August 7, 1908|
Bessarabia, Russian Empire
January 12, 1994 (aged 85)|
Sacramento, California, US
|Occupation||Film producer, film director|
Samuel Bronston (Samuel Bronshtein, March 26, 1908, Bessarabia – January 12, 1994, Sacramento, California) was a Bessarabian-born American film producer, film director, and a nephew of socialist revolutionary figure, Leon Trotsky. He was also the petitioner in a U.S. Supreme Court case that set a major precedent for perjury prosecutions when it overturned his conviction.
Bronston was born in Kishinev, Bessarabia, Russian Empire (present day Moldova) and educated at the Sorbonne. He worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's French unit in Paris before setting up as an independent film producer by the 1940s. His first film for his new production company, Samuel Bronston Productions, was Jack London, (1943) followed by a series of epic films: John Paul Jones (1959), King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). In 1962, he was awarded a Special Merit Golden Globe Award for El Cid.
He was a pioneer in the practice of locating epic-scale productions in Spain to reduce the massive costs involved. The success of his films inspired him to help build gigantic studios in Las Rozas near Madrid.
Bronston frequently worked with a regular team of creative artists: the director Anthony Mann, the screenwriters Philip Yordan and Jesse Lasky Jr., the composer Miklós Rózsa, the co-producers Jaime Prades, Alan Brown and Michał Waszyński, the cinematographer Robert Krasker and film editor Robert Lawrence. He also favoured Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren as his leading actors.
Accusations of corruption and last years
The cost of the construction of the film studios and the box-office failure of his last epic, The Fall of the Roman Empire combined to leave Bronston in financial difficulties and, in 1964, he had to stop all business activities. Samuel Bronston Productions filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 5, 1964 stating he owed a debt of $5,647,758 to his creditor Pierre S. du Pont. His company declared bankruptcy in June of that year. A petition in August 1964 stated Bronston Distributors, Inc. (a separate company) owed Paramount $6,750,000 and Pierre S. Du Point $323,191.
Two years later, he was asked under oath by a lawyer for one of his creditors a series of questions about the many bank accounts the company had had in Europe. One of them concerned whether he had had an account in Switzerland. "The company had an account in Zürich for six months", he replied, and answered all other questions concerning Swiss bank accounts in the negative.
Later, it was discovered that he had indeed had a very active personal bank account in Geneva during the years he had been producing films in Europe. He was convicted of perjury by federal prosecutors who argued that his answer, while truthful in and of itself, was intended to mislead or evade. After the appeals court upheld the conviction, Bronston v. United States reached the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction on January 10, 1973. Its ruling, that literally truthful yet technically misleading answers cannot be prosecuted as perjury, has formed an important part of jurisprudence on the matter ever since, even being invoked by President Bill Clinton's attorneys when he was charged with perjury during his impeachment.
The bankruptcy and criminal prosecution devastated his film career. He had completed the 1964 Circus World with John Wayne just before the bankruptcy, and after that he made only three films: Savage Pampas (1966), filmed in Spain with Robert Taylor; Dr. Coppelius (1966); and Fort Saganne (1984), a French film with Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. A planned epic on the life of Isabella of Spain never materialized.
Bronston died in 1994 of pneumonia secondary to Alzheimer's disease at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento, California. He is buried in Las Rozas, Madrid, Spain. He was survived by five children: Dr William Bronston, Irene Bronston, Andrea Bronston, Philip Bronston and Kira Bronston.
Samuel Bronston produced 13 films between 1942 and 1984:
- Fort Saganne – 1984
- Dr. Coppelius – 1966
- Savage Pampas (1966)
- Circus World – 1964
- The Fall of the Roman Empire – 1964
- 55 Days at Peking – 1963
- El Cid – 1961
- King of Kings – 1961
- John Paul Jones – 1959
- A Walk in the Sun – 1945 (uncredited)
- Jack London – 1943
- City Without Men – 1943 (as executive producer)
- The Adventures of Martin Eden – 1942
- ”Bronston Film Productions Files Bankruptcy Petition", New York Times, June 6, 1944 p. 15.
- "Business Records", New York Times, August 6, 1965, p. 32.
- Lyons, Richard D. "Samuel Bronston, Film Producer, 85", New York Times, January 15, 1994, p. 28
- Salute to the Romanian Jews in America and Canada, 1850-2010
- Samuel Bronston on IMDb
- The Hollywood Art, March 2, 2008: Samuel Bronston’s Vanishing Empires Linked 2012-10-11
- The Independent, 20 January 1994: Obituary: Samuel Bronston Linked 2012-10-11