Alum donates footage of 1940 graduation

By Michelle Nosratian

E. Randol Schoenberg ’84 has donated some color film footage of the 1940 Westlake graduation to the school archives. The film is the oldest color film in the archives, according to school archivist Allan Sasaki.

The short video features the procession of soon-to-be-graduates on the lower lawn of the school.

The girls are wearing identical white dresses and receiving their diplomas from then-principal and school founder Frederica de Laguna. The footage has no audio to accompany it.

Schoenberg is a Los Angeles-based attorney known for recovering five Gustav Klimt paintings that were seized during the Holocaust and returning them to their rightful owner in a Supreme Court case against the government of Austria in 2004.

Schoenberg, the grandson of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, sent a DVD of the footage to Sasaki. A low-quality version of some of the footage is also available on YouTube.

“I took a tour of the new middle school campus…and ran into Mr. Sasaki, whom I remembered from the olden days, and he showed me his new archive,” Schoenberg said. “I told him about this film I had and sent it to him.”

One of the girls in the video is Tamara Hovey Gold ’40. Gold’s brother Serge studied with Schoenberg’s famous grandfather after the composer fled the Nazis and arrived in Los Angeles in 1934. The composer taught at UCLA and has a concert hall named after him at the university.

“My brother was 18 at the time and he took the film,” Gold said. “He was just doing what brothers do.”

Gold was 16 at the time of the graduation and went on to study at Bryn Mawr College.

“The girls with the flowers were the juniors; I guess it was the tradition of the time,” she said.

Schoenberg found the video as part of a larger roll of film in the Sonya Levien Collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino that included footage of his grandfather, he said. Sonya Levien was Tamara and Serge’s mother and a famous screenwriter; her major credits include “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939) and “Interrupted Melody” (1955).

“Color film was brand new at that time and Sonya Levien worked for the studios and brought home left-over film that her kids used to take home movies,” Schoenberg said. “This is around the time of the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ the first full length color movie. Color film for home use just did not exist at that time, so these films are extremely rare.”

Tamara and Serge Hovey were just teenagers when they used raw stock film to record famous personalities such as Arnold Schoenberg, novelist Thomas Mann, writer Aldous Huxley, and philosopher Bertrand Russell, all living in Los Angeles.

“I’ve known about the Schoenberg part of the film for a long time because a copy was made for the Schoenberg archives, but I wanted to see if I could get a better copy to make still photos for a book I put together of my grandfather’s correspondence with Thomas Mann,” Schoenberg said. “My parents knew Tamara, so I called her and found out the original film was in the Huntington Library in San Marino. I was then able to arrange for the film to go to a professional lab for digital scanning.”

Schoenberg is working on publishing an English-language version of a book that he has published in Italian, French and German that details the correspondence between his grandfather and Mann, the author of “Doktor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend” that the German novelist wrote in the mid 1940s while he was in California. A character in Mann’s book is loosely based on Schoenberg’s grandfather, which irritated the composer and caused a rift between the two men, Schoenberg said.

“The pictures in [Schoenberg’s] book are taken from the films [my brother and I] took when we were young,” Gold said.