Dore Schary Joins Selznick’s Vanguard in 1943
The following excerpt is from Dore Schary's autobiography Heyday
in which he describes how now-legendary talent agent Lew Wasserman aided him in
landing a key position with David Selznick at a time when the expansion of
Selznick's organization appeared to be taking the Selznick Studio into the
status of a major Hollywood distributor.
Excerpt from Heyday, by Dore Schary
Through Horace McCoy, who wrote They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, I had
met Lew Wasserman when he and his wife, Edie, had first come to Hollywood. Lew
had prospered as the head of the MCA agency.
Out of work, abandoned by Goldstone, and scared that his summary of my extremis
condition was correct, I decided to call Lew and ask if he'd take me on.
When Lew came to our home, he listened to the saga of my MGM tenure. He has
always been a good listener, eyeing you intently, making sure that you are
telling him the truth. Sometimes he has the disconcerting habit of watching your
lips as you talk. Always, he had and has (though I have not seen him often in
recent years) an air of complete confidence with a penumbra of wisdom and
assurance that impels you to place your career in his hands. Once, years later,
Nicholas Schenck, president of Loew's, told me that Lew was the smartest man
he'd ever met and added, "I never see him after twelve noon, I'm too slow
to take him on after that."
When I finished sketching out what I believed was going to be a hairy time
for me, Lew asked if I was in need of money. I said there was no worry on that
score. I didn't tell him that actually I was secure for only about ten weeks,
but I believe he sensed I was boasting. He told me to relax, that he'd look
around, ask some questions, and be in touch. Before he left, he asked me to name
a list of the pictures the B unit had produced. He nodded, made no notes, and
While I do have confidence in myself, I often gather that others believe I am
too easygoing, too amiable; not steely enough. Therefore, when Lew rode off, I
suddenly felt that he had been kind, generous, patient, but that I wouldn't hear
from him except to be told he'd struck out.
A few days later Lew rang to ask if I could make myself free for the entire
following day. Of course he knew I could but he gave me the courtesy of
protecting the shredded dignity most of us have when we're out of work.
He was to pick me up. We had three dates: Charles Koerner, head of RKO, was
at 10:30 in the morning; David Selznick, 12:30; finally, Henry Ginsberg at
Paramount at 2:30 P.M.
The meeting with Koerner, a handsome gray-haired man with tanned skin and the
bulky look of a capable boxer, went well. Koerner was frank in saying he'd like
me to make some films at RKO and was willing to pay the going rate. There were a
few manly jokes, hard handshakes, and we left. Lew’s comment was, "Could
be. But I’m not sure that’s for you."
The next stop introduced me to David O. Selznick, a legendary figure for whom
I had enormous respect and admiration. I had been present at the opening night
of Gone with the Wind at the once handsome Cathay Circle Theatre in
Hollywood. At intermission, I had heard the sour jokes and the drear estimates -
"This should be called Gone with Selznick"; "David's a
dead duck"; "This one is four hours too long"; et cetera, et
cetera. I had loved the film and knew his other work, Dinner at Eight, David
Copperfield, Viva Villa. When Gone with the Wind swamped the
competition at Academy Award time I was, as a fan, happy and amused to recognize
some of the opening knockers applauding their hands raw.
Selznick and I had met briefly just once at the Academy Awards in 1939 when
he came by and congratulated me for Boys Town.
Now here he was. A big, toothy grin was accompanied by an involuntary nod of
his leonine head. His eyeglasses made his eyes look larger than they were. His
offices were tasteful and comfortable, rather uncluttered with memorabilia. I
liked Selznick instantly and hoped I could work for him, but wondered whether
his father-in-law, L. B. Mayer, had laid an ax to my head. With Selznick was his
executive vice-president, Daniel T. O'Shea, a feisty, humorous man with a
lopsided grin, premature gray hair, and a no-nonsense manner. I didn't have to
wonder too long about what Mayer had said. "L.B. told me you're a
maverick," Selznick said. "Don't like to take orders. Tough to deal
with." He smiled. "I told him you sounded like me."
Selznick said that he knew of the films I had supervised and that he wanted
to have someone make low-budget films for a new company he had formed called
Vanguard Films. He, Selznick, would continue his Selznick International schedule
and the new boy in town would be boss of Vanguard to make six or seven pictures
a year on budgets ranging from five to seven hundred thousand each. "I
would approve of the basic idea, then I don't want to have anything to do with
any of the pictures till you show them to me in rough cut."
I was happily aware that he had slipped into referring to me as the potential
head of his new company. "Wonderful," was my searching and compelling
We exchanged grins. "You can be charming, can't you?" he said.
"Well, you're not so bad at it yourself," I answered.
David then asked Lew to talk to Dan O'Shea and see if something could be
Lew and I moved into O'Shea's office and Dan, with his special style,
pixieish and Irish, launched into his need to have a hard-nosed picture maker in
the lineup who could help bring in money to finance David's multimillion-dollar
After a while, Lew looked at his watch and explained we had a date at
Paramount. O'Shea said to me, "We'll be in touch. You'll have it good here
if we can work things out."
I told Lew as we drove to Paramount that I wanted the Selznick job. Lew
answered, "First, we'll see Ginsberg." We went to that gentleman's
office. He came directly to the point. "You're welcome to come here — if
Lew doesn't make the deal too rich." Lew got up, asked Ginsberg to please
tell anyone if they called that he and I were having lunch nearby at Lucey's;
"Thanks, Henry." Then we went to Lucey's, where we talked and ate.
A half hour after we arrived, there was a call for Lew and they jacked a
phone into our booth. Lew answered, covered the phone, and whispered, "It's
O'Shea." The conversation went like this: "Hello, Danny. . . . Dore
likes the idea too. . . . No, Danny, it's not complicated. . . fifteen hundred a
week. . . he needs a staff . . . an assistant, reader, two secretaries and one
of the bungalows. . . a five-year contract — we can talk about yearly raises.
. . and that's about it. . . except for fifteen percent of the profit on each
picture he makes. . . . Danny — he wants to get going . . . Ginsberg and
Koerner have both offered setups. . . . I'll hang on. . ." Again, Lew
covered the phone. "He's checking with Selznick." I pleated my fingers
as Lew got back to O'Shea. "Yes . . . yes. . . right . . . okay, Dan —
tell Dore." I took the phone and said, "Hello, Dan." Dan's voice
was dry. "You got a hell of a good deal — but we're pleased. When can you
After I hung up, I looked at Lew, who was giving me one of those half grins I
came to know so well.
I said, "Thanks, Lew ."
"Let me ask you a question," he said. "Tell me, do you really
know how to make a picture?"
Schary, Dore. Heyday: An Autobiography. Boston: Little,
Brown, 1979, pp. 132-134.