Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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David O. Selznick, publicity photo. (Aberdeen collection). 

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David O. Selznick

Hollywood Renegade & Founding Member of The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

David O. Selznick was the son of industry pioneer Lewis J. Selznick, and the beneficiary of a childhood immersion in independent film production. The Selznick patriarch L. J. Selznick had been a formidable independent producer in the early days of Hollywood. He crossed paths with Carl Laemmle at Universal, and then ushered in a new age of Wall Street investment at the World Film company. In 1915 L. J. Selznick left World to become an independent, taking with him World's biggest star Clara Kimball Young. Later Selznick partnered with Adolph Zukor, only to return to independent production as the head of Selznick Pictures. David, born in 1902 was training in film production from an early age, while his older brother Myron was being groomed to someday run the Selznick Corporation. But before David came of age, his father suffered a devastating turn of events that brought the Selznick organization to ruins during the silent era.

The first independent film company ever run by a Selznick was the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation. Lewis J. Selznick, President and General Manager. (Aberdeen collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here

The brothers were forced to alter their careers in an effort to vindicate the Selznick name. Myron became an influential talent agent, while David O. Selznick started at an entry-level studio position in at MGM in 1924. He became a supervisor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where he made contacts with Irving Thalberg and future SIMPP stalwart Hunt Stromberg.

In 1927 he became the executive assistant to B.P. Schulberg, the production head at Paramount. Here he became a close associate of Merian C. Cooper, who later produced King Kong (1933) with Selznick, then became an independent partner with him. He was also friends with Walter Wanger (a cofounder of SIMPP), then head of the East Coast Paramount executive.

David Sarnoff, the czar of RCA, hired David O. Selznick as head of production for the RCA film subsidiary RKO-Radio Pictures in 1931. Selznick took the place of William LeBaron, who would later join SIMPP.

Selznick’s aspirations had been to become an independent producer like his father — not a studio production head. But Selznick again postponed his independent desires in order to head his own production unit back at MGM. The deal gave Selznick near creative autonomy, along with access to the vast resources of MGM. He would report directly to Louis B. Mayer, who had become Selznick’s father-in-law when David married Irene Mayer a few years earlier on April 29, 1930. At his time, there were four production units at MGM, Selznick, Walter Wanger, Hunt Stromberg, and Irving Thalberg. All of these producers would become influential figures in the independent movement, although Thalberg’s career would be tragically cut short with his death in 1936 at age 37.

The Thomas Ince Studio on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, California. Later, the Selznick International Studio.

David Selznick was anxious to leave the studios to go independent. The market for independent films was heating up, with new companies like Daryl Zanuck’s Twentieth Century Pictures, Walter Wanger Productions, and Merian Cooper’s Pioneer Pictures.

When Selznick finally went independent, his connections and reputation made him one of the most high-profile independents nearly overnight. Merian C. Cooper got his Pioneer partners interested in a deal with Selznick. Pioneer evolved into Selznick International Pictures, formed on October 15, 1935. Thalberg invested $100,000. Myron Selznick brought another $200,000. Selznick International was capitalized at a remarkable $3 million — without one dollar contributed by David O. Selznick.

David and Myron Selznick at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre premiere of Selznick International Pictures' Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

He moved into the colonial style studio built by Thomas Ince, and formerly owned by Cecil B. DeMille. The Mount Vernon-esque building became the company trademark. He also signed an eight-picture deal with United Artists, and released his films through the company along with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Korda, Walter Wanger, and Walt Disney. All of whom would later join together to form the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.

It was as an independent producer that David O. Selznick made the most expensive movie up until that time — Gone With the Wind. The Civil War epic, which cost $4 million, made an unbelievable $10 million is only a few months, surpassing the $8 million record gross set by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (a figure which had seemed untouchable at the time). Gone With the Wind would be hailed as the grandest of Hollywood epics, and would bring in many more million over the years.

Gone With the Wind makes the cover of Time magazine in December 1939.

David O. Selznick used the profits from Gone With the Wind to fuel a massive expansion of his organization. Selznick International Pictures, which had been losing money before Gone With the Wind, was liquidated — forcing Selznick to relinquish the future rights of his Civil War blockbuster, but providing cash needed for other Selznick ventures.

Shortly before he founded SIMPP, he formed David O. Selznick Productions, and organized a company called the Selznick Studio. He turned his efforts to film-packaging and deal-making. He organized Vanguard Films, as well as a division to specialize in medium-budget movies headed by Dore Schary. David O. Selznick’s empire recaptured the prominence held by L. J. Selznick a generation earlier. But more and more, the Selznick operation began to resemble the major studios, leaving some to question what was the real difference between a major studio and a large independent.




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