Decades before today's white nationalist movement, "the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles" fought a plan to assassinate film stars and studio heads by hanging them in the streets.
In March 1934, Leon Lewis, a 44-year-old lawyer and former executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, invited 40 of Hollywood's most powerful studio heads, producers and directors — men like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and Jack Warner — to a secret meeting at Hillcrest, the elite Jewish country club in Cheviot Hills. For nearly a year, Lewis had used a network of spies (including the son of a Bavarian general) to keep tabs on Nazis and American-born fascists in Los Angeles. Some in the group knew a bit about what Lewis had been up to, but few knew the full extent of his work. As the group settled into the Club Room after dinner, Lewis rose to share what he had learned: Anti-Semites had invaded their studios. Foremen sympathetic to the Nazi and fascist cause had fired so many below-the-line Jewish employees that many studios had "reached a condition of almost 100 percent [Aryan] purity." Scarier still, Lewis told them his spies had uncovered death threats against the moguls.
He pleaded with them for money to continue his operations so they could keep track of not only how the Nazis were trying to influence the studios but also their plans for sabotage and murder in Southern California. Would the moguls help?
Thalberg promised $3,500 from MGM. Paramount production head Emanuel Cohen matched it. RKO's David Selznick contributed and said he would canvass the town's talent agents for additional contributions. By the end of the evening, the group had pledged $24,000 ($439,000 in 2017 dollars) for the spy operation.
Lewis was elated. The money would allow him to recruit more spies and continue his undercover operations. "For the first time," he wrote an ADL colleague, "we have established a real basis of cooperation with the Motion Picture Industry, and I look for splendid results."
Read more at The Hollywood Reporter