Goetz (left) and Leo Spitz.
SIMPP Member (1945-1946)
The story of the short-lived by auspicious company formed by
William Goetz and Leo Spitz
- The merger of Universal-International;
- and additional information on British film magnate J.
Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen
International Pictures, founded by producer William Goetz and RKO executive
Leo Spitz, had a brief history that echoed Twentieth Century Pictures from the
decade before. In both cases, the independent owners quickly turned their outfit
into one of the most auspicious producers in Hollywood, only to merge with a
major studio to command more leverage in the industry. In fact, Goetz was a
producer at Twentieth Century and worked under Darryl Zanuck for many years
before going independent on his own. Goetz, married to Louis B. Mayer's daughter
Edith, also shared much in common with Mayer's other son-in-law David O.
Selznick; both were producer-executives who rose though the studio ranks with
dreams of running their own company.
Goetz, vice president of Twentieth Century-Fox, became temporary head of the
studio when Darryl Zanuck joined the war effort in an extended service overseas
in 1942. The new responsibilities for Goetz were effective only during the
hiatus, but Zanuck received reports from the studio that Goetz's behavior
appeared overly ambitious. When Zanuck returned to Twentieth Century-Fox in
1943, Goetz faced an uncomfortable confrontation with the studio head. Goetz
In late 1943, William Goetz decided to form his own independent company with
Leo Spitz, a former lawyer who worked as a movie company advisor. In January
1944 Spitz helped secure distribution through RKO, and together they organized
Both International principals had independent connections. Spitz acted as an
advisor on the Selznick International liquidation in December 1940. They decided
to establish a high-profile reputation by attracting other independent or
quasi-independent filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Sam Spiegel, and Orson Welles.
SIMPP welcomed International Pictures into the organization, and viewed the
company as one of the most promising recent additions to the Society. But
International was actually less interested in independence, and more keen to
accumulating clout in the industry. As Goetz looked for additional ways to
distinguish the International label, his company became closely associated with
Universal, where he sensed that the shifting tides might provide opportunity.
The largest shareholder of Universal at the end of World War II was British
film magnate J. Arthur Rank. The vertically integrated industrialist Rank
controlled a massive production-distribution-exhibition film company in England,
and was seen as the largest foreign threat to Hollywood's worldwide dominance.
Like Korda in the 1930s, Rank had aspirations of extending his empire to
America, but had difficulty acclimating American audiences to his British films.
Rank became intrigued with SIMPP, observing the independent movement as an
opportunity to gain a foothold among the major Hollywood players. He intended on
combining the resources of his own company with that of International and
Universal to form United World Pictures, using block booking to compel
exhibitors to accept his British films.
Some of the independents made alliances with the J. Arthur Rank Organization.
Walter Wanger and Edward Small released films through Rank's distributor
Eagle-Lion; and David O. Selznick formed Selznick International Pictures of
England with Rank backing. However in the public arena, many of the outspoken
SIMPP members shared the views of the general industry that targeted Rank as a
threatening outsider. His image was not improved by the Anglo-American film
trade difficulties in the late 1940s which made producers on both sides of the
Atlantic more hostile.
Unable to get the United World block-booking scheme off the ground, Rank
helped bring about a merger between Universal and International. The
International management team was brought in to head the reorganized studio
called Universal-International with William Goetz as president and overseer of
production and Leo Spitz as chairman of the board. Rank nearly became a major
partner in the deal, but was unable to expand into a controlling interest and
was forced to back out.
The merger was announced on July 30, 1946, as Universal profits were showing
steady growth. Universal had gravitated away from the B-movie focus that had
been the studio's bread-and-butter; and the new management team continued to
make deals with independent producers like Diana Productions-the production
company formed by Wanger, his wife Joan Bennett, director-producer Fritz Lang,
and screenwriter Dudley Nichols. However, in the following year, the Universal
fortunes began to plummet rapidly as recession enveloped the industry. Following
several years of financial losses, Universal-International was acquired by Decca
late in 1951. The record company took control of Universal, and ousted Goetz and
Spitz as the company headed toward conglomeration.
The relatively short careers of Liberty and International Pictures in the
mid-1940s made the fleeting stability of independent producers appear even more
bleak. The major studio, it seemed, was the unavoidable destination of
production companies both successful and unsuccessful. Not only had SIMPP lost
one of its most powerful members in the Universal-International merger of 1946,
but the inability of the International management to weather the large-scale
transformations taking place at the close of the studio era shed uncertainty
over the direction of Hollywood's future.
International Pictures: Dick, City of Dreams, pp.
135-139; Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System, pp. 152-154; Schatz, The
Genius of the System, pp. 463-465; Thomson, Showman, pp. 348-349.