Monday, June 22, 2015

David O. Selznick - 50 Years


You've all seen this image before. The sun-dappled sign. The big white house. It's the logo for Selznick International, the studio that produced such classics as Gone With the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940).

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of David O. Selznick. What does the 'O' stand for? Well it doesn't stand for O'Malley. In fact, it doesn't stand for anything! Here's his explanation:
I have no middle name...I had an uncle, whom I greatly disliked, who was also named David Selznick, so in order to to avoid any growing confusion between the two of us, I decided to take a middle initial and went through the alphabet to find one that seemed to give me the best punctuation and decided on 'O'.
With his wife, Irene

Selznick was born May 10, 1902. In 1930 he married Irene Mayer, daughter of Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM. Selznick worked for MGM until 1935, when he leased a section of the RKO Studios lot and opened his own production company, Selznick International (in 1957 it became Desilu). Production chief of MGM Irving Thalberg, who was married to Norma Shearer, helped finance the studio.
The trick in adapting novels is to give the 'illusion' of photographing the entire book. Tis is more difficult than creating an original [script].
Selznick International was committed to making pictures of the highest quality. Selznick ruled over his films with an iron fist (famously clashing with director Alfred Hitchcock, who was also used to complete control, on the pictures they made together). The studio produced between 2 and 3 pictures a year. Some of these pictures included: A Star is Born (1937), Nothing Sacred (1937), Made for Each Other (1939), Intermettzo (1939), Gone With the Wind (1939), Rebecca (1940), Since You Went Away (1944), I'll Be Seeing You (1945), and Spellbound (1945). The stars under contract there included Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Joan Fontaine, Shirley Temple, Joseph Cotton, and many others. You can see photos and drawings of the studio backlots here.
The difference between me and other producers is that I am interested in the thousands and thousands of details that go into the making of a film. It is the sum total of all these things that either makes a great picture or destroys it.
The studio closed in 1943, as Selznick could not afford to pay the enormous taxes. After that he formed Vanguard Films, Inc. and in 1946 it became the Selznick Releasing Organization.

In 1949, Selznick divorced Irene and married the actress Jennifer Jones (who had divorced Robert Walker in 1945). They remained married until Selznick's death on June 22, 1965.

Here's a really cool article with photos of their home.

Hollywood's like Egypt, full of crumbling pyramids. It'll just keep on crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio prop across the sands.

One of the things Selznick was famous for was his exceptionally long memos. He even left a memo directing the handing of his funeral. Here's part of what he said (taken from Joseph Cotten's autobiography Vanity Will Get You Somewhere, 163):
I shall need a rabbi for, though I have not been a very good Jew, I am a Jew. But I would like a rabbi who doesn't know me too well; then he can't talk too long and bore my friends. I suppose a few words will have to be said; I would like them spoken by a good voice, so if Joseph Cotten is in the country I want him to say them. Also, he will be brief. 

Vanity Will Get You Somewhere by Joseph Cotten  
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