European Emigre Actors in Hollywood

Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro of Franz Werfel, Salka Viertel, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Thomas Mann, four influential European emigres.
Cristiana Couceiro

Europeans in Exile: Thomas Mann in Los Angeles

Upon Hitler's rise to power and his subsequent invasions across Europe, persecuted individuals—many of whom were Jewish, artists, writers, and/or intellectuals, among others—tried to flee Germany through various routes. These émigrés, with many traveling from Marseilles to Spain and later to the United States through aid from organizations like the Emergency Rescue Committee, eventually settled in Los Angeles due to existing émigré support networks, contributing to L.A. art, Hollywood films, and Southern Californian architecture. 

This project, developed for Digital Humanities 187 (Capstone Seminar) in collaboration with the Thomas Mann House, investigated the experiences and legacies of four European emigre actors: Peter Lorre, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Conrad Veidt, and Bela Lugosi.


We compared and contrasted the legacies of the four actors through four digital methodologies: network analysis of the 1930s/1940s Hollywood film industry, IMDb data scraping and visualizations, mapping of film locations, and text analysis of film reviews. Based on our findings, we constructed a narrative about how each actor's legacy was impacted by ethnic typecasting in wartime Hollywood.

Our goal was to explore a history with primarily qualitative sources from various angles to construct data-driven narratives. Network analysis provided a motivation for selecting the four actors, with Peter Lorre and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski representing actors with high betweenness centralities and Conrad Veidt and Bela Lugosi with low betweenness centralities.

By scraping and visualizing IMDb and Metacritic data, we found that Lorre was the clear outlier in terms of legacy: his work remains the most acclaimed of the four actors. Computational text analysis of movie reviews supplemented this conclusion, and we ultimately conclude that each actors' specific typecasting (e.g. Peter Lorre's legacy in drama films and his method acting, versus Twardowski's typecasting as unnamed Nazi officers) affected their lasting Hollywood legacies. 

You can visit the website here

For more information about the Digital Humanities group capstone course (Digital Humanities 187), you can visit the website for the Europeans in Exile course.


Huge thank you to Dr. Wendy Perla Kurtz (UCLA Digital Humanities); Dr. Nikolai Blaumer (Thomas Mann House); Benno Herz (Thomas Mann House); and Anthony Caldwell (UCLA Digital Humanities) for all of their support and guidance throughout this project.