David O. Selznick, born David Selznick (May 10, 1902–June 22, 1965), was one of the iconic Hollywood producers of the Golden Age. He is best known for producing the epic blockbuster Gone with the Wind (1939) which earned him an Oscar for Best Picture. Not only did Gone with the Wind gross the highest amount of money at the box office of any film ever (adjusted for inflation), but it also won seven additional Oscars and two special awards. Selznick also won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award that same year. He would make film history by winning the Best Picture Oscar a second year in a row for Rebecca (1940).
David O. Selznick's real name was simply David Selznick. It is sometimes claimed that the "O" stands for Oliver, but, in fact, the initial was an invention of his. The book Memo from David O. Selznick starts with this autobiographical memoir:
Alfred Hitchcock made subtle reference to this in North by Northwest (1959), where Cary Grant's character Roger Thornhill uses the monogram ROT and says the O stands for "nothing". Hitchcock also had the villain of Rear Window, played by Raymond Burr, made up to look like Selznick.
He studied at Columbia University and worked as an apprentice in his father's company until his father went bankrupt in 1923. In 1926, Selznick moved to Hollywood and with his father's connections, got a job as an assistant story editor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He left MGM for Paramount Pictures in 1928, working there until 1931 when he joined RKO as Head of Production. His years at RKO were fruitful and he guided many notable films there, including A Bill of Divorcement (1932), What Price Hollywood (1932) and King Kong (1933). While at RKO, he also gave George Cukor his big directing break. In 1933 he returned to MGM to establish a second prestige production unit to parallel that of Irving Thalberg who was in poor health. His blockbuster classics included Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935) and A Tale of Two Cities (1935).
In 1940, he produced his second Best Picture Oscar winner in a row, Rebecca, the first Hollywood production for British director Alfred Hitchcock. Selznick had brought Hitchcock over from England, launching the director's American career. Rebecca was Hitchcock's only film to win Best Picture.
After Gone with the Wind, Selznick spent the rest of his career trying to top that landmark achievement. The closest he came was with Duel in the Sun (1946) featuring future wife Jennifer Jones in the role of the primary character Pearl. With a huge budget, the film is renowned for its stellar cast, its sweeping cinematography and for causing all sorts of moral upheaval because of the then risqué script written by Selznick. And though it was a troublesome shoot with a number of directors, the film would turn out to be a major success. The film was the second highest grossing film of 1947 and turned out to be the first movie that Martin Scorsese would see, inspiring the director's career.
"I stopped making films in 1948 because I was tired", Selznick later wrote. "I had been producing, at the time, for twenty years . . . . Additionally it was crystal clear that the motion-picture business was in for a terrible beating from television and other new forms of entertainment, and I thought it a good time to take stock and to study objectively the obviously changing public tastes . . . . Certainly I had no intention of staying away from production for nine years. Selznick spent most of the 1950s obsessing about nurturing the career of his second wife Jennifer Jones. His last film, the big budget production A Farewell to Arms (1957) starring Jones and Rock Hudson, was ill received. But in 1954, he ventured successfully into television, producing a two hour extravaganza called Light's Diamond Jubilee, which, in true Selznick fashion, made TV history by being telecast simultaneously on all four TV networks -- CBS, NBC, ABC, and DuMont.
Despite his brilliance and undoubtable dedication to film-making, Selznick is considered to be the stereotypical version of the film producer to whom his modern equivalents are often compared — one who constantly interfered with the creative process of film-making and earned as many enemies as friends. Alfred Hitchcock, whose film Spellbound was edited on Selznick's insistence, grew resentful of his nature and decided to produce his own films from Notorious onwards. Selznick also battled with Carol Reed during the production of The Third Man and edited the film for its American release. Perhaps the most famous example of his interference was during the production of Powell and Pressburger's Gone to Earth starring his wife Jennifer Jones. After production, Selznick disliked the film and removed almost an entire third of it for its American release, under the title The Wild Heart. Selznick lost a court case with Powell & Pressburger to control all versions of the film but he retained control of the American release so he proceeded to cut and change various sections back in Hollywood.
However, it is generally conceded that had Selznick not been such a meddlesome perfectionist, his best films would not have been the masterpieces they were. One memorable example, revealed in the book Memo From David O. Selznick, concerned the 1940 film Rebecca. When he was submitted the screenplay for approval, Selznick was shocked to discover that Alfred Hitchcock, the film's director, had allowed Daphne du Maurier's original novel to be changed so that it was virtually unrecognizable, even to the point of introducing unnecessarily comic scenes not in the book. The furious Selznick wrote Hitchcock a blistering memo, and forced Hitchcock to remain faithful to the novel.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, David O. Selznick has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7000 Hollywood Blvd., in front of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel.
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