The Unluckiest Man in Movie History, Part 3

In an earlier item about Robert Goldstein–the costume-shop-owner-turned-filmmaker whose patriotic 1917 epic, The Spirit of ‘76, got him thrown in jail because the film was deemed overly hostile to America’s World War I allies, the British–Chatterbox speculated that Goldstein “almost certainly died in the Holocaust.” In fact, Chatterbox has since learned, Goldstein almost certainly did not die in the Holocaust.

In guessing Goldstein’s fate, Chatterbox relied on the research of film historian Anthony Slide, editor of Robert Goldstein and The Spirit of ‘76, a 1993 compilation of documents about the Goldstein case that includes a previously unpublished memoir by Goldstein. (Chatterbox’s reading of the memoir occasioned this second item.) In his introduction, Slide writes that the world’s last-known contact with Robert Goldstein was a letter Goldstein wrote the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from Berlin in 1935. Goldstein had been knocking around Europe ever since getting out of jail in 1920; he’d found he couldn’t find work even in Germany, for whom he’d been suspected by U.S. authorities of being a spy. In the 1935 letter, Goldstein wrote:

[B]ecause I can’t pay $9 to have my American passport renewed I have been fined 75 marks–and, as I consequently can’t pay that either–two weeks in jail. I have received the order to deliver myself to jail next week or be punished. … If you can’t do anything else, put it in the papers. It is a swell piece of ironical news.

Chatterbox’s judgment that Goldstein “almost certainly died in the Holocaust” was influenced by this letter’s end-of-the-line tone and by Slide’s commonsensical assertion that “as a Jew living in Nazi Germany, rejected by his own country, one can only surmise the worst.” But the 1935 Berlin letter, it turns out, was not the last contact that the world–or even the Academy–had with Goldstein.

Here Chatterbox must pause to acknowledge his debt to Alan Pell Crawford. Crawford is the author of the forthcoming Unwise Passions, a nonfiction account of the 18th-century scandal surrounding Nancy Randolph, a daughter of Virginia’s aristocracy accused of bearing and then killing her brother-in-law’s baby. Crawford is now at work on his next book, a similar “revisionist narrative” (his phrase) about–you guessed it–Robert Goldstein.

Crawford’s evidence that Goldstein didn’t die in the Holocaust is a telegram that Goldstein sent the Academy from New York City in 1938–three years after the Berlin letter. This telegram, Chatterbox is somewhat chagrined to discover, lies in the collection of the very same Margaret Herrick Library where Chatterbox beavered away last month. (Hey, Slide missed it too!) Here are some snippets:

You will probably remember that I wrote you several times from Berlin during the fifteen years I stayed there. Since my enforced return here, three years ago, things have been going just as badly as they did in L.A. twenty years ago, when this very deplorable affair started. … If you will consider that not only my film career but my life was ruined by my entirely uncalled for prosecution in L.A., and that nothing even remotely resembling my fate ever happened to any other producer in this game, you should agree with me that I should be given some consideration, another chance as a writer, director or producer or any other kind of a job–or at least something practical.I have been treated so terribly here in New York that I am at my wit’s end. … There seems to be nothing I can do here to help myself.

The language about an “enforced return” suggests that Goldstein was expelled from Germany–a rare (though apparently unrecognized) bit of luck in Goldstein’s otherwise deeply unlucky life. We don’t know what happened to Goldstein after he wrote this telegram, but in the absence of any other information we should assume he ended his days in the United States.