Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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William Goetz (left) and Leo Spitz.

International Pictures

SIMPP Member (1945-1946)

The story of the short-lived by auspicious company formed by William Goetz and Leo Spitz

  • The merger of Universal-International;
  • and additional information on British film magnate J. Arthur Rank.

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen


International Pictures, founded by producer William Goetz and RKO executive Leo Spitz, had a brief history that echoed Twentieth Century Pictures from the decade before. In both cases, the independent owners quickly turned their outfit into one of the most auspicious producers in Hollywood, only to merge with a major studio to command more leverage in the industry. In fact, Goetz was a producer at Twentieth Century and worked under Darryl Zanuck for many years before going independent on his own. Goetz, married to Louis B. Mayer's daughter Edith, also shared much in common with Mayer's other son-in-law David O. Selznick; both were producer-executives who rose though the studio ranks with dreams of running their own company.

William Goetz.

Goetz, vice president of Twentieth Century-Fox, became temporary head of the studio when Darryl Zanuck joined the war effort in an extended service overseas in 1942. The new responsibilities for Goetz were effective only during the hiatus, but Zanuck received reports from the studio that Goetz's behavior appeared overly ambitious. When Zanuck returned to Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943, Goetz faced an uncomfortable confrontation with the studio head. Goetz resigned.

In late 1943, William Goetz decided to form his own independent company with Leo Spitz, a former lawyer who worked as a movie company advisor. In January 1944 Spitz helped secure distribution through RKO, and together they organized International Pictures.

Both International principals had independent connections. Spitz acted as an advisor on the Selznick International liquidation in December 1940. They decided to establish a high-profile reputation by attracting other independent or quasi-independent filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Sam Spiegel, and Orson Welles. SIMPP welcomed International Pictures into the organization, and viewed the company as one of the most promising recent additions to the Society. But International was actually less interested in independence, and more keen to accumulating clout in the industry. As Goetz looked for additional ways to distinguish the International label, his company became closely associated with Universal, where he sensed that the shifting tides might provide opportunity.

The largest shareholder of Universal at the end of World War II was British film magnate J. Arthur Rank. The vertically integrated industrialist Rank controlled a massive production-distribution-exhibition film company in England, and was seen as the largest foreign threat to Hollywood's worldwide dominance. Like Korda in the 1930s, Rank had aspirations of extending his empire to America, but had difficulty acclimating American audiences to his British films. Rank became intrigued with SIMPP, observing the independent movement as an opportunity to gain a foothold among the major Hollywood players. He intended on combining the resources of his own company with that of International and Universal to form United World Pictures, using block booking to compel exhibitors to accept his British films.

Some of the independents made alliances with the J. Arthur Rank Organization. Walter Wanger and Edward Small released films through Rank's distributor Eagle-Lion; and David O. Selznick formed Selznick International Pictures of England with Rank backing. However in the public arena, many of the outspoken SIMPP members shared the views of the general industry that targeted Rank as a threatening outsider. His image was not improved by the Anglo-American film trade difficulties in the late 1940s which made producers on both sides of the Atlantic more hostile.

Unable to get the United World block-booking scheme off the ground, Rank helped bring about a merger between Universal and International. The International management team was brought in to head the reorganized studio called Universal-International with William Goetz as president and overseer of production and Leo Spitz as chairman of the board. Rank nearly became a major partner in the deal, but was unable to expand into a controlling interest and was forced to back out.

The merger was announced on July 30, 1946, as Universal profits were showing steady growth. Universal had gravitated away from the B-movie focus that had been the studio's bread-and-butter; and the new management team continued to make deals with independent producers like Diana Productions-the production company formed by Wanger, his wife Joan Bennett, director-producer Fritz Lang, and screenwriter Dudley Nichols. However, in the following year, the Universal fortunes began to plummet rapidly as recession enveloped the industry. Following several years of financial losses, Universal-International was acquired by Decca late in 1951. The record company took control of Universal, and ousted Goetz and Spitz as the company headed toward conglomeration.

The relatively short careers of Liberty and International Pictures in the mid-1940s made the fleeting stability of independent producers appear even more bleak. The major studio, it seemed, was the unavoidable destination of production companies both successful and unsuccessful. Not only had SIMPP lost one of its most powerful members in the Universal-International merger of 1946, but the inability of the International management to weather the large-scale transformations taking place at the close of the studio era shed uncertainty over the direction of Hollywood's future.


SOURCES:

International Pictures: Dick, City of Dreams, pp. 135-139; Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System, pp. 152-154; Schatz, The Genius of the System, pp. 463-465; Thomson, Showman, pp. 348-349.

See Bibliography.

 

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