The Independent Producers and the Paramount Case, 1938-1949
Part 5: Friend of the Court—SIMPP Files For Amicus Curiae, 1947
Independent Producers Assist the Government
Previously SIMPP had preferred to submitted court briefs on short notice, in
order to coordinate the Society’s publicity efforts with the events of the
case. These had been hurried efforts, working late into the night, usually over
the course of a weekend, and submitted at just the right time for dramatic
effect. For the Supreme Court brief, Donald
Nelson, prior to his resignation in
December 1947, authorized an extensive research program before executing the
independent produces’ defense strategy. “Great care should be taken on the
Society’s brief to the court,” SIMPP attorney Morris L. Ernst recommended to
the president, “because it not only speaks to the court, it speaks to the rest
of the industry.”
Part of SIMPP’s preparations involved question-and-answer sessions with
Robert L. Wright, the chief prosecutor for the government in the Paramount
case. Wright (incidentally the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright) had worked
on the case since its inception in 1938, and delivered the opening arguments in
the New York Equity Suit in 1945. At
the invitation of Nelson, Robert Wright visited Los Angeles in April 1947 as
guest of the Society. In a series of meetings, the SIMPP members, and then the
SIMPP attorneys, discussed the case as it made its way to the Supreme Court
trial calendar for early the following year. The members happily discovered the
objectives of the Justice Department in nearly complete harmony with their own
desires, and the independents agreed to support the case as needed.
The SIMPP Antitrust Investigation
SIMPP’s antitrust investigation went into full-swing in the latter part of
1947. To lead the research team, SIMPP selected Robert J. Rubin who joined SIMPP
officially as assistant to the president, and soon became general counsel for
the Society. Before this, Rubin was a legal expert for the government, and
headed all Justice Department antitrust actions on the west coast. Robert J.
Rubin (not to be confused with prominent MGM executive J. Robert Rubin) became
the antitrust spokesperson for SIMPP, and attended the Supreme Court hearings to
speak on behalf of the independent producers.
After months of prearranging their friend-of-the-court status, the Society of
Independent Motion Picture Producers completed the amicus curiae brief
without the approval of the Paramount defendants, and officially joined
sides with the Department of Justice to restore free competition to the
Friend of the Court
The SIMPP amicus curiae made several demands. First of all, the
Society asked that the Supreme Court uphold the ban on block booking so that the
dreaded practice finally be declared illegal. The independents also petitioned
the Supreme Court to reverse part of the Statutory Court ruling by requiring the
majors to dispose of all their theater holdings. “As the only creative force
competitive to the defendants,” SIMPP declared, the independent producers
“continue to operate under a constant burden so long as the defendants
continue to own and run their own theatres.”
SIMPP also wanted to reverse some of the competitive bidding provisions which
would have outlawed road show film selling. If the New York Equity Suit mandate
went into effect, the producers would not have been allowed to select prestige
theaters that charged premium admission prices-for this would be interpreted as
exhibitor discrimination. Road show premieres would be impossible to arrange,
and the way in which independents launched their movies would be called into
question. SIMPP asked for judicial clarification to declare the independent
producers free to market their films in this manner.
The friend of the court petition, filed in Washington by Morris Ernst on
December 2, 1947, was one of Donald Nelson’s final actions in his executive
role with SIMPP. Slightly delayed from its January 12 court date, the Supreme
Court trial began on February 9, 1948, nearly one year after the government
appealed the Statutory Court ruling.
“Great care should be taken”: Morris L. Ernst to Donald M.
Nelson, January 3, 1947, WWP.
Robert L. Wright visits with SIMPP: Donald M. Nelson to Walter
Wanger, April 9, 1947, WWP.
Robert J. Rubin information - joins SIMPP in latter 1947: see
Marvin L. Faris to Walter Wanger, January 29, 1948, WWP; biographical
information: HR, April 28, 1948.
SIMPP amicus curiae: Donald M. Nelson to SIMPP members,
December 1, 1947, pp. 2, WWP; “Indie Prods Demand Big 5 Be Divorced From
Theatres,” DV, December 3, 1947, pp. 1, 11; Film Daily Yearbook 1948,