THE AGENT WITH THE TYPEWRITER – Ilse Lichtblau Lahn and the Émigré Network in Mid-20th-Century Hollywood

Vera Kropf

„The Agent with the Typewriter“ is a biographical research project that focuses on the émigré network in mid-20th-century Hollywood and a woman, who played a pivotal role in the second row: Die Wilde Ilse – a name given to her by film historian Brigitte Mayr – was born 1902 in Vienna as Ilse Lichtblau, started her career as a stage actress in Weimar Germany and immigrated into the United States in 1928, where she first worked as an assistant director, cutter and reader. While her attempts to establish herself as screenwriter failed (she never got any screen credits), she had a notable career as a literary agent and story editor at the Paul Kohner Agency where she worked for more than for decades as a gatekeeper and film industry matchmaker, who operated at the very heart of the émigré network.

On an imagined map of film history, Ilse Lichtblau Lahn can be found at the crossroads of four marginalized groups in Hollywood, whose influence has not been appreciated fully yet: émigrés, women, writers, and agents. Despite a long and colorful career in the industry, neither she as a person nor the work she did was considered of inherently artistic or historical relevance. As a consequence, only scarce and discontinuous evidence about her life can be found and has to be assembled from all kinds of scattered sources. By the same token, her supporting role as an agent results in an abundance of material and threads that can be followed. In the form of correspondence and comments on scripts her written legacy is not only scattered all over the comprehensive Paul Kohner Agency Collection at the Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, she is also traceable throughout the papers of her numerous clients and keeps making guest appearances as the ‚my-agent-and-friend‘-character in the autobiographical writings of others.