We know that Hollywood was dominated by Jewish film moguls, but how many people know that Jews from the Middle East and North Africa also took a leading role in producing and distributing films? Some of the venues built by Jacques Haïk in France are still in use today.
Tunisian-born Jacques Haïk was one of the biggest film producers of the interwar period in France.
He was born in Tunis in 1893 and moved to France aged 13. At 17, he worked as an employee of a British film house. At 20, he ran a company importing American films. He introduced the first Charlie Chaplin movies to a French audience, nicknaming him Charlot.
He imported American films and produced his first silent films. In 1924, he founded the company “Etablissements Jacques HAÏK”.
The arrival of talkies in 1929 disrupted the production industry. In order to face the financial constraints and to build new studios, Jacques Hail joined forces with the Courvoisier bank. He turned the Olympia music hall into a huge movie theatre, started the Rex and several other prestigious venues throughout France. The Rex had a capacity of 3,300 in a space off 2,000 sq. m. The star-studded vaulted ceiling was more than 30 meters high. The facade was designed by architect Auguste Bluysens with Art Deco ornamentation by Maurice Dufrêne, who also decorated the interior. Despite his success, Jacques Haïk ran into financial trouble. The Rex cinema was bought by Gaumont.
He built studios in Courbevoie and La Garenne. In a few years, he produced around thirty films. He gave their first roles in the talking cinema to Annabelia, Arletty and Jules Berry and employed Danièle Darrieux, Harry Baur and Victor Bouche, becoming one of the three biggest French producers.
The Courvoisier bank went bankrupt in 1931. Jacques Haïk lost his companies and all his property. He never fully recovered from the debacle.
In 1934, a loan permitted him to set up the company Les Films Régent. From 1934 to 1939, he produced a dozen films, including “ Claudine à l’école “. He established the Le Français cinema, in boulevard des Italiens.
He put new films into production, and built new cinemas. In 1939, his companies’ financial situation became healthy again. But war broke out. The Olympia was requisitioned for the military. In 1952
Haïk was pursued by the Germans because he was Jewish, and for producing an anti-Hitler propaganda film entitled ” After Mein kampf .. my crimes “ with Alain Cuny.
Jacques Haïk fled to Tunisia, hiding for five months in one room. In 1943, he carried out propaganda missions for the Free French Forces throughout the Arab world. During this time, in Paris, under the pretext of “aryanization”, all his companies and venues were seized.
On his return, in 1945, he had nothing left.
He spent the rest of his life trying to recover his films and cinemas. He died in 1950. Bruno Coquatrix signed a lease with Haïk’s widow for the Olympia and put on operettas there in 1953, before converting it back into a music hall in 1954.
A film called ‘Jacques from Tunis’ was made about Haïk’s life in 2013.