David O. Selznick: The SIMPP Years
Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen
During this same time, other independent producers were overtaken by the
changes in Hollywood. David O. Selznick had orchestrated his corporate interests
in the late 1940s to be able to flourish in the new era of independent
filmmaking. However, despite his bold and auspicious entry into distribution, he
was unable to make the same conversion from producer to distributor as Disney.
At United Artists in the 1940s, Selznick had spent most of his time
developing film projects which he sold to other studios for a tidy profit. He
realized that the sale of these film packages provided cash infusions that he
could use to achieve his grand illusion to make a film that would top Gone
With the Wind (1939). But in the meantime, the practice denied United
Artists desperately-needed films from the producer.
After alienating his partners at UA, Selznick decided to form his own
distribution company, the Selznick Releasing Organization (SRO) in 1946 with
himself as sole stockholder. His plan was to release his western epic Duel in
the Sun (1946) with a daring saturation-level release in simultaneous
bookings across the country. Though the film and the distribution proved costly,
Duel in the Sun became a blockbuster in spite of poor reviews and
lackluster word of mouth.
For a brief time, Selznick expanded Vanguard and SRO by bringing in other
producers, Dore Schary and Mark Hellinger. His executive vice president and
SIMPP liaison Daniel T. O'Shea managed
another of Selznick's privately-held companies called the Selznick Studio.
O'Shea tried to get plans off the ground for a production facility to be called
Selznick City. Years later O'Shea recounted to journalist Bob Thomas how the
project became doomed by David Selznick's quixotic behavior.
Some associates and later historians have wondered if Selznick's
near-delusional impulsiveness was a sign that the producer had inherited the
chronic mental instability that ran in the Selznick family. Though the Selznick
organization in the late 1940s seemed like the harbinger of a new era of
flourishing independent production, David O. Selznick's well-positioned empire
was devastated by his habitual extravagance and his obsession in repeating past
successes instead of moving into new areas as had Walt
Selznick studio backlot, featuring the sets for Gone With the Wind,
later became the home of Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz's Desilu Studios.
In 1949 Selznick prepared to close down SRO. Dan O'Shea prepared a booklet
containing the Selznick assets that would be shopped around to the highest
bidder to provide money for Selznick's return to epic film production. The
full-page headline on the front of the April 7 Hollywood Reporter shocked
the industry and infuriated Selznick: “Selznick Studio Goes On Block.”
O'Shea, who relinquished his duties with SIMPP, turned in his resignation as
Vanguard president and executive director of the Selznick Studio in April 1950.
The trades announced that O'Shea intended on opening his own agency; instead he
took an executive position at CBS, and them moved to RKO in 1955 to supervise
RKO's fadeout as a production company. It was a fitting end to the executive who
began his career at RKO three decades earlier as an attorney. Daniel T. O'Shea
died in 1979.
As for David Selznick, he liquidated Vanguard in June 1951, and inadvertently
triggered a stream of tax problems that precluded his later ambitions in the
film industry. He made only three more films, all featuring the actress Jennifer
Jones who became Selznick's second wife. His final production was A Farewell
to Arms distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1957. He died following a
heart attack in 1965.
At David O. Selznick's Vanguard, the board of directors in
1947 included himself, Daniel O'Shea and Loyd Wright. Selznick as the sole
stockholder of SRO: see SIMPP v. United Detroit, Deposition of David O.
Selznick, April 28, 1949, p. 49, AMPAS.
For O'Shea's humorous account of the short-lived plans for
Selznick City, see Thomas, Selznick, pp. 251-252. On Selznick's mental
instability and the O'Shea resignation, see Thomson, Showman, p. 554-556.
Dan O'Shea parts with Selznick: “O'Shea Leaving Selznick;
Will Open Agency,” Variety, April 19, 1950; “Film Executive Given New
Post by Radio System,” LAT, November 25, 1950.
“Selznick Studio Goes On Block,” HR, April 7, 1949,
pp. 1, 3.