Selznick International Pictures

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Selznick International Pictures was a Hollywood motion picture studio.

Origin[edit]

Advertisement in Moving Picture World, April 1917

It was founded in 1935 by producer David O. Selznick and investor John Hay "Jock" Whitney after Selznick left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and leased a section of the RKO Pictures lot in Culver City, California. The studio itself had been built in 1918-1919 by film pioneer Thomas Ince. When Ince died in 1924 the studio was taken over by Cecil B. DeMille. Eventually Pathe took over and then in the 1930s it became part of RKO. In 1957 it would become part of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's company, Desilu.

Selznick leased offices at the studio during the first year or so and at the beginning of 1937 Selznick International Pictures took over the entire lot. The SIP name went up over the entrance of the historic Southern Plantation style administration building and that view of the front of the building became the iconic studio logo seen at the beginning of SIP films. Even though the studio reverted to RKO in the 1940s, Selznick kept offices there for the rest of his life.

Selznick raised the initial funding of US$400,000 in Los Angeles, with half of that amount coming from his brother Myron Selznick, a Hollywood agent, and the other half from MGM production chief Irving Thalberg and his wife actress Norma Shearer.[1] He raised an additional $300,000 from "small" investors in New York, and then the final $2.4 million from Jock Whitney and his family. Whitney himself became chairman of the board, and Selznick president, of the new company.

Because Whitney and his cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney also owned Pioneer Pictures, an independent studio they formed in 1933 on facilities rented at the RKO studios, Pioneer was informally merged with Selznick International Pictures in 1936. Selznick International assumed Pioneer's contract to make at least six pictures in the new full-color Technicolor process, of which the Whitneys owned a 15 percent share.[2]

A brief tradition of quality[edit]

Selznick intended to produce a few features each year, a plan which he hoped would allow him to be as picky and careful as he liked and to create the best films possible. He said to his company's board in 1935, "There are only two kinds of merchandise that can be made profitably in this business, either the very cheap pictures or the very expensive pictures." Selznick believed, "there is no alternative open to us but to attempt to compete with the very best."[3]

Although Selznick foresaw a production schedule of six to eight features per year, the studio in fact made only two or three per year, due to Selznick's meticulous attention to detail and protracted writing and editing processes. But in its short life, Selznick International Pictures produced two winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture: Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940), and two nominees, A Star Is Born (1937) and Spellbound (1945).

By 1940, Selznick International Pictures was the top-grossing film studio in Hollywood, but without a major studio set-up in which to re-invest his profits, Selznick faced enormous tax problems. That year, to draw down their profits as capital gains, he and the other owners made an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to liquidate Selznick International within three years, which they did by dividing and selling to each other the company's assets. Jock Whitney and his sister Joan Whitney Payson acquired Gone with the Wind, which they resold at a substantial profit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1944.[4][5][6] At the time of the final dissolution in 1943, three features were in production or pre-production, although they were released in 1944 and 1945.

To complete his obligation to deliver two more pictures to United Artists, Selznick formed David O. Selznick Productions in 1940 at the same studio location. The new company also took over the old company's contracts with individual directors and actors.[7]

Vanguard Films and Selznick Releasing Organization[edit]

After the dissolution of Selznick International, Selznick established Vanguard Films, Inc. in 1943 and Selznick Releasing Organization in 1946.[8] Vanguard was created to continue his productions, while Selznick Releasing was made to distribute output by Vanguard. Previously, Vanguard released through United Artists, of which Vanguard owned one-third of its stock. As with Selznick International, Vanguard was located at the RKO studio.

Film library[edit]

The rights to the Selznick library have been scattered, as noted in the following timeline.

  • 1943: Jock Whitney sold to Film Classics, Inc. the rights to A Star Is Born and Nothing Sacred (both of which were actually owned by Pioneer Pictures), and the Selznick International productions Little Lord Fauntleroy, Made for Each Other, and The Young in Heart.[9]
  • 1949: Cinecolor Corp. resold the company to Film Classics' officers.[11]
  • 1951: When Eagle Lion Classics collapsed, United Artists acquired its assets.[13]

David O. Selznick retained ownership of The Garden of Allah, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Intermezzo, and Rebecca after the liquidation of Selznick International Pictures.[14] Most of the Selznick films are now owned by ABC (via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures). The notable exception is Gone with the Wind, which Jock Whitney and his sister sold to MGM in 1944, which was subsequently acquired by Turner Entertainment, with distribution by Warner Bros. The films A Star Is Born, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Nothing Sacred, and Made for Each Other are now in the public domain in the United States, with original film negatives to the latter three films owned by Disney[15] and the former's owned by Warner Bros.

Papers and other artifacts of the studio are now part of the David O. Selznick Collection[16] in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Filmography[edit]

Title Release Date Notes
Little Lord Fauntleroy April 2, 1936
The Garden of Allah November 19, 1936
A Star Is Born April 27, 1937
The Prisoner of Zenda September 3, 1937 The Selznick International logo theme is introduced with this film, written by Alfred Newman, who composed the score for Zenda. The theme would be used to open every film made by the studio after this.
Nothing Sacred November 25, 1937
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer February 11, 1938
The Young in Heart November 3, 1938
Made for Each Other February 10, 1939
Intermezzo: A Love Story September 22, 1939
Gone with the Wind January 17, 1940 The only Selznick International picture to be distributed by a different studio (MGM) as opposed to United Artists
Rebecca April 12, 1940
Since You Went Away July 20, 1944
I'll Be Seeing You January 5, 1945
Spellbound December 28, 1945
Portrait of Jennie April 22, 1949

References[edit]

  1. ^ Memo, p. 103.
  2. ^ Because of its length, Gone with the Wind was considered two Technicolor pictures for the purpose of the contract.
  3. ^ Schatz, Thomas (1996). The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. Owl Books. p. 178. ISBN 0-8050-4666-6. 
  4. ^ "Just Gossip", The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6, 1942, p. 15.
  5. ^ Selznick, David O. (2000). Memo from David O. Selznick. Modern Library. pp. 321–322. ISBN 0-375-75531-4. 
  6. ^ Kahn, Jr., E. J. (1981). Jock: The Life and Times of John Hay Whitney. Doubleday. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-385-14932-7. 
  7. ^ "Old Selznick Company Now Just Gone With the Wind", The Washington Post, August 24, 1940, p. 3.
  8. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood", The New York Times, May 20, 1943, p. 27. "Selznick Quits United Artists, Forms New Unit", The Washington Post, Dec. 14, 1946, p. 12.
  9. ^ "Gets 7 Picture Rights", The New York Times, July 19, 1943, p. 21. Whitney also sold Pioneer Pictures' Becky Sharp and Dancing Pirate to Film Classics.
  10. ^ "Cinecolor in Film Deal", The New York Times, Oct. 15, 1947, p. 34.
  11. ^ "Van Johnson Gets Metro Film Lead", The New York Times, June 15, 1949, p. 39.
  12. ^ "Two Movie Concerns Announce Merger", The New York Times, May 22, 1950, p. 29.
  13. ^ "Eagle Lion Is Sold to U.A. Film Firm", The New York Times, April 12, 1951, p. 40.
  14. ^ "Eagle-Lion to Sell Selznick Reissues", The New York Times, Dec. 3, 1948, p. 33. "Selznick Sells 9 Films to Video", The New York Times, Dec. 14, 1955, p. 79.
  15. ^ Scott MacQueen and Phil Feiner "First Person: Restoring Film with Digital Recombination", millimeter website
  16. ^ "The David O. Selznick Collection". Hrc.utexas.edu. 2014-01-11. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]