10 April 2024

Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you

David O. Selznick and Samuel Goldwyn were two of Hollywood's most successful independent producers, both with their own group of contract players. Among Selznick's contracted stars were (at one time or another) Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten, while Goldwyn had under contract such stars as Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, David Niven and Danny Kaye. One of the people also under contract to Selznick was British director Alfred Hitchcock, who came to Hollywood in early June 1938 at the invitation of Selznick. 

Before being signed by Selznick, however, Hitch met with Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn was also interested in Hitch but made no serious bid to land him. (According to Selznick, Myron Selznick (David's brother and Hitch's agent) could "not get bids for [Hitch] at the time I signed him".) Eventually in mid-July 1938, Selznick and Hitch struck a deal, entering into a seven-year contract. The two worked together only four times, i.e. on Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and The Paradine Case (1947). More often than not, Hitch was loaned out by Selznick to other studios at considerable profits (much to Hitch's resentment as he didn't share in the profits).

Above: Selznick and Hitchcock — the men had a difficult working relationship. Below: At a dinner in Los Angeles in October 1953, (l to r) Goldwyn, Jennifer Jones (Selznick's second wife) and Selznick. The two producers reportedly admired and liked each other.

In late December 1942, Hitch had a meeting with Goldwyn about a production deal. Shooting on Shadow of a Doubt (1943) had already ended and Hitch's next project would be Lifeboat (1944) on loan-out to Twentieth Century-Fox. When Selznick heard about the Hitchcock-Goldwyn meeting, he was furious and next wrote a letter to Goldwyn. With Hitch still having a few years left on their contractSelznick resented Goldwyn for trying to "seduce" Hitch into coming to work for him, and for telling Hitch not to waste his talents on projects like Shadow of a Doubt (which was not produced by Selznick but by Skirball Productions)Ironically enough, Shadow was to become Hitch's personal favourite.


January 6, 1943

Mr. Samuel Goldwyn
1041 North Formosa
Hollywood, California
cc: Mr. O'Shea

Dear Sam:
Recently, you have had a couple of occasions to remind us forcibly that you are a "frank" man, although God knows no reminder was necessary. However, I do hope that you grant to others —such, for instance, as myself— the right to be equally frank: 
Sometimes, Sam, I am frank to say that I don't understand you. You scream and yell about other people's ethics, and then behave in a fashion that makes my hair stand on end with a combination of anger and incredulity.
You recently have sent direct for one of my people, Alfred Hitchcock, and talked with him without so much as either asking us, or even letting us know after the fact. I wonder just how you would behave if I reciprocated in kind — or if any of the big companies did it with your people. I have always maintained that no one is in permanent bondage in this business, and that once a contract has expired, or is soon to expire, every individual in the business should be free to negotiate with anyone he sees fit, without giving offense to the studio to which he or she has been under contract, and regardless of the desire of the original contracting studio to make the bondage permanent. I am not talking about such a case: rather, I am referring to a man who you know full well is still under long-term contract to me. Or if you don't know it, everyone else in the business does, and you ought to know it. The very least you could have done was to find out. Ignorance is no more a defense in these matters, if that be your defense, than it is in the law. 

Hitch has a minimum of two years to go with me, and longer if it takes him more time to finish four pictures, two of which I have sold to Twentieth Century-Fox. And not alone did you try to seduce him, but you tried something which I have never experienced before with any company or individual— you sought to make him unhappy with my management of him. When you told Hitch that he shouldn't be wasting his talents on stories like Shadow of a Doubt, and that this wouldn't be the case if he were working for you, what you didn't know was that Hitchcock personally chose the story and created the script— and moreover that he is very happy about the picture, which I think he has every right to be. Further, that in the years since I brought Hitchcock over here from England (at a time when nobody in the industry, including yourself, was willing to give him the same opportunity...) and established him as one of the most important directors in the world with the production and exploitation of Rebecca, he has never once had to do a story that he was not enthusiastic about. This has always been my attitude about directors, and I happen to know that it has not always been your attitude toward directors under contract to you ...

By contrast with your own behavior, I have for months met criticisms of you with praise for your work, and for your contributions to the business, and for your integrity of production. I have said to literally dozens of people in important positions that you have never received as much recognition in the industry as is your due. And just yesterday, and despite my growing rage with you, I went even further than this with an important magazine writer who is doing an article about you. I not alone sang your praises, but I painstakingly corrected some impressions he had gained elsewhere, taking half an hour out of a very busy day for the purpose. When I hear of you doing the same thing, instead of doing your best (which would appear to be synonymous with your worst) in the opposite direction, I will believe your fine statements, and not before. I regret that I have to write you in this vein, and I do so not because I have any reluctance about rebuking you verbally, for you know from our past relationship that I have never been hesitant about such matters when I felt you to be in the wrong. I write you now, first, because I want it a matter of record, in connection with my future dealings with you; and second, because I have learned from experience that it is impossible to get you to listen to this many words unless they are in writing.

With best wishes for a fine and reformed New Year,

Sincerely yours ,

Source: Memo from David O. Selznick (1972); selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer. 
On the set of Shadow of a Doubt with Hitch (far right, seated) and Shadow's main players (l to r) Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey. The film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, California. It was  Hitchcock's own favourite of his films because —in Hitch's own words—  it "brought murder and violence back in the home, where it rightly belongs" .

Selznick's most successful achievement was his 1939 Gone with the Wind, and Goldwyn will probably be best remembered for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Both films won numerous Oscars, including Oscars for Best Picture.

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