discussing Esperanto and Science Fiction in later Topic articles.

That subject, ie sci-fi, (to use a term which Forrest Ackerman claims to have invented) seems to me to follow naturally from this discussion of the cinema. Then, after that, I will be turning my attention to another communication medium - popular music.

Meanwhile, there is still quite a lot of ground to cover before I have finished with Esperanto and the Cinema and in my next article I will be discussing four more Hollywood movies which made use of Esperanto, including the classic film mentioned at the beginning of this article: Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.

As well as Charlie, some of the stars mentioned will be Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby, Heddy Lamarr, Robert Taylor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Paulette Goddard.

Finally, I would like to extend my personal sympathy to William Shatner, star of the Esperanto language film Incubus (to be discussed in a later article), and a science fiction author in his own right, for the personal tragedy which struck him a short time ago.

Looking forward very much to your contributions to the discussion columns of this topic.

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