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David O. Selznick, born David Selznick (May 10, 1902–June 22, 1965), was one of the iconic Hollywoodmarker 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 in the U.S. domestic 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).

Early years

Selznick was born to a Jewish family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker, the son of silent movie distributor Lewis J. Selznick and Florence A. (Sachs) Selznick.

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:
:I have no middle name. I briefly used my mother's maiden name, Sachs. I had an uncle, whom I greatly disliked, who was also named David Selznick, so in order to avoid the growing confusion between the two of us, I decided to take a middle initial and went through the alphabet to find one that seemed to me to give the best punctuation, and decided on "O".

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 films there, including A Bill of Divorcement (1932), What Price Hollywood? (1932), Rockabye (1932), Our Betters (1933), 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).

Selznick International Pictures

Despite his successes at MGM, Paramount Pictures, and RKO Pictures, Selznick was restless. He longed to be an independent producer and establish his own studio. In 1935 he realized that goal by forming Selznick International Pictures and distributing his films through United Artists. His successes continued with classics such as The Garden of Allah (1936), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), A Star Is Born (1937), Nothing Sacred (1937), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), The Young in Heart (1938), Made for Each Other (1939), Intermezzo (1939) and, of course, his magnum opus, Gone with the Wind (1939). Beginning with The Garden of Allah, Selznick became an early champion of the three-strip Technicolor process, using it in a number of his productions.

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.

Later productions

After Rebecca, Selznick closed Selznick International Pictures (in a tax-motivated effort to convert his and his partners' income from the films into capital gains) and took some time off. His business activities included loaning out to other studios for large profits the high-powered talent he had under contract including Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh and Joan Fontaine. He also developed film projects and sold the packages to other producers. Among the movies that he developed but then sold were almost all of Hitchcock's films through 1947, except for two that he released through Selznick International Pictures or Selznick Releasing Organization, Spellbound and The Paradine Case. In 1944 he returned to producing pictures with the huge success Since You Went Away, which he wrote. He followed that with the classic Spellbound (1945), as well as Portrait of Jennie (1948). In 1949, he co-produced the memorable Carol Reed picture The Third Man.

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 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.

Personal life

Jennifer Jones and Selznick in Los Angeles, 1957.
Selznick married Irene Gladys Mayer, daughter of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, in 1930. They separated in 1945 and divorced in 1948. They had two sons, Daniel Selznick and Jeffrey Selznick. He became interested in actress Jennifer Jones, who was then married to actor Robert Walker, and persuaded her to divorce him; he married her in 1949. They had one daughter, Mary Jennifer Selznick, who committed suicide in 1976. Selznick's brother Myron Selznick became one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, defining the profession for those that followed. He died in 1944.


Selznick died in 1965 following several heart attacks, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemeterymarker in Glendale, Californiamarker.


In addition to his stellar filmography, Selznick had a keen instinct for new talent and will be remembered for introducing American movie audiences to Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Louis Jourdan, and Alfred Hitchcock. Selznick continued to be a larger-than-life Hollywood presence right up to the end of his life. A fascinating study in contrasts, this passionate, creative, obsessive product of the motion picture business remains an integral part of film-making history.

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. However, Hitchcock and the other screenplay writers rewrote the script in a way so Selznick would struggle when it was time to edit the film.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, David O. Selznick has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 7000 Hollywood Blvd., in front of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel.

Film library

After Selznick's death, his estate sold the rights to a majority of his post-1935 films to ABC (now part of The Walt Disney Company), although MGM bought in 1944 the rights to Gone with the Wind and, at some point, the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda for its 1952 remake (all today part of the Turner Entertainment library owned by Time Warner), and 20th Century Fox still holds rights to the remake of A Farewell to Arms.

Academy Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Film
1934 Outstanding Production Nominated Viva Villa!
1935 Outstanding Production Nominated David Copperfield
1936 Outstanding Production Nominated A Tale of Two Cities
1937 Outstanding Production Nominated A Star Is Born
1939 Outstanding Production Won Gone with the Wind
1938 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Nominated
1939 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Won
1940 Outstanding Production Won Rebecca
1944 Best Motion Picture Nominated Since You Went Away
1945 Best Motion Picture Nominated Spellbound

See also

Further reading


  1. Memo from David O. Selznick, p. 423.
  2. "Mrs. D. O. Selznick Wins Decree", New York Times, January 10, 1948, p. 11.

  • Thomson, David. Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. New York: Knopf, 1992. ISBN 0-394-56833-8

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