Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers
J. A. Aberdeen
7: Halls and Armories
Reactivates the Paramount Case
World War II, the independents appeared to be in a favorable position for
the duration of the conflict. As previously mentioned, the government
agreed with the independent producers that the elimination of widespread
B-filmmaking made sense from the standpoint of conservation of money,
man-hours, and raw materials. This prevailing attitude was borne out by
the Justice Department’s rejection of the UMPI Unity Plan in August
1942, as well as the visit of the Office of War Information’s Lowell
Mellett who came to Hollywood later that year with a message intended to
inspire the end of the double feature.
Mary Pickford and Samuel
Goldwyn help stage the SIMPP showdown against the Fox theater monopoly in
production companies, which by nature required a relatively small staff,
also escaped many of the problems faced by studios that lost a significant
portion of their man-power to wartime activities. In fact, of all the
independents, Walt Disney Productions was hit the hardest by the war,
since the animation studio required a large number of skilled workers,
similar to one of the Hollywood majors.
was a boom period for the American cinema in general. As most forms of
amusement were subject to radical government rationing, the movies became
the primary public entertainment, and the film industry claimed a record
25 percent of the country’s total recreational dollars. Swing-shift
screenings for factory workers kept many urban movie houses showing
features at all hours, frequently to crowded theaters. Federal movie
admission taxes even made film-going a patriotic activity. "You could
run film backward through a projector and people would look at it,"
went one famous wartime saying in Hollywood.
elimination of the double feature and the focus on quality films with long
stays in the theater unexpectedly put the squeeze on independents for
several reasons. Even though SIMPP had tenaciously supported these reforms
at the outset of the war, the majors turned it into their own benefit. As
films took longer to make their way through the city runs, the major
studios quickly filled the few open spots with studio-produced features.
Often, theaters were booked far in advance, creating a freeze on the
first-run and key subsequent-run showings for many movies, which SIMPP
claimed was in clear violation of antitrust laws. The SIMPP executive
secretary John Flinn reported in 1943, "present conditions are
tougher and selling is more difficult for the independent than at any time
in the history of the business."
Many of the
top independents were also hindered by the continuing reluctance of
theater chains to offer producers a percentage of the box office. During
World War II when popular films were easy to come by, many exhibitors were
not inclined to go out of their way to show an independent movie, only to
be badgered by a producer who wanted a cut of the theater proceeds.
independent producers who opposed the theater policy, Goldwyn was the most
outspoken and vehement. The problems were two fold, he claimed. To begin
with, he blamed the major studios for taking advantage of the box office
prosperity by decreasing the number of films without improving film
quality. Then he criticized the theaters that refused to pay more money
for better films, which discouraged the producers of prestige films.
of showmanship has been forgotten," he said, "and little regard
is being shown the public or the future of the business because of the
satisfied attitude that anything or everything shows a profit
Like many of
the independents, Goldwyn actively participated in distribution by
appointing his own sales representative to cooperate in the booking and
marketing of each of his films. According to his distribution deal with
RKO, Goldwyn received the right of final approval of every rental
agreement, as he and other producers previously had at United Artists.
This meant that Goldwyn could cancel any deal with a theater that offered
an unsatisfactory price. In fact, most UA producers were accustomed to
this provision to insure that their films realized their commercial
potential. Goldwyn decided to exercise this option to take a bold stand
against the theater monopolies that existed in territories all over the
major studios held oligopoly control over the first-run theaters in the
major cities, many independent chains monopolized the neighborhood and
rural regions. One such closed situation was the Sparks circuit in
Florida. The Sparks chain had once been a part of the short-lived
Universal theater circuit from 1925 to 1927 until Carl Laemmle, faced with
the expense of converting to sound films, voluntarily sold off the
theaters. Sparks was an independents chain that had a local monopoly in 14
cities in Florida. It was a small-scale example of some of the other
theater chains that maintained a regional monopoly even though they were
not affiliates of the Hollywood studios (i.e., the Schine chain in upstate
New York and Sudekum theaters in Tennessee).
In early 1942,
the Sparks theater circuit denied Goldwyn’s demands for a percentage
deal on his latest release The Little Foxes (1941). Goldwyn
withheld the film altogether, knowing that the highly-anticipated movie—then
doing record box office in the major cities—would help publicize the
squeeze being put on the independent producers. Goldwyn bought large
advertisements in Florida newspapers with the headline, "I Regret
That You Cannot See ‘The Little Foxes’ in _____," inserting the
name of the respective Sparks-controlled town. In the ads, he explained
why he felt the percentage basis was the only fair way for both producers
and theaters to profit. "I believe and have always believed that the
producer of a motion picture, the man who invests his money in it and
exercises his judgement which make it good or bad, should gain or lose in
proportion to the favor with which the public receives the picture."
Goldwyn also included the location of the nearest theater that would be
playing his movie.
Over the next
few years, Goldwyn refused to show his films in communities dominated by a
theater chain that declined to share the box office. He invoked the same
philosophy that W. W. Hodkinson pioneered in the days of the Patents
Trust, Goldwyn claiming that giving producers a share of the profits of
their films was the only way to insure that producers would continue to
make quality movies.
unfavorable conditions for independent producers, SIMPP hoped that the
government would reinitiate the Paramount case before the end of
World War II. As of November 20, 1943, the Department of Justice was
legally free of all consent decree restrictions, and could pursue the case
at will. Meanwhile, throughout 1943, representatives of the Society of
Independent Motion Picture Producers met with Tom C. Clark, the new
assistant attorney general who headed the antitrust division. The Justice
Department seemed to express an interest in reactivating the Paramount
case, and welcomed the potential involvement of SIMPP to aid the
prosecution. However, months passed with no government action taken.
When Tom C.
Clark took over the Hollywood antitrust suit, he told the press that the
Justice Department was interested in pursuing the case, but had not yet
decided how to approach it. SIMPP executive secretary John Flinn called
together three SIMPP east coast representatives, Grad Sears, James Mulvey,
and Roy Disney. In a confidential meeting, they proposed that the Society
should prepare its own brief to submit to the Department of Justice to
avoid any further delays in the Paramount suit. They began the
first stage of their plans by authorizing the Society to gather a
collection of evidence against the monopolies in the film industry to
present to the government. The Society encouraged its members to publicize
the antitrust issue, and offered its support to any independent producer
willing to take part. Sam Goldwyn lead the assault to help SIMPP reach its
goal of getting the Justice Department to start the antitrust case back up
by the summer of 1944.
Kaye in Up In Arms (1944) - Movie still from the
famous "Lobby Number" sequence, a satire of musical films,
one of the longest comedy routines of its kind, written by Kaye's wife
Sylvia Fine and Max Liebman. (Aberdeen
To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click
prepared his latest release Up in Arms (1944) as a showcase for his
recent discovery, comedian Danny Kaye. Hoping that Kaye would become a
valuable asset for Goldwyn’s independent company, the producer spent $2
million on a lavish Technicolor musical to serve as the comedian’s film
debut. The producer even requisitioned the Walt Disney Studio to create an
animated finale for the film’s climax. (After great expense, the Disney
animation was cut out of Up in Arms by Goldwyn, who was accustomed
to making last minute—and usually very costly—changes in production
while searching for the most suitable final product.)
decided to use the appropriately-titled Up in Arms to bring
attention to the antitrust struggle. In one the most
skillfully-orchestrated promotional stunts of his career, Goldwyn involved
the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in the marketing of
the film. The resulting publicity coup made national news and became part
of Hollywood legend.
announced that all theaters that wanted to show Up in Arms would be
required to do so on a percentage deal with the producer. Releasing
through RKO, Goldwyn believed that Up in Arms had enough clout to
take on some of the more difficult theater monopolies, and he was content
to refuse any theater chain that would not offer him a share of the box
In the spring
of 1944, he took on Balaban & Katz, the massive Paramount subsidiary
that controlled the troublesome Chicago area. In the past when the Balaban
& Katz chain had agreed to pay for Goldwyn films on a modified
percentage deal, the films were given undesirable play dates and showings
on off-hours. Goldwyn believed his films in the Chicago area were earning
one-eighth of what they would in an open situation.
his long-promised threat to take his films and exhibit them himself,
Goldwyn rented the Woods theater, a small independent movie house, to show
Up in Arms in the Chicago area. Goldwyn’s feature played
successfully throughout the summer, and netted him over $175,000, a
fantastic take for a theater of limited means, and far in excess of the
$30,000 he usually received from the Paramount circuit.
significant Up in Arms battle came later that year when Goldwyn and
SIMPP took on a subsidiary of the notorious Fox West Coast theater
monopoly. SIMPP helped Goldwyn single out Reno, Nevada as one of the areas
where the Fox theaters operated without competition, and decided to make a
stand there. The showdown became one of the defining moments in the
within 35 miles of Reno were controlled by T. & D. Junior Enterprises,
Inc., a Twentieth Century-Fox affiliate also one-quarter owned by Fox West
Coast. The T. & D. subsidiary itself was a complex, multi-structured
company that operated over 100 theaters in Nevada and northern California
under several corporate identities. The chain was accustomed to dictating
terms in the regions where its theaters dominated. The monopoly refused to
grant any film, including Up in Arms, anything but a flat film
rental. Goldwyn, on the other hand, not only insisted on a percentage of
the gross profits, but demanded a sliding scale that increased the
producer’s percentage as the box office increased. The negotiations
between the exhibitor and the producer began in June 1944, and lingered
for weeks. For over two months, Goldwyn was represented by John C. Flinn
of SIMPP; and when T. & D. rejected Goldwyn’s terms (as expected),
the Society was ready to back the renegade producer as he fought one of
the largest movie monopolies in the country.
In a closed
situation there were few options for Goldwyn to exhibit his own film. The
State Auditorium in Reno, the only facility that had seating large enough
to accommodate the crowds that Goldwyn expected, became off-limits when
local officials declined to rent it to the flamboyant outsider. Desperate
to locate a venue, Goldwyn decided to build his own theater by shipping
projection equipment from San Francisco. But his idea for a massive canvas
tent was condemned as a safety hazzard. Finally he found a location on the
outskirts of Reno next to the railroad tracks—the El Patio ballroom,
which Goldwyn converted into a makeshift theater at his own expense and
over tremendous local opposition.
T. & D.
Theatres played into the independent producer’s plans by creating
opposition that helped to generate publicity. The theater chain took out
newspaper ads that ridiculed Goldwyn’s so-called theater of folding
chairs nailed to a temporary wooden floor, showing his film within earshot
of the Southern Pacific railroad. At first the negative press seemed to
turn public sentiment against the independent producer. SIMPP recruited
other independents to participate in the preparations for the August 22,
1944 opening night. Mary Pickford agreed to attend the premiere in person.
Walt Disney, Orson Welles, and the Cagney brothers all contributed public
statements concerning the incident.
attention intensified, so did local hostility, until Goldwyn outmaneuvered
the powerful Reno syndicate and won over local officials by donating the
opening night box office to the Camp and Hospital Service Committee, the
Reno chapter of the Red Cross. This turned his show-of-defiance into a
charity event, and guaranteed a strong attendance. The press came to Reno
for the media event which was carried over live radio. Goldwyn and
Pickford had their pictures taken as they ceremoniously hammered the
four-hundredth wooden chair to the floor of the former nightclub.
great supporter of both the independent fight and of the Red Cross,
brought her own prepared speech and the endorsements from the other SIMPP
members. She had personally and bitterly clashed with Goldwyn at several
times over the previous decades, but had always publicly declared her
admiration for the incorrigible producer. She effortlessly concealed any
animosity toward the man who had created frustrating conditions for her
while they were together at Famous Players-Lasky, United Artists, and
later at SIMPP. The following is a complete transcript of Pickford’s
radio address given before the showing of Up in Arms:
Good evening I
am proud to be here tonight to represent two most worthwhile causes,
first, the benefits for the camp and hospital service committee of Reno,
secondly, to take my stand for independence and freedom from the dictates
of a picture theatre monopoly. When Mr. Samuel Goldwyn telephoned me I
dropped my personal business for the time being in order to be here
tonight, well knowing the vital importance of this issue of monopoly, an
issue not only vital to Mr. Goldwyn and all independent producers but to
the future advancement of the American motion picture industry itself.
I have known
Samuel Goldwyn the better part of my life as a man of high purpose, of
great courage, a producer of artistic integrity. It is such men as Samuel
Goldwyn whose vision, courage and inspiration has led and emanated the
motion picture from the obscurity of the Nickelodeon era up to the great
and dignified medium of entertainment which it is today. To produce the
film Up In Arms Mr. Goldwyn spent a whole year of intensive work
and two and a half million dollars of his own; that is a lot of time and
very great deal of money but to what avail? Only to be told upon the
completion of a year’s work and expenditure of two and one-half million
dollars that he shall not be permitted to show his picture but dictated by
a theater monopoly. I would prefer and in this I am assured you would
agree to sit on a wooden chair, a wooden bench, or even on the floor to
see a fine film than to rest upon plush covered opera chairs and to be
forced to witness a dull, stupid film in the most elaborate movie palace
in the country. No, my friends all the grandeur of the finest theater does
not make nor mar a great film. Bricks, mortar, plush and soft lights are
empty things without fine entertainment which commemorates the very living
soul of the theater.
We are making
history here tonight, you, Mr. Goldwyn and I, for we are taking our stand
from our inalienable rights for free enterprise and a free America to see
to it that no man, group, combine nor monopoly shall dictate where, when
or how we shall show our picture.
American boys, this very night on the four corners of the earth are
fighting and dying in order to protect Democracy and the American way of
life. Shall we here at home fail them? Shall we permit the American way of
life to perish here in the United States while our men are fighting for
that same God given right in every part of the world? Certainly not, so I
say it is not merely whether this one or a dozen of Mr. Goldwyn’s
pictures do, or do not play in Reno or for that matter in the entire state
of Nevada. It is rather the question whether he and I or other Americans
are to be given an opportunity to carry on our lives and our business
openly, honestly and fairly.
There are a
number of wires that have come to us, too numerous to read here, so I
shall read just this one from an author whom you all know, respect and
love. It is Walt Disney, one of the outstanding independent producers of
the motion picture industry. It is an indication of how the creative
workers of Hollywood feel about monopoly and I quote, ‘Samuel Goldwyn,
Riverside Hotel, Reno, Nevada, I heartily endorse your efforts to carry
directly to the people of Reno and indirectly to the American public the
question whether the motion picture industry as an industry should
continue to exist under American competition principles or be throttled by
monopolistic restrictions and limitations. When the channels of motion
picture reach the public are restricted or blocked it behooves all of us
who are charged with responsibility to the public for the industry to
break down these barriers. Impending world competition which will be based
on low cost and fostered by forming governmental endowment franchise and
tariffs make it imperative that our American products at least in our own
country be permitted to operate without artificial obstacles being thrown
in its path by selfish interest. The American picture must continue to
receive returns, commensurate with the large costs and the better living
standards of the people who make them. Our government has recognized the
importance of American films as political and commercial assets in foreign
relations for America, to lose its leadership in motion pictures would be
a blow to all American industry and to our public relations. The motion
picture industry and in time the American public will acknowledge and
appreciate yours, Sam, your courage and foresight, regards, Walt Disney.’
This is Mary Pickford, good night and thank you.
Pickford’s speech, Samuel Goldwyn introduced Up in Arms, and also
commented on the significance of the battle being waged for economic
control of the movie industry. He closed his address by declaring that he
and the SIMPP independents were prepared to hire halls and auditoriums in
other cities in order to break down prevailing inequities.
by independent producers of showing their own movies were not new. Back in
1930 when the United Artists struggle with Fox West Coast erupted, Goldwyn
warned the theater chain that he would form his own makeshift exhibition
enterprise before he would ever give in to the unsatisfactory terms of the
Fox monopoly. Many of the independent producers were accustomed to road
showing their films, and persistently threatened to exhibit their movies
whenever they felt an overwhelming urge to buck industry trends. In 1940,
when Charlie Chaplin met resistance to his anti-war film The Great
Dictator, he became more determined "even if I had to hire halls
myself to show it." When theater chains repudiated Orson Welles’
explosive Citizen Kane (1941), Wells exclaimed, "I’ll show
it in a ball park with four screens, in auditoriums, at fairs, in circus
tents, if necessary." In fact, Fox West Coast actually bought the
regional exhibition rights to Citizen Kane, but refused to show it,
in order to suppress the movie. The move so incensed Welles that he became
a willing participant during the Goldwyn showdown against the Fox
affiliate in Reno.
Some of the
producers made further inroads into exhibition. Within a year after the
Reno incident, the Samuel Goldwyn Company entered into a joint theater
venture with David Selznick’s Vanguard Films to secure a first-run
foothold in New York City. They become long-term renters of the Astor
Theatre, an impressive 1100 seat movie house on Broadway. There they
controlled all of the theaters bookings, and each took turns premiering
their new movies. The arrangement essentially gave either producer a
guaranteed outlet to run a road show debut that could last for several
months before demand slackened. Among the most important films that
debuted at the Astor when it was controlled by the independents were
Selznick’s Spellbound (1945) and Goldwyn’s The Best Years of
Our Lives (1946). After two years, around the time that Selznick
formed his own distribution company, they allowed the lease to expire.
Due in part to
Up in Arms, the government case against the Hollywood studios
heated up. Goldwyn had anticipated the debacle in Nevada and alerted
Thomas O. Craven, United States Attorney at Reno, to the situation.
Goldwyn filed a complaint as a member of the Society of Independent Motion
Picture Producers in which he alleged that T. & D. Junior Enterprises
had taken an active part in discriminating against independent films
including Up in Arms. Craven received clearance from the office of
the Attorney General on August 17, a few days before the Reno film
opening. The Justice Department also involved the FBI in an investigation
that lasted into October.
T. & D.
defended itself by attacking the independents. "The reason the
picture is not shown in the T. & D. theatres is not that we refused to
buy the picture," the district manager N. Dow Thompson said on behalf
of the chain, "but rather because Mr. Goldwyn’s sales organization
refused to sell it for a showing in Reno unless we bought the picture for
all of our situations, in some of which Mr. Goldwyn’s terms were
exorbitant. . . ." Nevertheless the FBI report blamed the T. & D.
chain for manipulating local officials and conspiring to maintain a
monopoly in an effort to suppress the independent film.
and the other SIMPP members were fighting exhibitors, the Society
executive committee continued its petition of the Department of Justice.
Tom C. Clark remained in contact with SIMPP president Loyd Wright, who
intervened on behalf of SIMPP when the Big Five submitted a new consent
decree in which the studios proposed that they keep their theaters. That
August, the Attorney General rejected the latest distributor consent
decree, and filed a motion in Federal Court demanding theater divorcement
within three years. Government attorneys were busy readying their case
when the FBI report on Up In Arms recommended that the Justice
Department intercede on behalf of the independent producers.
as the independents have to deal with the big five for theaters it seems
there will be trouble," the Justice Department declared in a press
release that month that commented on the Up in Arms incident.
"If all the theaters they now have continue to be controlled by the
big five companies, the independent producers will find it difficult to
get screens for the product."
Balaban & Katz fight, Goldwyn expected to lose money in the Fox West
Coast showdown in Reno. The El Patio ballroom had cost Goldwyn between
$25,000 and $30,000 to convert into a theater, while the out-of-the-way
ballroom only brought in about $1,000 each week. However, in terms of
publicity value, the figures were impossible to calculate monetarily. For
helping to accelerate the Paramount case, it was money well-spent.
After the Reno event, SIMPP celebrated as the Justice Department took the
major studios back to Federal Court in New York City late in August 1944.
Both the government and the independent producers prepared for the
District Court hearing of United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. et
al—the phase of the antitrust case which the press commonly referred
to as the New York Equity Suit.
AND SOURCES FOR CHAPTER 7:
visit to Hollywood, denunciation of the double feature: Frank S. Nugent,
"Double, Double, Toil and Trouble," New York Times Magazine,
January 17, 1943, pp. 11, 21.
time figures: Finler, The Hollywood Story, p. 34.
could run film backward" mentioned in: Jim Marshall, "Nothing To
It," Collier’s, May 18, 1946, p. 96.
conditions": John C. Flinn to Loyd Wright, January 20, 1943, WWP.
Also mentions the violations of the Consent Decree that have frozen
first-run play dates.
outspoken—"The art of showmanship": Fred Stanley, "Blast
At Hollywood," NYT, July 30, 1944, sec. II, p. 1; Theodore
Strauss, "Why Keep The B’s?," NYT, July 26, 1942, sec.
X, p. 3. Goldwyn fights Florida theaters: "Goldwyn Tell Fans Via Ads
Why They Can’t See ‘Foxes’," HR, January 22, 1942, p. 4.
History of Sparks circuit: Dick, City of Dreams, p. 57. Goldwyn
refuses other independent theaters: HR, July 24, 1944.
discussions with Department of Justice, actions in interim: John C. Flinn
to Loyd Wright, January 26, 1943, WWP; Loyd Wright to John C. Flinn,
January 28, 1943, WWP.
C. Clark: "Government Is Free To Move In Film Case," NYT,
November 21, 1943, p. 27.
Disney animation for Up In Arms: Solomon, The Disney That Never
Was, pp. 76-77. The Up in Arms animation, which was believed to
have been destroyed, resurfaced in a film print uncovered by the Disney
company in the late 1990s.
at the Woods versus Balaban & Katz: Fred Stanley, "Discord In the
West," NYT, August 27, 1944, sec. II, p. 1.
Coast and Balaban & Katz antitrust violations: Conant, Antitrust in
the Motion Picture Industry, pp. 85, 105. United States v. West
Coast Theatres, C.C.H. Trade Regulation Reports, Supp. IV, 4206,
Southern District of California, 1930; United States v. Fox West Coast
Theatres, (1932); United States v. Balaban and Katz Corp.,
C.C.H. Trade Cases, Northern District of Illinois, 1932.
& D. Theatres and Up in Arms in Reno, Tuesday, August 22, 1944:
"Goldwyn Denounces Theatre Monopoly," HR, August 22,
1944, pp. 1, 6; "Pickford, Disney Support Goldwyn in Monopoly
Fight," HR, August 23, 1944, pp. 1, 3; "Goldwyn Fights
Film Exhibitors," NYT, August 23, 1944, p. 16; "The
Battle of Reno," Time, September 4, 1944, pp. 78, 80; also see
Berg, Goldwyn, pp. 384-387; Marx, Goldwyn, pp. 301-302;
Marill, Samuel Goldwyn Presents, p. 235.
speech: Transcription from radio station KEO, FBI report, October 19,
1944, Salt Lake City, FBI 60-86—see Trethewey, Walt Disney: The FBI
Files, pp. 117-120.
speaking at Up In Arms opening: "Pickford, Disney, Cagneys,
Welles Back Goldwyn Fight," DV, August 23, 1944, pp. 1, 8.
threaten to show their own movies—"Movie Stars Fight Fox Chain in
West," NYT, November 7, 1930, p. 32; "even if I
had": Chaplin, My Autobiography, p. 393; "I’ll show it
in": Lasky, RKO, p. 165.
Citizen Kane fight with Fox-West Coast: Welles and Bogdanovich, This
Is Orson Welles, pp. 87-88, quoted from NYT, September 7, 1941.
and Selznick with the Astor Theatre: The Society of Independent Motion
Picture Producers, et al v. United Detroit Theatres Corp., et al, case
number 7589, District Court of the United States for the Eastern District
of Michigan Southern Division, Deposition of David O. Selznick,
April 28, 1949, pp. 45-48, AMPAS.
investigation of T. & D.: Office memorandum from A. Rosen, FBI
60-3020, November 4, 1944; see Trethewey, Walt Disney: The FBI Files,
reason the picture": "Goldwyn Fights Film Exhibitors," p.
objects to new consent decree 1944: Tom C. Clark to Loyd Wright, January
28, 1944, WWP; John C. Flinn to Loyd Wright, February 3, 1944, WWP.
long as the independents": Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge
from press release quoted in A. Rosen, FBI 60-3020; see Trethewey, p. 123.
of Justice reactivates the Paramount case: Department of Justice
(press release), August 7, 1944, pp. 1-5, WWP; "Govt. Readying
Anti-Trust Case," HR, August 7, 1944, pp. 1-2; "U.S.
Renews Battle On Film Monopolies," NYT, August 8, 1944, p. 15.