Oral History with Robert M. W. Vogel

Robert Vogel conferring with Lena Horne in MGM’s International Department, 1947.

A native New Yorker and Columbia University graduate, Robert M. W. Vogel (1899-1995) joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1930 when he was hired to oversee foreign publicity for the studio.  A few years later he was made head of the studio's international department, where he supervised the production of foreign language versions of films and worked closely with MGM's  executives, producers, directors and stars to assure that MGM's films would be acceptable to and popular with overseas audiences. Because foreign censorship concerns were a big part of his work, Vogel eventually became the studio's liaison to the Production Code Administration on all matters related to censorship and adherence to the Code.  He retired in 1970, after 40 years at the studio.

Vogel became a member of the Academy in 1942, and shortly thereafter was asked by then-president Walter Wanger to help the Academy bring recognition to outstanding foreign language films.  This led to the presentation of a Special Award to Italy’s "Shoe-Shine" in 1947 and the creation of an Honorary Foreign Language Film Award the following year.  Originally composed of the heads of the studio international departments, the Foreign Language Film Committee soon grew to include members from all of the Academy’s branches. 

Vogel's involvement with the Foreign Language Film Award continued once it was established as a competitive category in 1956.  He was a member of the committee for over 40 years, including many years as chair, and he and his wife Mildred frequently served as hosts for visiting filmmakers and other dignitaries. He also traveled overseas several times as an Academy envoy to encourage the submission of foreign language films for Academy consideration. One of the Academy's most dedicated and hard-working members, Vogel also served on the Documentary Awards Committee, and was involved in other activities such as the Student Film Awards and the scholarship program.

Vogel's oral history, which was recorded in 1990, offers fascinating insights into the international side of Hollywood's studios, and provides valuable information about the establishment of the Foreign Language Film Award and his important contributions to its success.

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