Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hollywood Memo II

As memo-writer/producer Hal Wallis reamed Michael Curtiz during Captain Blood, so David O. Selznick reamed his employer MGM on his way out the door to independent production (and Gone With the Wind). The reaming started in late 1935, as Selznick was wrapping up A Tale of Two Cities and his employment contract. It went like this:

October 3, 1935

Mr. Nicholas Schenk, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

We sneak-previewed A Tale of Two Cities, vastly overlength, before an audience of sailors and had a sensational success...

I think it a crying outrage that there has been not a word in either the trade or lay press about A Tale of Two Cities for months and months and I regard this as typical of the entire company's attitude. I hate to make my valedictory to the company a bitter complaint, and I assume that many of the excutives, including the very able men who run the Publicity Departments, will be very annoyed with me. But I feel I owe it to the company to see that it gets its rewards for what looks like a very successful investment...

And so on and so forth (from the Rudy Behlmer book Memo from David O. Selznick. )Apparently some of MGM's publicists were annoyed with young David, particularly because Mr. Selznick copied almost every exec at MGM.

It prompted this reply from Howard Dietz (MGM publicist and Broadway lyricist), who -- naturally -- copied all the same executives:

Thank you for the copy of the letter...complaining about the publicity treatment you've received while at MGM...I have tried to figure out why you've been so ignored and decided it was that shy, shrinking personality of yours...No one knew your name very much in the early days and now they are even conscious of your middle initial. Rest assured that I will never reveal that the "O" stands for just -- "O." You remind me of the bisexual Marquis who, when asked which he preferred -- men or women, replied, "I like them both but there ought to be something better."*

Selznick was furious with Howard D's cheek. But then Nicholas Schenk -- the head of the whole MGM shebang and the recipient of the original gripe-fest -- weighed in:

I do not understand how you could write such a have been spoiled by too easy accessibility to money and people for production...had your road been a little harder you would be less quick to make these selfish and egotistical observations...Your parting remarks to MGM should be of gratitude for the success we helped you to achieve...*

Ain't the 1930s great? Everybody put all their bilious thoughts down in writing for people like you and me to enjoy seventy-nine years later. Of course, everyone is a lot more enlightened here in the 21st century, and these kinds of horrid things never go on anymore.

* The second two missives are from David O. Selznick's Hollywood.


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