During the 1920s, Darryl F. Zanuck worked as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers before becoming head of production in 1931. Around the same time Edward G. Robinson, one of Warners' contract players, was having his big breakthrough with Little Caesar (1931) and eventually became one of the studio's biggest stars. Growing increasingly unhappy with the scripts that were submitted to him, Robinson wrote to Zanuck in the fall of 1932, uttering his grievances. Unfortunately I don't have Robinson's letter to show you, but Zanuck's reply —in which he told Robinson that he had nothing to complain about and to just have faith in "the system"— can be read below.
Mr. Edward G. RobinsonEssex HouseNew York, N.Y.October 26, 1932Dear Eddie:To start with the last paragraph of your letter first and then go backward, you accuse me of not submitting to you some of the pictures that we have made recently with other people which have turned out to be outstanding hits, and you state that you are certain that anyone of them would have been acceptable to you.In the first place, you have no complaint as you have received absolutely nothing but the best in stories and, in the second place, you have repeatedly rejected stories that later turned out to be successful pictures...As I see it, Eddie, the whole fault lies in the fact that you want to be a writer. By this I mean that you want to put your views into whatever subject we purchase rather than to accept the views of the men I engage here who are specialists at a high salary in this specific work.When I submit you a Grand Slam , you say we have taken the wrong slant on the story —the idea is good but it should be something else. When I submit you a Lawyer Man  or an Employees' Entrance , you say the same thing.By the way, Lawyer Man is the best picture [William] Powell has ever made and it would have been a perfect vehicle for you. It will be previewed in a week or so and I will send you the preview notices.I have always wanted and asked for your suggestions and the suggestions of every star, as to story, etc., and those suggestions you made as to dialogue, etc., have, to my knowledge, for the most part been very effective and certainly appreciated by me.The point I am trying to make is that when we submit a Lawyer Man or whatever it happens to be, you must have some faith in us. After all, our record of successes and box-office hits places us as the A-Company in the industry today, recognized thus everywhere. Our system, therefore, must be an ideal one. You can't make a lot of hits with a lot of different directors and a lot of different stars and some of them with no stars at all unless "the system" is a perfect one as, in our studio, it isn't just a case of one director or one star continually making a hit and the other ones flopping. This should be the greatest assurance in the world to you that our judgment is more or less correct, especially on the selection of stories and if I were in your shoes, I would be greatly guided by this "system."
After all, our sole interest is getting great pictures out of anything we select and we will accept anybody's ideas or suggestions, but the treatment of the subject in script form should be left largely to the judgment and intelligence of our "system", at least until the day comes —if it ever does— when our flops are more numerous than our hits ...Sincerely,Darryl Zanuck
|Edward G. Robinson in Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar (1931), the gangster film that made him a star.|