David O. Selznick

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David O. Selznick
David Oliver Selznick (May 10, 1902June 22, 1965), was one of the icon 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. The film, one of the most popular and successful in Hollywood history also won seven additional Oscars and two special awards. Selznick also won the Irving G. Thalberg award that same year. He would make film history by winning the Best Picture Oscar a second year in a row for Rebecca (1940).

He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of silent movie director Lewis J. Selznick and Florence A. (Sachs) 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 MGM. He left MGM for Paramount in 1928 and worked there until 1931 when he joined RKO as Head of Production. His years at RKO were fruitful and he produced 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. His blockbuster classics included Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935) and A Tale of Two Cities (1935).

But Selznick was restless and longed to be an independent producer and establish his own studio. In 1936 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), Made For Each Other (1939), Intermezzo (1939) and of course, his magnum opus Gone With the Wind (1939). 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 giving birth to the director's American career. It is interesting to note that Rebecca is Hitchcock's only film to win Best Picture.

After Rebecca, Selznick closed Selznick International Pictures 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. 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 Orsen Welles 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). With a huge budget, the film is renowned for its steller cast, its sweeping cinematography and for causing all sorts of moral upheaval because of the then risque 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 Scorcese would see, inspiring the director's brilliant career.

Selznick spent most of the 1950s obsessing about nuturing the career of his wife Jennifer Jones. His last big budget production, A Farewell to Arms (1957) which starred 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 networks.

In addition to being a talented producer, Selznick had a keen instinct for new talent and will be remembered for introducing American movie audiences to Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Joan Fontaine and Jennifer Jones. He also brought many foreign actors to Hollywood, such as Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Louis Jourdan, Alida Valli and Hildegard Knef as well as director Alfred Hitchcock.

Selznick married Irene Gladys Mayer, daughter of MGM mogul, Louis B. Mayer in 1930. They divorced in 1948. They had two sons, Daniel Selznick and Jeffrey Selznick.

Selznick married actress Jennifer Jones in 1949. They had one daughter, Mary Jennifer Selznick, who committed suicide in 1975.

Selznick's brother, Myron Selznick, was a Hollywood agent.

Selznick died June 22, 1965 following several heart attacks and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

For his contribution to the motion picture inmdustry, David O. Selznick has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.

Academy Awards and Nominations


  • Thomson, David. Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. New York: Knopf, 1992. ISBN 0394568338

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