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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 said good-bye.

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 observation.

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 worked out.

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 adventures.

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 start? "

"Say when."


"Good. Thanks."

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.

See Bibliography.


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