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German Exiles in Southern California
Vicki Baum (1888-1960)
Baum, unlike most of the Jewish exiles, came to the United States
voluntarily in 1932. She was born in Vienna and at fifteen, began
working as a professional musician with the Vienna Konzertverein.
She played the harp professionally until 1916. As a young girl,
she began writing and won prizes for her short stories but her literary
career had a gradual start. While working as a harpist, she ghost
wrote for her first husband, Max Prels, and later wrote novels at
night during the financially insecure first years of her second
marriage to conductor Richard Lert. From 1926 until 1931, she worked
as an editor for the magazine Uhu published by Ullstein
Verlag in Berlin. After work late at night she wrote novels while
her husband was working and her two children were asleep.
She became a best-selling author with the publication
of Stud. Chem. Helene Willfuer and Menschen im
Hotel (Grand Hotel) in 1929. Grand Hotel
was made into a play and in 1931 the filming of this novel brought
Baum to Hollywood temporarily. After the filming was completed, Baum
returned to Berlin and her editing position at Ullstein. She soon
realized, however, that she wanted to emigrate to the United States.
"As in a love affair, distance and separation had taught me perspective.
... After my seven months in the U.S.A., I had a much clearer picture
of what was happening in Germany." (p. 342) In 1932, even before she
had signed a contract with a film studio, she and her family set sail
for America. She wrote for the movies between 1931 and 1941. After
these years working with the film studios, she returned again to writing
Vicki Baum had
several addresses during her years in Southern California. She lived
at 1461 Amalfi Drive in Pacific Palisades from 1933 until 1942.
For a time she lived in Pasadena, a town about which she wrote "[it]
gave me claustrophobia, I get choked, asphyxiated." (p. 252). She
then lived for many years at 2477 Canyon Oak Drive in Hollywood.
She was an avid gardener and described her beloved home in the hills
north of Hollywood with these words: "You may stand in front of it
and still not see it because my house is like a good shoe: small outside,
yet large and comfortable on the inside ... A bit of the tropics grows
in front of my house; a few royal palms, fern trees ... a jacaranda
tree, a blue cloud when in bloom, and through it all twists the gray
and silver snake of a sycamore tree." (p. 347)
Baum was close
friends with Gina Kaus, a fellow exile and
scriptwriter. Thoughts about Los Angeles: "Here, in Los Angeles, you
cannot walk; that's part of my feeling of being an exile." (p. 152)
Baum wrote about
her books and literary talent in this way: "When I've written potboilers
I did so deliberately, to hone my tools, prove my skills, and, naturally,
I needed money. I've also written a few good books ... I know what
I'm worth: I am a first-rate second-rate author. " (p. 288)
years in Southern California: 1932-1960.
Vicki Baum. It
was all Quite Different: the Memoirs of Vicki Baum. New York:
Funk & Wagnalls, 1964.
- PS3503 A9233 Z52 c. 2
Lynda King. Best-Sellers
by Design: Vicki Baum and the House of Ullstein. Detroit: Wayne
State University Press, 1988.
Doheny - Z315
U42 K56 1988