When I came across the story of the famous cult leader L. Ron Hubbard and Nazi Leni Riefenstahl working together on a screenplay in 1960, I was understandably shocked. But it turns out, the news has been around for a while.
Riefenstahl's biography mentions it, and there have been records of Hubbard and her meeting and even exchanging letters. In actuality, she even stayed at his private apartment in England for a while.
But how did this all happen?
The Daily Beast broke the amazing article last night, which includes parts of the screenplay you can read on their site. It turns out that years after Riefenstahl's involvement with creating Nazi propaganda films, Hollywood had grown numb to her war crimes and was open to working with the filmmaker again.
But at the time Riefenstahl's last movie, Tieland, had been savaged by critics, and she was not sure she would work again. Enter Philip Hudsmith, a 35-year-old English film editor, who would make a pitch to Riefenstahl to reinvent her career. The idea was to remake her film, The Blue Light.
It was a thriller about a woman suspected to be a witch and had lots of great reviews. If she made it for the American audience, maybe she could revamp her career and get more movies.
To help her translate her vision to the screen, Hudsmith thought she needed a talented cowriter. As Riefenstahl wrote in her memoir, "Philip wrote he had found a gifted American author to collaborate on the script. 'This American,' he enthused, 'is a brilliant and famous writer, who has written many screenplays for Columbia in Hollywood. He is also the head of a great international organization that is spread across the entire globe and has over a million members. His name is L. Ron Hubbard, he is a psychologist and Scientologist.'"
Yes, this meeting of the minds happened in Hubbard's London apartment, where Riefenstahl and Hudsmith ventured so they could all work on the script. By the time she had gotten there, Hubbard was apparently summoned to South Africa.
Riefenstahl and Hubbard wrote letters to one another as the script came along.
So what happened to this movie?
Well, it turns out not all of the filmmaking community forgot about Riefenstahl's collaboration with Adolf Hitler. Hudsmith and Riefenstahl knew they would need good publicity to get this script a production home, so they arranged a showing of Riefenstahl's Olympics documentary Olympia in London for the first time ever. It was supposed to be a showcase for Riefenstahl's talent, but the journalists in attendance had some questions about her past.
Riefenstahl put in her memoir, "When Philip introduced me to journalists, one of them refused to shake my hand. With an expression of profound scorn, he said, 'I cannot shake hands with a person whose hands are stained with blood.' Another shouted at me, 'Why didn’t you kill Hitler?' That was gruesome. The press conference had to be broken off."
This all made headlines and effectively killed The Blue Light.
Still, her work with Hubbard didn't end. According to the Daily Beast, there was a portion of Riefenstahl's memoir that wasn't translated in English, in which Riefenstahl describes receiving a letter from Hubbard. He invited her to come to Johannesburg to make a documentary about South Africa, and told her that “money is not a problem."
Riefenstahl wound up not accepting, and their collaborations ended there.
This is a bonkers story and one of the craziest footnotes in 20th-century film.
Let us know what you think in the comments.