Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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Independents Protest the UNITED MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY (1942)

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen

The Unity Plan (UMPI)

The MPPDA (later known as the MPAA) joined with several exhibitor organizations to form the Motion Picture Industry Conference Committee in December 1941. Together they had a five-point mission to attack several of the industry difficulties such as tax reform and international trade. However the focus of the group was turned to something called the "Unity Plan" which the Conference Committee created as an alternative to the Consent Decree of 1940 to satisfy the Justice Department and avoid the reactivation of the Paramount case.

MGM general manager William F. Rogers served as chairman of the organization, and Jack Kirsch, the president of the Allied Theatre Owners of Illinois, headed the drafting committee to revise the Consent Decree. The independent exhibitors agreed to adjust the limit on block booking from five films to 12 films in each block, if the distributors gave the theaters a liberal rejection privilege. Both the distributors and exhibitors seemed pleased with the compromise, and eager to hammer out the fine points of the deal.

Meanwhile the Department of Justice became aware of the Motion Picture Industry Conference Committee's activities, and viewed their decree-amending efforts with circumspection. They sent a telegram to the group during the Motion Picture Industry Conference in January 1942, prompting a meeting of the distributors and exhibitors that lasted into the late night on January 22. Planning to immediately get the Unity Plan off the ground, the committee asked each exhibitor group to contribute $1,000, and every distributor to pledge $7,000. To promote the image of industry solidarity, the group decided to change the name of their organization to the United Motion Picture Industry (UMPI).

Opposition from the Independent Producers

Though, in name, UMPI was seen as a unified effort encompassing the entire industry, the conspicuous absence of the independent producers was evident in the deal being worked out between distributors and exhibitors. Trade showing was being cast aside; block booking was on the resurgence. The prospects for the independent producers were devastating. They feared that the so-called United Motion Picture Industry was undermining any headway that had been made since 1938. The spirit of industry compromise in late 1941 and early 1942 provoked the independent producers to announce the formation of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.

By March 1942 the UMPI committee officially disclosed its plans for a modified block booking arrangement between studios and exhibitors. UMPI would soon try to convince the Department of Justice to accept the plan as an amendment to the Consent Decree of 1940 which was to expire in less than three months. The Unity Plan officially recommended limiting block booking to 12 films or, for the larger studios, up to 25 percent of the annual studio output. Of these dozen films, five would be trade-shown and would not be subject to exhibitor cancellation; the remaining films would be sold blindly but two of the seven could be canceled by theaters. The plan received the support of the major studios and most of the influential exhibitor organizations including the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America, Allied States Association of Theatre Owners, and the Independent Theatre Owners Association. UMPI's Jack Kirsch explained that copies of the Unity Plan were being mailed to exhibitors throughout the country, urging the theaters to join with the major studios to petition the Department of Justice to accept the proposal as an alternative consent decree.

On April 29, SIMPP held a meeting to discuss the problems created by their initial attack on the Unity Plan and to "lay the groundwork for a campaign to thwart the so-called Unity effort and preserve the advantages of an open market for the licensing of films," SIMPP meeting notes indicated. The group was called together in New York by Loyd Wright and John C. Flinn, who would replace James Allen as executive secretary effective May 1. Several key independents sent their east coast representatives to the meeting—Grad Sears (United Artists vice president in charge of distribution), James Mulvey (representing Goldwyn), William B. Levy (for Disney), and Steven Pallos (from Korda's London Films).

"Changed sentiment within the trade, with the exception of a few isolated spots, is not anticipated," the meeting notes reasoned. "The drive must be aimed to reawaken the public groups and the public press to the realities of the proposals." In other words, long experience had shown that the independent producers could not convince the industry itself; they would have to take the issues to the people. SIMPP decided to undertake a national publicity push orchestrated between the eastern and western branches of the Society, as well as the publicity departments of the various producers, to convince the public to continue the pressure on the Department of Justice with a letter writing campaign.

SIMPP's Anti-Block Booking Letter

During the first week of May, the Society drafted a petition in the form of an open letter to Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold. It was titled "Shall Block Booking of Motion Pictures Be Permitted to Return?" and printed as a special pamphlet to be mailed to film representatives, special civic organizations, and various government bureaus. SIMPP executive secretary John Flinn personally delivered a copy of it to Thurman Arnold, head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department.

The letter was dated June 1, 1942, the same day that the Consent Decree of 1940 expired. The Justice Department had only a short time to make up its mind, whether it would accept an alternate plan, like the Unity Plan, or take the Big Eight back to court.

In the open letter, written by Loyd Wright and John Flinn, the producers were introduced as entrepreneurs in a "unique and highly vulnerable position." They asserted that the independents' existence, and that of their highly articulate films, depended on competition free from monopoly control. "The names of the members of this Society," they said capitalizing on the filmmakers' reputations, "are synonymous with the most courageous, artistic and popular films over a period of years." In the pamphlet SIMPP reaffirmed its complete objection to block booking of any kind. The diatribe contained scathing language ("poisonous influence" and "villainous career") to decry the indulgence of block booking as "the root of all evil in the film industry."

In addition to the names of the Society president and executive secretary, the letter was signed by SIMPP executive committee members Roy Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walter F. Wanger.

CLICK HERE to read the full-text of the SIMPP anti-block booking letter from June 1, 1942

Meanwhile, the UMPI committee presented the Unity Plan to the Department of Justice. Despite the efforts of SIMPP, the industry trades reported that the UMPI proposal would almost surely be accepted. As late as July 9, the industry expected Thurman Arnold to adopt the plan with minor changes: "Speedy Approval Is Seen," one trade headline roared. The major studios were confident; Paramount, Warners and RKO began selling their films in accordance with the plan, as if it had already been accepted. Twentieth Century-Fox, as a sign of good faith, continued with the five-picture block, expecting to make additions to the blocks when the new consent decree finalized. However, the Department of Justice admitted that a recent public opposition to the Unity Plan sparked by the independent producers gave them pause for consideration. Mentioning the SIMPP letter as one of the most significant protests, the Justice Department said it would need to consider the UMPI amendment in the light of these new circumstances.

The Government Sides with SIMPP

The Justice Department indicated that the antitrust division supported this action during the war, to preserve raw film ingredients that were also essential to producing certain kinds of explosives. The antitrust division admitted publicly that they agreed with SIMPP—that to allow the Unity Plan's 12-film blocks would result in the unadvisable trend to more B-films. Seeing the new report from Arnold, John Flinn telegraphed the Society: "Am more encouraged than at any previous time that we are winning this UMPI fight."

The Unity Plan was indeed toppled by the Department of Justice when Thurman Arnold rejected the proposal on August 17. Thereafter the United Motion Picture Industry faded, even though only one of its original five-point missions had been acted upon. William Rogers finished with UMPI, then resigned as general sales manager of MGM to become president of RKO.



Motion Picture Industry Conference Committee, the Unity Plan, and the United Motion Picture Industry: "Industry Unity Program Looms As Film Branches Meet Today," HR, January 21, 1942, pp. 1, 2; "Industry Branches in Accord," HR, January 22, 1942, pp. 1, 8; "Anti-Trusters Report Swings Attention of Pix Unity Meet," HR, January 23, 1942, p. 1, 9; Thomas M. Prior, "By Way of Report," NYT, March 1, 1942, sec. X, p. 3; "New Sales Plan For Films Urged," NYT, March 4, 1942, p. 22.
SIMPP opposes Unity Plan—"to consider desirability": Loyd Wright to SIMPP, telegram, March 26, 1942, WW; Loyd Wright, SIMPP, untitled, (press release), April 13, 1942, WWP; "Chaplin and Other Independents Oppose New Plan for Block Booking of Films," p. 16.
SIMPP v. UMPI: Thomas M. Prior, "In This Corner: Presenting a Three-Sided Fight Over Proposed Changes in Selling Films," NYT, April 19, 1942, sec. VIII, p. 4; Samuel Goldwyn, "Mr. Goldwyn Takes Up the Cudgels," p. 4.
In no known instances had a SIMPP founding member block booked a package consisting of their own features. However, early SIMPP member Hunt Stromberg reissued Lady of Burlesque (1943) and The Guest in the House (1944), sometimes as a unit, sometimes separately according to the Hunt Stromberg United Detroit case deposition: 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. 86, AMPAS.
SIMPP meeting notes April 29: John C. Flinn, May 1, 1942, WWP.
SIMPP anti-block booking: Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers to Thurman Arnold, "Shall Block Booking of Motion Pictures Be Permitted to Return?" An Open Letter, published by SIMPP, New York, June 1, 1942.
Unity Plan makes progress: "UMPI Has New Sales System," DV, March 2, 1942, p. 1; "UMPI Plan Gets Tentative O.K.: Speedy Approval Is Seen," HR, July 9, 1942, pp. 1, 10; "Para, Warners, RKO Will See New Season Pix in 3 Blocks," HR, July 13, 1942, pp. 1, 4.
Unity Plan regress: "UMPI Sales Plan Faces Hurdles," HR, July 17, 1942, p. 1 (Consent Decree amendments given in full: Sections III-A, IV-A and VII); "UMPI Plan Seems Doomed," HR July 22, 1942, p. 1; "UMPI Handed K.O. by Arnold," HR, August 18, 1942, p. 1. "Am more encouraged": John Flinn to Loyd Wright, telegram, July 22, 1942, WWP.
Big Five maintain block booking: "Five Majors Will Continue Blocks of 5 If UMPI Fails," HR, July 31, 1942, p. 1; "Metro Selling Blocks of 8," HR, August 14, 1942, p. 1; "4 Majors Continue Blocks of 5," HR, August 19, 1942, p. 1.

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