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Arts and Entertainment

Thomas Mann Signs With UTA, But Not The German Writer Who Lived In L.A. In The '40s Because He Is Dead

Will the real Thomas Mann please stand up? From left: Thomas Mann in 1939 (Photo via Wikimedia Commons) and Actor Thomas Mann at the 23rd Annual Hamptons International Film Festival in 2015. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival)
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Thomas Mann signs with UTA, reads a headline on Deadline Hollywood. UTA is, of course, United Talent Agency, a ten-percenter temple that, along with CAA and WME, make up Hollywood's big three talent agencies.

But who is Thomas Mann? The legendary German writer, who made Los Angeles his home for a decade while he lived here in exile from 1942 to 1952, died in 1955 in a hospital in Zurich. Sure, UTA is extremely powerful and has long tentacles (just check out their art space in Boyle Heights!) but it still seems unlikely that even they could manage to sign a writer who died a half century ago. Weirdly, it seems that there is also an "up and coming" actor named Thomas Mann. We find this to be very confusing.

Regardless, it appears that after taking "meetings with the majors," the actor—who "popped in starring roles in Project X and Me and Earl and The Dying Girl"—has chosen to sign with UTA, according to Deadline. Congratulations, we guess, are in order for Thomas Mann The Actor, who will next be seen in Nicole Holofcener's The Land Of Steady Habits. Still, we find it mildly upsetting that there is no mention (not even a seemingly necessary clarification!) of the other, O.G. Thomas Mann anywhere in Deadline's breaking news post.

Perhaps this is because, as my friend Hillel Aron wrote last year, "Mann is a largely forgotten figure today in Los Angeles, as are nearly all the German émigrés who found refuge here in the 1940s, escaping the rise of Adolf Hitler and the horrors of World War II."

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You guys, c'mon! Mann was arguably the most influential German writer of the 20th century. Even here in dead-eyed America, he and his family were once so ubiquitous that "daughter of Thomas Mann" was a clue used MULTIPLE times for The New York Times crossword puzzle in the 1940s and '50s (answer: Erica—and, fun fact, she married W.H. Auden).

Mann was one of a number of influential German and Austrian émigrés intellectuals who made Los Angeles their home in the 1930s and '40s, earning L.A. the nickname "Weimar by the sea." Along with Mann, the luminaries included Arnold Schoenberg, Theodor Adorno, Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger.

Far from home and under the unrelenting glare of the western sun, these exiles in paradise helped shape high culture in Southern California.

Some of them loved the city and some loathed it, but its otherness was captivating—and their sense of dislocation would help define the city's literature. On the day that he moved into his Santa Monica rental house in 1941, Brecht, who regarded L.A. as a kind of fool's paradise, would write this in his diary: "Almost nowhere has my life ever been harder than here in this mausoleum of easy going. The house is too pretty, and here my profession is gold-digging, the lucky ones pan big nuggets the size of your fist out of the mud and people talk about them for a while; when I walk, I walk on clouds like a polio victim."

"For most of the émigrés, Southern California was at once a problem and a solution," as historian Kevin Starr wrote in The Dream Endures: California Enters the 1940s.

Mann found the Southland to be far more entrancing than Brecht. "I was enchanted by the light, by the special fragrance of the air, by the blue of the sky, the sun, the exhilarating ocean breeze, the spruceness and cleanness of this Southland... all these paradisical scenes and colors enraptured me," he famously remembered. The "almost intangible beauty" of the Pacific Palisades shoreline where Mann made his home "had a great influence on him and his work," according to his daughter. "It drove him from his own traditions to stylistic daring and gave him the courage... for linguistic experiments."

It was here in Los Angeles that Mann wrote his classic Doctor Faustus, and during the war Adorno "sat in this sun-dappled paradise scribbling one of the darkest meditations ever written on the modern world, Dialectic of Enlightenment," as historian Bruce Cumming wrote. The scene was also a bit inbred: Schoenberg once famously (reportedly) accosted Marta Feuchtwanger, Lion's wife and "one of the doyennes of the émigré scene," at the Brentwood Country Mart to yell, in German, that he did not have an STD. "Lies, Frau Marta, Lies! You have to know, I never had syphilis," the composer is said to have yelled in an aisle at the very mini-mall where GOOP Lab now stands, "mortified that readers [of Doctor Faustus] might mistake him for Mann's venereal protagonist," according to a Los Angeles Magazine account.

Last August, when Mann's former Pacific Palisades home was for sale—potentially as a teardown—it received wide press coverage in Germany. The house was eventually purchased by the German government, with plans to use it as a cultural center.