Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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Donald M. Nelson - Biography

President of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers (1945-1947)

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen

When Loyd Wright originally became SIMPP president in 1941, he considered his role in the Society temporary until a permanent full-time leader emerged. At the end of the war, he believed that what SIMPP really needed was its own Will Hays-a strong executive and political insider who would help the group achieve its international aims as well as its domestic antitrust goals.

Donald Marr Nelson Joins SIMPP

Loyd Wright selected a committee of six SIMPP members to choose the new president. The committee consisted of Samuel Goldwyn, Walt Disney, Walter Wanger, Sol Lesser, Edward Small, and the committee chairman David O. Selznick. In less than ten days of negotiations in early June 1945, the Selznick committee invited former chairman of the War Production Board Donald M. Nelson to become the new president of SIMPP. He accepted the position, and the $50,000 annual salary, at the June 12 meeting of the committee, and Selznick announced the news at a press conference that same day.

An executive at Sears, Roebuck and Co. from 1939 to 1942, Nelson's background was in business, which the SIMPP committee welcomed as a suitable direction for the Society to take in the postwar atmosphere. Furthermore, Donald Nelson also had experience in international negotiations as Roosevelt's presidential emissary to China. The new president came to SIMPP with a deal of political clout as well. While head of the War Production Board, Nelson was one of the government officials who set priorities for national resources, holding the lifeline of Hollywood during World War II through the supply of raw film stock. Nelson said he was attracted to SIMPP by the challenges of the foreign market as the war subsided. He also proposed an aggressive antitrust agenda. He announced that a legislative branch would be maintained in Washington, D.C., in addition to SIMPP's offices in Los Angeles and New York. Loyd Wright stayed on as general counsel for the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.

Postwar Difficulties

In 1947, the independent movement faced setbacks during the postwar recession that upset the profitability of the major studios and forced the closure of many new independent companies. Donald Nelson defended independent production in an article written for the Anna1s of the American Academy of Po1itical and Social Science for a special issue in November 1947 that was devoted to the motion picture industry. The article placed the independent producers in the grand historical sweep of Hollywood, and predicted an unlimited future for the movement.

Read "The Independent Producer" article from 1947, written by Donald M.Nelson

Nelson, then president of SIMPP said that even though the independents represented a fractional portion of the entire industry, they were responsible for an inordinately high amount of the industry's innovative films, including six of the ten all-time box-office champions: The Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

Donald Nelson Resigns from SIMPP 

Society president Donald Nelson was plagued with personal problems, including his well-publicized multiple divorces that made him the subject of gossip columns. Also his health deteriorated, and on July 21, 1947 Nelson was hospitalized with “a transient spasm of a blood vessel” which the trade papers exaggerated as a debilitating coronary thrombosis. He would eventually die from a stroke in 1959 during a party given by Veronique, the wife of actor Gregory Peck.

On December 9, 1947 Nelson announced his resignation from SIMPP. The press speculated that it was due to the uncertainties of independent film production. But in his moving letter of resignation, Nelson drew upon the resilience of the independents, confident that the difficulties faced by SIMPP were momentary, and that his resignation was coincidental with his interests in projects outside the organization.

Read Donald Nelson's Letter of Resignation, December 1, 1947



Nelson article on independents: Donald M. Nelson, “The Independent Producer,” The Anna1s of the American Academy of Po1itical and Social Sciences, 254 (November 1947), pp. 49-57. Also see “Nelson Tells How Indies Have Lifted Film Standards,” DV, October 20, 1947; “Nelson Cites Progress Due To Independents,” Box office, October 25, 1947; Joe Alvin to SIMPP members, November 19, 1947, WWP.
“If there are risks”: “The Independent Producer,” p. 55.
“On the decision”: Ibid, p. 56.
Nelson hospitalized: SIMPP to SIMPP members, telegram, July 23, 1947, WWP.
Nelson resigns from SIMPP presidency - Letter of resignation: Donald M. Nelson to SIMPP members, December 1, 1947, pp. 1-3, WWP; “Nelson Resigns Industry Post,” NYT, December 10, 1947, p. 44; “Nelson To Quit Independents,” NYT, December 14, 1947, sec. II, p. 5.

See Bibliography.


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