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Meyer Levin’s Anne Frank

A controversial radio play of the famous diary—rejected in 1952 as too Jewish—gets a second airing

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Anne Frank, c. 1941, and Meyer Levin, 1981.(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos from The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Staging of the Diary (Yale University Press, 1997) and Frans Dupont/Anne Frank Fonds/Anne Frank House via Getty Images)

In 1952, Meyer Levin had every reason to believe he would bring Anne Frank’s diary to the stage. Levin, an American who served as a war correspondent in Europe during World War II, first came across Frank’s diary in a Paris bookshop in 1951. He immediately contacted Frank’s father, Otto, and was instrumental in getting the book published in the United States, and then in attracting the interest of readers, thanks to a glowing review he wrote for the New York Times.

Otto Frank granted Levin the rights to adapt the diary for stage, but Levin would never see that dream realized. The production only got as far as a preliminary radio play. It’s hard to pin down why. Some say the Anne Frank that Levin was so moved by—indeed revered—was too Jewish a character for early 1950s American audiences. Others say Levin’s difficult personality and lack of writing ability scuttled the project. Either way, Levin eventually relinquished the stage rights, shunned by Frank and his cohort. The failure left Levin embittered.

Now, three decades after Levin’s death, L.A. based theater director Jennifer Strome is resurrecting Meyer Levin’s Anne Frank, with a new production of Levin’s 35-minute radio play. Sixty years after its poorly received national broadcast, Levin’s rendering of Anne Frank will meet a new audience, one perhaps better equipped to judge her authenticity. Strome’s production will be available as a podcast from Sept. 15 to 18 here. Producer Eric Molinsky brings us the story of Meyer Levin and his legacy. [Running time: 10:43.] 

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Thanks for that, it makes sense. I understand now in retrospect how the story of Anne Frank was co-opted by Hollywood. The Holocaust was too ugly for Americans, so they used her to promote “the shameful Jew” rather that “the persecuted Jew”. After all, shame only applies to Jews, while persecution applies to all races. This is the equivalent of saying that the Germans were the victims of Nazis.

As the producer and director of Levin’s radio play, I’m pleased to hear this podcast has good focus. This is a very quixotic story, with personal and professional agendas overlapping the other. I fully stand behind my research, and conclude that Levin’s limited rights, and his friendship with Otto Frank, was over-ridden by commercial interests. His rough draft of the play was in good shape, more true to it’s original source than what ended up on Broadway 3 years after the 1952 radio play, which, to clarify, was acclaimed nationwide by audiences and critics alike. Billboard magazine described it as “shattering to the emotions”, and prize-winning director Elia Kazan approved of Levin’s Broadway draft. Only scheduling conflicts prevented them from working together. The claim that Levin’s was poorly written is simply a smokescreen to cover that the editors and producers involved convinced Otto Frank that “the play would fare better if written by a non-Jew.”
Jennifer Strome
New York, NY

Pam Green says:

How great that you’ve done this, Jennifer! On a different note, it calls to mind what happened with the film adaptation of Lore Segal’s novel, Her First American. Are you aware of that situation? Viacom bought the novel only to shelve it. As Lore herself told me, Laurence Fishburne wanted very much to play the leading male role, but Viacom wouldn’t make it or let Fishburne buy the rights to make it himself. This went on for decades! I think anti-Semitism has to be the reason.

Eliezer Pennywhistler says:

More likely, back when there were only four radio networks, they did not want to put on an expensive production that would only get a small narrowly-focused audience.

Notice that The Goldbergs and Life With Luigi and Amos & Andy kept their appeal broad.

Plus, of course, American Jews were still in denial about the Holocaust in 1952.

Ditto, stage plays.

And one should not discount “Others say Levin’s difficult personality and lack of writing ability scuttled the project.”

J Strome says:

The original adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank was a radio play by author Meyer Levin. It was broadcast nationwide on CBS radio on Sept 18, 1952 to critical acclaim. It was produced by The American Jewish Committee. It received wide attention because of the recent success of the Diary publication in America, catapulted by Levin’s NY Times book review. The success of the radio play led to a second airing in November, 1952.

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Meyer Levin’s Anne Frank

A controversial radio play of the famous diary—rejected in 1952 as too Jewish—gets a second airing

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