More of Selznick
Hindsight confers great wisdom. All of us realize what a disastrous mistake it was for David Selznick to sell his interest in Gone With The Wind less than three years after finishing that all-time smash, but how could he imagine any film would go on profiting for generations to come? There was tax necessity for that 1942 deal. DOS was bought out with $704,665 by his GWTW partner Jock Whitney and, of course, regretted it the rest of his life (Whitney later dealt the asset to MGM for considerably more). All this is recounted in David Thomson's Showman book. Imagine pouring life's blood into a venture of such magnitude, only to see revenues gone with someone else's less deserving wind. Selznick, it seems, was ruled by compulsion to work (a good thing, I'd suppose, for results he got), but was also dragged to near oblivion by vices that kept him often as not stony. Put aside imagining of rich movie producers when you read about this man! Selznick was under pressure movie folk still endure to create impressions of prosperity. His gambling losses alone surpassed annual income during years considered career peaks. Someone should write a monograph about Hollywood wealth lost at card tables. You wonder what it was about the picture trade that made these people such fools for betting. DOS was still paying off Eddie Mannix in the fifties for poker debts that went back years. I'll bet (that word!) accomplished players (Joe Schenck a recognized one) made better money gaming after hours than their movies yielded. Selznick was evidently high on the sucker list, his placement equal if not above that of chump colleague Howard Hawks.
Selznick was courageous for not fearing unemployment (always temporary), even during lowest Depression levels. He was known early on for having figured out the trick to movies, being a rare second generation industry man seemingly born to the craft. Memos Selznick wrote at age fourteen (for his father's company) are clear indicators he'd go far. There were firings and resignations from Metro, Paramount, RKO, then Metro again before better remembered entry into Selznick-International and independent producing. Columnists (plus DOS himself) suggested pics he handled for aforementioned firms were leagues better than average stuff they got out, and sure enough, a Selznick labeled RKO does represent higher grade of merchandise (King Kong is prime example here, even though DOS never tried taking credit for that, maybe out of deference to friend and oft-biz partner Merian Cooper). I wish Selznick had stayed longer at MGM during the thirties. For my time and amusement, his Metro offerings top Thalberg's. Wasn't it DOS who signed Dinner At Eight, Dancing Lady, David Copperfield, Manhattan Melodrama, and others of comparable quality? I'd call his a talent greater even than Thalberg's, though a Selznick lack of discipline otherwise closes the margin between them.
It was Selznick and partners that popularized Technicolor in the mid-thirties with early forays toward rainbow screens. Whatever The Garden Of Allah lacked in dramatic values was more than compensated by lush visuals far progressed from a two color process used in the twenties and earlier thirties. Coming on heels of Allah was A Star Is Born, Nothing Sacred, Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, and grand culmination Gone With The Wind to show how Selznick-International had mastered richer palettes. The fact we're missing quality renditions of most points up indifference to Selznick titles by latter day owners. Nothing Sacred was another that went public domain, and last I saw, languishes still among off labels (twelve I counted at Amazon). The best of these might be Slingshot Video's, it having been made from a rare 16mm collector's print with better than expected color. Adventures Of Tom Sawyer's copyright was renewed, but it's not to be had on disc in this country (there's only a region 2 DVD at present). Selznick properties began scattering when Jock Whitney got out some of his partnership interest in negatives, these taking leave of inventory with no one entity possessing all of the library since. Selznick was never satisfied with efforts his distributors made, always convinced they failed to realize maximum profit potential. With Duel In The Sun, he set up his own exchange system and realized too late what a burdensome and impractical concept that was. The curse of all independent producers was inability to push merchandise through a world marketplace dominated by the major companies. Those latter had volume and a sales force long in place. Selznick tried but could not compete with that. In the end, I wonder if he'd not have been better off affiliated with a studio better equipped to realize (and better circulate) his increasingly ambitious projects.
Selznick was ahead of time and competition for recognizing postwar European filmmakers and aligning himself with same to merge Hollywood's machinery with art film's advances. For a producer so affixed to classical styles, these were bold challenges to isolationist policy maintained by US companies. Accounts of The Third Man's production enjoy portraying Selznick's as wrong-headed interference, but without him, there'd be no Third Man (and wasn't he the one who insisted on the film's bleak ending?). Same applies to Powell and Pressburger's Gone To Earth and De Sica's Terminal Station, even if both were re-edited (or better put, ruined) by Selznick for stateside release. They're since released to DVD in original versions and are testament to good intentions DOS began with, his panic over then-lack 0f-commercial prospects being less important now that we have access to complete and refurbished discs. A fascinating DOS venture into early television is less available. Light's Diamond Jubilee was Selznick's three-ring salute to electric bulbs that simulcast on all networks in 1954 and got near a biggest audience recorded to that night. The program beginning with his traditional logo was all-starred with everyone up to and including the United States president (Eisenhower's spot as directed by Bill Wellman). Of all TV spectaculars extant, this might be hardest to see. For uneven and now dated outcome of Selznick's effort, Light's Diamond Jubilee is not a jewel destined for rescue and revival, and I can't imagine much hope investors would have for getting back expense of putting it right. Still, this is must-see TV for seekers of an obscure, but notable, chapter in Selznick's playbook.