The Salon of Alma Mahler-Werfel

Photograph: Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel
Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel in front of their house in Beverly Hills, circa 1941, photographed by Ernst Gottlieb
Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, EB autograph 862, courtesy of Irene Janofsky Hartzell

The Salon of Alma Mahler-Werfel

Meeting place for emigrants in Hollywood

Zum Abendessen bei Werfels, hoch über Hollywood, mit Franks und Walters. Laute Unterhaltung. Müde.

[Ate this evening at the Werfels’ place, high above Hollywood, with the Franks and the Walters. Loud conversation. Tired. (ed. trans.)]

Thomas Mann on 2 July 1941 in his diary

In the autumn of 1940, Alma Mahler-Werfel managed to flee with her husband Franz Werfel from the south of France to the USA. In January 1941, the Werfels moved to Los Angeles, which had been recommended by the writer Friedrich Torberg. In a letter to Franz Werfel from 15 December 1941, Torberg later praised “the certain celluloid-packaged unworldliness” of Hollywood, in comparison to the “cauldron” that was New York.

As she had done in Vienna, Alma Mahler-Werfel surrounded herself here with well-known artists in her “salon”. In addition to the house of Salka Viertel (165 Mabery Road), the Werfels’ house in Hollywood (6800 Los Tilos Road) and later their villa in Beverly Hills (610 North Bedford Drive) became important meeting places for emigrants in Los Angeles. Her guests included, among others, Thomas Mann, Arnold Schönberg, Lion Feuchtwanger, Igor Strawinsky, Max Reinhardt, Bruno Walter, Fritzi Massary, Bruno Frank, Lotte Lehmann, Friedrich Torberg and Soma Morgenstern. Not only her open anti-Semitism, but also her tendency towards self-stylization made Alma Mahler-Werfel an extremely contradictory personality. She was “loved”, “envied” and “rebuked” in equal measure, as the writer Soma Morgenstern wrote in his funeral oration for Alma Mahler-Werfel, also writing: “She was married three times. But she was wed only once. Wed to her life. Her own life. This life had her style, her value, her dignity, her generosity.”

Further Reading:
Torberg, Friedrich: Liebste Freundin und Alma. Briefwechsel mit Alma Mahler-Werfel. Berlin: Ullstein 1990
Schnauber, Cornelius: Spaziergänge durch das Hollywood der Emigranten. Zürich: Arche 1992