A Greenbriar Selznick Memo --- Part One
Friday, March 21, 1969 was a big television night for me. That's when NBC broadcast Hollywood: The Selznick Years, a documentary celebration of the producer's life and work. Were others among you there? I wanted clocks to tick backward through that hour. Never before had so many dynamic excerpts been marshaled to prove old films were the best films. I'd read of Selznick and seen Gone With The Wind by that time, but where were these others they spoke of? 1969 was well into banishment of older titles from television. Post-48's in color were more recently available and all the rage. Late shows once the province of Gable and Garbo now hosted Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie and others of post-war discovery. The Selznick special's bombardment of highpoints from Dancing Lady, Viva Villa!, Manhattan Melodrama, and so many more was exquisite torture for those of us states removed from channels playing them. Program directors answered my pleading letters with a promise to consider 30's and 40's features, even as they had no plans at this time to run any. I looked at Hollywood: The Selznick Years again yesterday, albeit a faded 16mm print. Now it seems we have access to DOS's movies, but none to Hollywood: The Selznick Years, a so-far no-show on DVD and likely to remain so for all those clips someone would have to clear in order to release it.
David O. Selznick made pictures that exemplified Golden Age Hollywood. His I thought of as prime exemplars of magic in movies. Odd samplings turned up for his library being so widely dispersed. The producer had spent inactive years peddling backlog to varied distributors. I'd see Intermezzo and Made For Each Other repeatedly but never The Garden Of Allah or Nothing Sacred. Some of the Selznicks played television very early. Charlotte's Channel 3 celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1974 by re-running the first movie they ever broadcast. That was A Star Is Born back in 1949. The special arrangement made with negative owner Warner Bros. yielded a gorgeous color print of the 1937 classic that proved to be the hit of WBTV's celebration week and rare opportunity to see a film not only long out of circulation, but unavailable to television in anything other than black-and-white up to that point. Transferred ownership resulted in lapse of A Star Is Born's copyright in the mid-seventies and 16mm dealers everywhere began selling it. Public domain ash-heaps were soon piled high with dupes made from dupes made from ... well, you get the picture. It's thirty-five years later and no disc release I've seen does honor to Selznick's pioneering Technicolor effort. UCLA completed a wonderful restoration a decade or so back, but no one's made that available thus far. I'd have thought Warner's upcoming Blu-Ray of the 1954 remake would include the 1937 version as an extra, but that's evidently a no-go. Will we ever get Selznick's A Star Is Born on a proper DVD?
I've given up this post to rambling, it seems. Call it my homage to a Selznick memo. There are hundreds of thousands of those stored at the University Of Texas Library in Austin. Scholars could generate dozens more books in addition to ones already written on DOS. Rudy Behlmer compiled Memo From David O. Selznick back in 1972 and it's been standard text since. One thing I appreciate for reading DOS's dictation is how articulate this man was. He'd taken few college level courses, never graduated, yet I wonder if Ivy Leaguers today could express themselves so eloquently. Plenty suggests public education then, elementary and high school, was far more advanced than what earns diplomas now. Selznick and others of his generation supply evidence of truth in that. I read his memos and wish for half so much erudition. Selznick got started on a life story he never finished, but enough was there to provide summary in his own words of career highlights. This was a producer who respected Hollywood's history in addition to his own and wanted to preserve both. He even proposed, in the early forties, a first-ever pictorial summary of American films. Lack of a publisher's commitment unfortunately scotched the idea. Selznick also tried persuading RKO to donate a complete print of The Magnificent Ambersons, a film he was not connected with beyond an admiration for Orson Welles, to the Museum Of Modern Art for safe keeping, this according to David Thomson's splendid Showman bio. That idea also went nowhere, mores' the pity. I just finished a second Showman reading. If any of you know David Thomson, tell him he has a fan at Greenbriar. Same goes for Rudy Behlmer. His book remains an absolute must, as is Ronald Haver's monumental David O. Selznick's Hollywood, surely the most colorful and engaging of coffee table movie tomes. All three are available for songs at Amazon used books.
Here's a question that haunts my dreams. Is it possible that Duel In The Sun's censor cuts still exist? Numerous ones were made after its release in order to mollify the Legion Of Decency. Selznick instructed exchange operatives to physically remove offending footage from the 35mm prints and discard same. I keep thinking ... surely one among DOS employees squirreled these outtakes into drawers at home. After all, this was a movie's equivalent of French postcards and plenty hot stuff anyone would be tempted to smuggle out. Apparently, there's none of it left within Austin's Selznick archives, but I'd just bet a roll of contraband survives in someone's hoarded kit (this is, after all, how the King Kong snips managed a life after reissue cutting). A lot of prints went out on Duel In The Sun (being saturation opened in many territories) and lots were individually trimmed by exchange hands across the country. Too bad someone didn't track down former Selznick Releasing Organization minions twenty or thirty years ago, for chances seem more than good that one of them sequestered the goods (wouldn't you?). Alas, any still living would be well into eighties at the least. I mention (or obsess on) this for Duel In The Sun being a longtime favorite and thoughts of a fully complete version entice me yet. Could there be nitrate hidden somewhere to fill in those (obviously) missing pieces of the DITS puzzle?