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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
“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.