Hollywood Renegades Archive

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Director-writer John Huston.

Sam Spiegel and John Huston: Horizon Pictures

SIMPP Members (1950-1958)

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen


Sam Spiegel, like Stanley Kramer, represented the generation of independent producers who received their apprenticeships during the tail end of the studio system, and then came into their own as independent producers in the post-Paramount film industry.

Sam Spiegel, in the words of historian Kevin Brownlow, was "perhaps the last authentic movie tycoon" who arrived in Hollywood a generation too late. He was an illegal Polish immigrant who acquired a criminal record and was deported in 1929, only to return to the United States ten years later. While hiding from the immigration department, he adopted the pseudonym S. P. Eagle, and teamed with former Paramount producer and musical director Boris Morros to make Tales of Manhattan (1942) for Twentieth Century-Fox.

Morros and Spiegel went separate independent ways after World War II. Morros partnered with Paramount executive William Le Baron to form Federal Films, a SIMPP member company from 1946 to 1957. Spiegel went to International Pictures to make The Stranger (1946) which he was to produce, John Huston to direct, and Orson Welles to star in. Instead of Huston, Welles became attached to the project as actor-director, and Spiegel convinced Huston to form an independent partnership together called Horizon Pictures. Horizon Pictures was formed in 1948 by Sam Spiegel and John Huston, along with Jules Buck, an associate producer who made films with Huston during the war.

Their first independent picture We Were Strangers (1949) was a financial disaster. Huston borrowed money from MGM; in exchange, the director was required to make two films there—The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Red Badge of Courage (1951). Meanwhile Spiegel set out to revive Horizon by arranging the financing for The African Queen (1951) with the company's limited means.

Sam Spiegel attracted a top-flight cast with profit participation and salary deferments. Humphrey Bogart received 25 percent of the profits, and Katherine Hepburn took 10 percent. Huston, as director and partner of Horizon received 50 percent of profits. Financing came from a British distributor Romulus Films, Ltd. which put up production costs in exchange for the exclusive rights to distribution in the eastern hemisphere. In so doing, Spiegel pioneered a production method that has become commonplace for Hollywood independent producers to this day—financing domestic films by pre-selling foreign distribution rights.

The African Queen was released in the U.S. and Canada by United Artists, and became a huge success. John Huston left Horizon after a falling out with Spiegel. But the company continued, with Spiegel firmly in control, and Horizon maintaining its SIMPP membership throughout the existence of the Society.

CLICK HERE to read The Story of Horizon Pictures: Told by John Huston

Spiegel independently produced On the Waterfront (1954), the Elia Kazan-Budd Schulberg project that was rejected by several major studios. Spiegel finally abandoned the screen name S. P. Eagle when his film was released by Columbia. On the Waterfront broke box office records and won a best picture Oscar for Spiegel.

Director David Lean (left) and producer Sam Spiegel. The team that created the movie spectacles The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.

Spiegel also set up a Horizon branch office in England, believing that British co-productions would be the wave of the future. He acquired the rights to two old Alexander Korda projects The Bridge on the River Kwai and the D. H. Lawrence autobiography The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the latter which Lawrence himself had sold to Korda in 1935. Spiegel hired one of Korda's former associates David Lean to direct Horizon's production of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). The film resulted in one of the biggest hits of the decade, and Spiegel and Lean made a follow-up epic out of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was retitled Lawrence of Arabia (1962). After three best-picture Oscars, Sam Spiegel became the fifth SIMPP member to win the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (the others were David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, and Stanley Kramer).

 

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SOURCES:

Sam Spiegel biographical information: Sinclair, Spiegel, and James Fixx, "The Spiegel Touch," Saturday Review, 29 December 1962.
"Perhaps, the last authentic": Brownlow, David Lean, p. 247
Horizon Pictures: Sinclair, Spiegel; Huston, An Open Book, pp. 163-187, 210; Kaminsky, John Huston, pp. 39, 62, 87, 118.

See Bibliography.

 

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