Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Movie producer David O. Selznick was born in Pittsburgh.
Awards: Hollywood Walk of Fame; Irving G. Thalberg Award
Born in May, 1902, David O. Selznick became one of the most successful film producers in Hollywood history. At the time of his death in 1965, he had worked on more than 60 films and had garnered several Academy Awards.
David Selznick, a Pittsburgh native, was an influential movie producer during Hollywood's golden age. Wandering his father Lewis' film sets as a child, Selznick was fascinated with the movie industry from his youth. With the wealth Lewis had amassed as a silent film director and producer, David was able to attend Columbia University. The young Selznick had to leave the school without completing his studies, however, due to sudden family financial crises. He returned home but left again in 1924, hoping to establish a career in Hollywood. First working as a story editor, he quickly forged ahead to become an associate producer at MGM studios. Pursuing advancement, he came to Paramount Pictures three years later as executive assistant to the studio's head producer. Selznick's ambitions were still unsatisfied; moving to RKO-Radio Pictures, he was hired as head of production. While working at RKO, he married Irene Mayer, the daughter of MGM's president. Two years later in 1932 the Selznicks' first child, Lewis Jeffrey, was born. A second son followed in 1936, Daniel Mayer. In the interval between the two boys' births, Selznick returned to MGM as head of one of the four production units, churning out several movies in quick succession: Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), and A Tale of Two Cities (1935).
Despite his achievements at MGM, Selznick was eager to create his own studio as an independent movie producer. As a result, Selznick International Pictures was launched in 1935. The producer's most acclaimed film, the Civil War-era epic Gone with the Wind, was released by his new company in 1939. Impressed with Selznick's body of work, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him the Irving G. Thalberg Award for consistently high-quality movie production. More successful pictures would follow with Selznick's introduction of Alfred Hitchcock to American cinema, leading to movies such as the Academy's Best Picture of 1940, Rebecca. The ambitious film mogul dismantled Selznick International to make way for David O. Selznick Productions in 1940. He paused from production work to gather colleagues—Charlie Chaplin, Samuel Goldwyn, and Walt Disney among them—to establish the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers, SIMPP. The relentless Selnick pressed on with new business projects, Vanguard Films in 1942 and a distribution company, Selznick Releasing Organization, in 1946.
Selznick's family and professional life changed drastically in the 1940s, partially due to his relationship with actress Jennifer Jones. During the filming and production of Since You Went Away in 1944, Selznick fell in love with the movie's star, the young Jones. He cast her as lead in his next two films, Duel in the Sun (1946) and Portrait of Jennie (1948). Unfortunately, both pictures caused difficulty with the poor reviews and even poorer profits they garnered, tarnishing Selznick's reputation as a producer. In 1949, Selznick divorced Irene Mayer and married Jones; their only child, Mary Jennifer, would commit suicide in the mid-1970s.
Suffering from health problems and troubled by business affairs, Selznick unofficially retired from the industry with the completion of A Farewell to Arms (1957). The last movie he produced, Farewell proved to be a colossal flop in the film community. Selznick's death in 1965 was mourned by many, despite his recent failures; his painstaking involvement in the filming process, though seen as overbearing by many directors, created some of the most memorable pictures in film history. Selznick is commemorated with a star at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick's Hollywood. Random House Value Publishing, 1987.
Tomson, David. Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. New York: Knopf, 1992.
Photo Credit: Edward Lynch. "David O. Selznick, bust portrait, facing front." 1940. Photograph. Licensed under Public Domain. Cropped to 4x3, Filled background. Source: Online Resource. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection.