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Exiled German-speaking intellectuals in Southern California: Vicki Baum

During the 1930s and 1940s, many German Jews and intellectuals fled Nazi Germany. This LibGuide provides information about German-speaking intellectuals who found refuge in Southern California

  Vicki Baum (1888-1960)

Vicki Baum's years in Southern California: 1932-1960.

 

Vicki 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 novels.

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)

 

References

Vicki Baum. It was all Quite Different: the Memoirs of Vicki Baum. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1964.
Doheny - 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

Subject Guide

Michaela Ullmann's picture
Michaela Ullmann
Michaela Ullmann Exile Studies Librarian USC Libraries, Special Collections ullmann@usc.edu
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