Ecumenical Cinema

Though Jewish, longtime director Henry Koster made movies about Christians that are embraced by believers even today—including The Robe, The Bishop's Wife and A Man Called Peter.

As with Christmas, Easter brings certain films that are played (and replayed) on various movie channels. Henry Koster's hilarious Harvey is often among them, partly because of the association of rabbits with the holiday … and who can ever forget Jimmy Stewart's imaginary six-foot rabbit of that classic comedy?

There's a bit of irony that a Jewish director's film would be associated with a holiday associated with Christ's death and resurrection. But while Harvey has nothing to do with the Christian faith, several of Koster's other films do—including The Bishop's Wife, A Man Called Peter, and The Robe.

So, how did a Jew who lived in Nazi Germany end up making movies embraced by Christians? Let's follow his story …

Grew up in the cinema

Born Herman Kosterlitz in Germany shortly after the turn of the century, Koster grew up in the cinema, literally, as his mother played the piano to accompany the silent films in his uncle's pioneering movie house. Koster cut his teeth as a writer and director working for years at the legendary UFA in Berlin, even making an anti-abortion film for the man who would become Pope Pius, his first foray into religious film subjects.

Koster, as with many Jews in 1930s Germany, was subject to the anti-Semitic zeitgeist of the day. "My parents were not very good Jews," Koster told an interviewer. "I never realized I was Jewish until Hitler came in. That was my luck that I was Jewish. I got to Hollywood, while the others were killed at Stalingrad, the ones who were with me in school."

"Dad had a bad temper," Koster's son, Robert, says, "He was directing a movie in Berlin in 1933 when a Nazi SS officer said some very silly things relating to Dad's family and heritage. Dad knocked him out, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Christianity Today
Ecumenical Cinema
hide this
Access The Archives

Member-Only Access

Subscribe to Christianity Today to continue reading this article from CT's digital archives.