Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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Hunt Stromberg

SIMPP Member (1942-1958)

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen

Hunt Stromberg was the first producer added to the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in 1942 after the group had been formed by Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Korda, Mary Pickford, David O. Selznick, Walter Wanger, and Orson Welles.

Stromberg had been one of the key MGM executives for many years. In the 1920s he was one of MGM's "big four" managers along with Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, and Harry Rapf. Stromberg's stature at the studio increased in 1933 when Mayer suppressed Thalberg's central-producer system to undermine the growing authority of Thalberg and to redistribute creative control at the studio. Thereafter Stromberg became one of the four prestige film producers with his own unit and an uncommonly high degree of freedom at the studio. The other three MGM producers were David Selznick, Walter Wanger, and Irving Thalberg. In 1937 after the exit of Selznick and Wanger and the death of Thalberg, Stromberg was invited into the ultra-rare management circle that received a percentage of Loew's profits—1.5 percent in addition to his $8,000 weekly guarantee. During the depression when Loew's finances consistently landed in the black, the Treasury Department listed Stromberg as one of the ten highest paid executives in the United States. Seeking more creative freedom, he left MGM and formed his own independent production company before joining SIMPP in 1942.

Stromberg, born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1894, had a career as a newspaper reporter and sports writer before making the jump to film. He followed a fellow advertising friend into the motion picture industry, and became publicity director for Goldwyn Pictures. In 1918 the company sent Stromberg to California, where he developed an interest in filmmaking, and served as assistant to Thomas Ince. After writing, producing, and directing his first film in 1921, he resigned from the Ince staff to form Hunt Stromberg Productions.

Stromberg relinquished his ties to the major film companies of the time to establish himself as an independent producer. In February 1922, Stromberg interested Bull Montana, a popular matinee idol and former Fairbanks protégé, in a long-term contract to star in two- and three-reel comedies. He also hired comedy director Mal St. Clair, who had been responsible for several successful shorts with Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton. Soon the publicity helped bring in several distribution offers from Robertson-Cole and W. W. Hodkinson. His independent debut came after Sid Grauman saw a rough cut of Stromberg's A Ladies' Man (1922) and immediately booked it for a premiere at his Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles on April 30, 1922.

After only a few years as a pioneering independent, Stromberg abandoned his own company in 1924 to join the newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as an associate. During his distinguished tenure he was responsible for over one hundred features, specializing in dramas and musicals. His $2 million, three hour production of The Great Ziegfeld (1936) became the longest Hollywood sound film at the time, MGM's most expensive film since Ben-Hur (1925), and one of the studio's biggest hits. Some sources have credited Stromberg as the first MGM supervisor to receive "produced by" credit at a time when the title of "producer" was alien to the film studios.

But Stromberg ended up in a contract dispute with Louis B. Mayer in 1941. On December 13, after 18 years with MGM, Stromberg resigned, walking away from a lucrative contract with three years to go. Mayer finally released him from his obligations, and Stromberg officially left the studio on February 10, 1942. The trade papers expected him to join United Artists in some capacity, perhaps working with Selznick or forming a partnership with former UA executive Murray Silverstone who recently resigned from the studio. Instead Stromberg revived his independent production company exactly 20 years after its first incarnation, and signed his own five-year distribution deal with United Artists.

Stromberg was already well-connected to the independent producers, and many of his employees were important members of the old Selznick International team, including Lowell V. Calvert and Kay Brown. Myron Selznick, who brokered the deal between Stromberg and UA, was one of the primary investors of Hunt Stromberg Productions, Inc. Also, David Selznick's attorney Lester Roth became secretary of the independent production company, and Loyd Wright president of SIMPP served as Stromberg's lawyer.

He launched the company with a project based on Gypsy Rose Lee's The G-String Murders which was released as Lady of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck. It provided his independent company and UA with an immediate hit that grossed $1.85 million.


Hunt Stromberg—biographical information: "Hunt Stromberg," (press release), c. 1944, AMPAS; "Hunt Stromberg Dies at 74; Prolific Producer One of Metro's 'Big Four'," Variety, August 25, 1968, p. 22; Joyce Haber, "Hunt Stromberg, Ex-Movie Producer, Dies," LAT, August 25, 1968; "Hunt Stromberg Announces His Future Plans for Productions," New York Morning Telegraph, February 12, 1922, p. 2; "Bull Montana in 'A Ladies' Man," New York Morning Telegraph, February 26, 1922; "Booking Record for Stromberg," New York Morning Telegraph, April 30, 1922; "Stromberg Gets Metro Release," DV, February 9, 1942, p. 1; "Stromberg Resignation Made Official," MPH, February 14, 1942; "Stromberg With U. A." - "Stromberg Picks Veterans for His Production Staff" - "'Fame' Cites Champion Producers; Stromberg 'Firsts' Recalled," Hollywood Film Forecast (booklet), September 1942, pp. 1-4 AMPAS; 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 Hunt Stromberg, April 8, 1949, AMPAS; Schatz, The Genius of the System, p. 253; Eames, The MGM Story, p. 46, 121; French, The Movie Moguls, p. 52.

Organization of Hunt Stromberg Productions, Inc. given in: 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 Hunt Stromberg, April 8, 1949, p.5, AMPAS. In addition to Stromberg, organizers included "Lester Roth, Lowell Calvert, and Myron Selznick who owned 70% of the stock."

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