The Hollywood Outsiders
There appears to be a pattern in the way the Hollywood insiders handle outsiders. They welcome them for a time, allow them to participate in the making of movies to a limited degree. They encourage these outsiders to spend as much money within the industry as possible. Then when much of the money is gone, the outsider finally discovers that a lot more money has been spent than has been made, that little if any progress has been made toward establishing a secure presence in the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry and the outsider bows out one way or another. This pattern seems to have repeated itself throughout the history of the Hollywood- dominated movie industry and appears to be continuing today.
As Gabler pointed out, " . . . the Hollywood Jews always sensed that their real adversaries were outside the industry, on Wall Street and in the board rooms of the East, where they believed, not wholly without reason, that gentiles were plotting to take their studios away. Particularly after the Depression hit, the Jews had an unspoken covenant. That explained why Harry Warner put aside his differences and rushed to Lasky's defense when he was ousted from Paramount and needed money. And it helped explain a more curious act of solidarity a few years later when Zukor himself was being besieged by the eastern financiers." When confronted with a threat from outsiders, members of the Hollywood establishment have consistently come to each other's aid (i.e., the reciprocal preference).
As reported earlier, when " . . . the Arthur Krim group left United Artists to form Orion, there were rumors all around the industry that the new United Artists people weren't in the big time anymore . . . " The other more accurate interpretation, more consistent with the insider/outsider theory of Hollywood, is that insider agents and studio executives wanted people to think that the outsider entity (in this case, the TransAmerica Corporation) now running UA, was not "big time", and that is one of the ways, the insider group prevents outsiders from becoming "big time". In other words, the rumor mongers were simply putting out self-serving reasons why top talent should not do business with UA's new management, by using the concept that UA management was no longer in the "big time" as a code phrase, really meaning: "They are Hollywood outsiders, and therefore we do not want you to do business with them." The Hollywood insider rumor thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. UA cannot become "big time" without the help of the experienced people already in the industry who have been discouraged from becoming involved.
Outsiders have actually sought to work on both the creative and the management/ownership sides of the Hollywood-based U.S. film business. Some of the better known outsiders include D.W. Griffith, Joseph P. Kennedy, William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles, Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian. A review of their efforts to work in Hollywood reveals a consistent pattern (i.e., they were victims of discrimination and predatory business practices directed toward them by the Hollywood insiders).
D.W. Griffith--Director D.W. Griffith's father " . . . was a member of the Kentucky legislature . . . " and fought " . . . for the South as a lieutenant Colonel in the cavalry during the Civil War . . . However, reconstruction took its toll on the Griffith family, and by the time (D.W.) . . . was born it had been reduced to poverty." Griffith started out as an actor and then writer " . . . at the Biograph studio . . . " (one of the Edison Trust companies, the arch enemy of the independents who subsequently became the major studio/distributors). Griffith's first directoral effort was released in 1908 and by " . . . the time he left the company in September 1913, he had personally directed an amazing total of some 450 films (mostly one reel)."
By 1912, Griffith had gained the . . . self-confidence and the trust of his employers to enable him to explore themes of personal concern with greater scope and depth. In July of that year he turned out A Man's Genesis, a dramatized psychological study of Darwin's theory of evolution. The Musketeers of Pig Alley, released in October, was a realistic gangster drama that reflected the director's growing social concern. The New York Hat, released in December, was an atmospheric piece of Americana that mocked small-town puritanism and hypocrisy." Griffith left Biograph to join Reliance-Majestic where among other films he produced The Birth of a Nation (1915), the Civil War epic that " . . . many historians consider the single most important film in the development of cinema as an art." Aside from the film's artistic merit and its " . . . outstanding financial success . . . The Birth of a Nation also generated criticism and stirred up a rage of ontroversy over its positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan and negative portrayal of African- Americans. Some black groups and white liberal groups condemned it as 'a flagrant incitement to racial antagonism' and urged authorities in various states to ban its exhibition."
Evenso, the film " . . . made the full-length feature film a commercial reality. President Woodrow Wilson described the film as ' . . . writing history with lightning . . . " The " . . . Civil War epic recreates both battle scenes and the Reconstruction period . . . " Some of Griffith's cinematic innovations, demonstrated in The Birth of a Nation included, " . . . the fade-in and the fade-out, the close-up, the montage, crosscutting, flashbacks, pre-shot rehearsals, masking, the use of a film stock . . . which gave the black-and-white an antiquated-looking tint . . . "
Griffith is said to have been " . . . bewildered and hurt by the charges of prejudice, and it is quite possible that he made his next film, Intolerance, partly in reaction to the controversy. Intolerance, released in the summer of 1916 after two years in the making . . . " was comprised of " . . . four separate but interwoven stories linked by the common theme of man's inhumanity to man: The Modern Story, The Judean Story, The French Story, and The Babylonian Story. Intolerance proved to be a much lesser box-office attraction than The Birth of a Nation had been, largely (according to Katz) because audiences found the labyrinthine structure and multiple plots too difficult to follow."
On the other hand, by this time, the mostly Jewish "outlaw producers" (see later discussion) had defeated the Edison Trust in their battle for control of the film industry and were exercising a considerable amount of dominion over key theatres. Thus, to the extent they did not want a Griffith film to succeed, they were capable of damaging the film's box office prospects. Also, as noted above, the film was " . . . composed of four interwoven stories covering a period of twenty-five centuries. Each event depicts one form of man's intolerance. The second story, the life of Christ, centers on the Jews' intolerance of the Messiah . . . .worse yet was an intended scene which depicted the Jews as Christ killers, thus playing upon age-old anti-Semitic beliefs." Following a visit by a " . . . Jewish delegation, Griffith agreed to delete the objectionable footage, burn the negative, and retake the scene 'showing Roman soldiers nailing Christ to the cross." This incident appears to be one of the earliest examples of film censorship by a segment of the organized Jewish community and may not only have contributed to the end of Griffith's career in Hollywood but may have helped to alert the film industry Jews and the Jewish community generally to the danger of allowing non-Jews complete creative control over films. If such a film was considered "merely entertainment" there would have been no need to censor Griffith.
In any case, " . . . the production ruined Griffith financially, hampering the progress of his career for several years (he invested much of his own money in the $2.5 million dollar production) . . . the Babylonian and the Modern episodes of Intolerance were released in 1919 as separate features, respectively titled The Fall of Babylon and The Mother and the Law. In May of 1915 . . . Griffith . . . joined the newly formed Triangle Corporation, along with Thomas H. Ince and Mack Sennett. Together they formed a powerful triumvirate of director-producers as part of an ambitious scheme by the company to corner the market on prestigious quality productions. But the plan failed . . . " Again, the theory set forth in this book, is that the early outlaw producers, who now wielded a considerable amount of power and control over exhibition in key theatres, used that power to arbitrarily exclude Triangle's films from the marketplace, thus preventing the company from succeeding. Thus, Triangle was placed in a " . . . precarious financial position. Griffith, now himself deeply in debt as a result of Intolerance, severed his connection with Triangle in March of 1917 and signed a contract with Artcraft, Adolph Zukor's company, releasing through Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount)."
In January of 1919, " . . . while still heavily engaged in fulfilling his contractual commitments to Artcraft, Griffith joined Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charles Chaplin in forming the United Artists Corporation . . . " As Nicolas Kent points out, "United Artists represented (D.W. Griffith's) . . . bid for independence." In other words, it is very likely that Griffith was already having problems with Adolph Zukor (with respect to creative control) and with the distributor (with respect to accounting for his films' proceeds), the two main problems that independent producers have consistently encountered in their dealings with the major studio/distributors of Hollywood.
Also in the hectic year of 1919, Griffith signed " . . . a three-picture deal with First National and set up his own studio complex at Mamaroneck, N.Y." In 1920 he incorporated his diverse enterprises . . . " and went public, hoping " . . . to free himself from financial dependence on the moguls of the film industry, but in so doing he left himself vulnerable to the decision- making power of the even less understanding investment bankers." His historical epic, Orphans of the Storm (1922) " . . . fared rather well at the box office but ended up losing money as a result of unexpected copyright and accounting problems." Again, further examination of these reported transactions would be necessary to determine whether this reported incident, involving Griffith's Orphans of the Storm was another example of the discriminatory and predatory business practices the newly merged major studio/distributor organizations engaged in, but certainly, accounting problems at the distributor or exhibitor level at theatres owned or controlled by rival vertically- integrated film companies would fit the pattern that was ultimately proscribed in the subsequent Paramount cases.
Isn't Life Wonderful (1924) was " . . . Griffith's last independent production. Shot on location in Germany, it was a compassionate romantic drama of postwar deprivation that decried the evils of WWI and exalted the power of love in the face of hardship. It was a sincere . . . plea for brotherhood . . . Like all Griffith's films for United Artists with the exception of Way Down East, it lost money, putting Griffith not only deeper in personal debt but also in conflict with his partners at the company." The Katz Film Encyclopedia only goes so far as to report that most of Griffith's films at United Artists "lost money", without examining why. Again, the theory of this book, is that at that point in time Griffith and his company United Artists were considered Hollywood outsiders, thus the vertically integrated major studio/distributors both denied access to desirable screens where possible and when a Griffith or United Artists film was shown on a screen controlled by one of the major studio/distributors, the so-called "accounting problems" occurred at the exhibitor level. In other words, Griffith and United Artists were not credited with as much money as they should have been. If your films do not make money, it is extremely difficult to continue making films.
Nicolas Kent offers an alternative explanation as to why United Artists failed saying, " . . . the dream foundered because Griffith and his partners failed to make a sufficient number of movies each year to make the studio profitable." Again, it is extremely difficult for any of us to know whether Kent's explanation rings true, since, in those days, as today, the major studio/distributors controlled many of the key theatres. Thus, it is likely that United Artists films were either excluded from important theatres or the reported distributor rentals were smaller than they should have been. The theory put forth by this book is that failing to make enough films had little or nothing to do with the downfall of United Artists, as Kent claims. In any event, within " . . . little more than a decade, Griffith's huge personal debts had forced him to sell out and his career was over.
In 1924, " . . . as his relations at United Artists soured beyond repair, the director signed a contract with Adolph Zukor to make films for Paramount. While gaining financial security and the logistical backing of a major studio, Griffith sacrificed his cherished freedom to create. In becoming a studio employee, he not only lost the players and technical crews he had trained and nurtured over the years, but also gave up the decision-making power of such all-important matters as choice of story and selection of cast. Although he first enjoyed a special status at Paramount, in recognition of his past achievements, before long Griffith began losing both his unique position and his own self-confidence as his productions failed at the box office." Of course, any director, even D.W. Griffith, would eventually begin to lose confidence if his films consistently did not perform well at the box office. On the other hand, he had no way to protect himself from exhibitor skimming and distributor creative contract interpretation and/or manipulation of revenues, thus, neither Griffith nor those of us looking back on those transactions could know if his films actually deserved their reported poor box office performances.
As Katz states, "Griffith's three films of the Paramount period . . . were mediocre and uninspired . . . and led to the premature dissolution of Griffith's contract with Zukor." Again, we cannot determine, first, whether Katz' judgment as to the quality of those Griffith pictures is accurate, and if accurate, whether the problem was with Griffith or the studio system as operated by Zukor. All we can observe is that Griffith, someone from the South who had earlier worked with one of the Edison Trust companies, had directed a film providing a positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, along with another film that placed some responsibility for Christ's death on Jews, was not acceptable to the Hollywood insiders of that day.
In April of 1927, Griffith returned to United Artists which by then was under the control of another Hollywood insider, Joseph Schenck. Thus, Griffith " . . . did not regain his creative independence. He signed a personal contract with Joseph Schenck, the company's controlling executive, according to which he gained the financial backing of Schenck's Art Cinema Corporation and in return forfeited to Schenck voting rights in the director's remaining United Artists stock as well as final script approval. To carry out his first assignment under the new agreement, Griffith returned to Hollywood for the first time since 1919, discovering a thoroughly changed movie industry and a regimented studio system that tended to stifle personal creativity and initiative." Again, Katz reports that Griffith's next three films were "mediocre" but that " . . . he regained the approval of critics and a brief resurgence of personal prestige with his first talkie, Abraham Lincoln (1930), an epic screen biography . . . "
Katz reports that Griffith's last film,The Struggle (1931), was " . . . made independently and cheaply with proceeds from a large tax refund he had received unexpectedly." As Katz reports, he " . . . was hoping to make a comeback as an independent producer with this somber drama of alcoholism and the futility of Prohibition." The film was apparently not well received and it " . . . was quickly withdrawn from circulation . . . the bitterly disappointed Griffith, his production company in receivership and his personal assets frozen, went into a long period of seclusion and semi-retirement. Gradually, he picked up the pieces, sold his shares in United Artists, and made some successful investments in ventures outside the movie industry. From time to time he became involved in negotiations for film projects that never materialized . . . "
In the Academy Award ceremony for 1935, " . . . Griffith was awarded an honorary Oscar 'for his distinguished creative achievements as director and producer and his invaluable initiative and lasting contributions to the progress of the motion picture arts.'" But, Griffith " . . . was a bitter, lonely, and nearly forgotten man when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in a Hollywood hotel room at the age of 73."
The argument is not being made here that D.W. Griffith's films communicated the right messages, just that he was a great filmmaker and that his films did effectively communicate powerful messages. Some were also messages that the Hollywood insider's did not like. This, more than anything else, explains why he was never accepted in Hollywood. D.W. Griffith was censored by the Hollywood establishment.
Joseph P. Kennedy--The patriarch of the famous Massachusetts Kennedy clan was the " . . . son of a saloon-keeper and . . . grandson of one of the famine Irish . . . " He graduated college from Harvard in 1912 and " . . . decided to go into banking . . . " He got " . . . himself appointed a state bank examiner, a job that allowed him to travel throughout the eastern part of Massachusetts looking at bank records and books, learning how the banks made their money and how they were connected to other businesses." He was " . . . Boston's youngest bank president (at age 25 . . . " With . . . the advent of . . . the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) . . . " he began the clandestine importation of " . . . boatloads of the finest Scotch and Irish whiskeys and French champagne . . . bound for (his) secret warehouses on both coasts . . . during the Twenties (Kennedy was) . . . Hollywood's top-drawer booze connection."
He first become interested in films " . . . while he was still president of Columbia Trust. After examining the books of a New England motion picture exhibiting company with an eye to possible purchase, he looked at a business associate in amazement: 'We must get into the picture business. This is a new industry and a gold mine.'" "By the time he was working at the investment banking firm (Hayden-Stone), he had bought a small chain of theaters of his own and was looking for an opportunity to become involved in production and distribution as well." Thus, his first entry into " . . . the realm of the Silver Screen was the takeover of a chain of three dozen New England movie houses . . . " In addition to the " . . . chain of thirty-one New England theaters . . . " Kennedy acquired " . . . the local franchise for Universal Pictures . . . " According to Betty Lasky, one of Kennedy's associates observed that ' . . . from the theater side of the business, Hollywood could wring you dry . . . " Kennedy then decided that he " . . . wanted to get to where the wringing was done."
Hearing that a production company, Film Booking Office of America, " . . . was in trouble, Kennedy got in touch with the English owners about selling it . . . " and eventually made a deal. Thus, in 1926 he bought out FBO, becoming its " . . . president and chairman of the board." The purchase " . . . included a seven-building studio on Gower Street, near Melrose . . . " in Hollywood.
Kennedy moved his family to New York where he " . . . rented an elegant suite of offices in a Broadway skyscraper and set out to make a name for himself in the world of motion pictures." He understood " . . . the role movies would play in the life of the country as a result of their power to manipulate realities and create a mass culture that blurred class and ethnic lines." When he got to Hollywood, he " . . . discovered a studio that lacked the prestige of the majors, but was doing good steady business grinding out a feature a week at a bargain basement cost of $30,000 per picture . . . although FBO's product was popular in small towns, it had not yet cracked the urban markets--and their big box-office receipts." As Lasky reports, "Kennedy . . . brought in his loyal crew, men who shared his wizardry with figures and were willing to carry his secrets to the grave if necessary . . . in effect, an Irish mafia of the day."
Collier and Horowitz report that Kennedy was " . . . better educated and more sophisticated . . . " than the first generation of film moguls, but they say " . . . Kennedy was even less interested in film as an art. Instead . . . F.B.O. under Joe Kennedy turned out titles like Red Hot Hooves and The Dude Cowboy featuring unknown actors or over-the-hill stars or famous names from other fields, like Red Grange . . . " His film " . . . budgets . . . never exceeded $30,000." F.B.O. " . . . films often didn't make it to New York, however, they did good business in Iowa and Kansas. While other producers fought to get their works onto Broadway, he was content to have a monopoly on Main Street. Under his guidance, Film Booking Office began to make money." While " . . . he had a sort of contempt for Hollywood insiders, he saw them as the aristocracy of the industry and compulsively sought their acceptance."
As Betty Lasky reports, "FBO Pictures Corporation hardly presented an imposing face to the ruling circle in the movie capital. As FBO's president, Joe Kennedy (the Irish Catholic) was no more accepted than he had been in Brahmin Boston . . . In Hollywood, the big deals were kindled in the inner sanctum of the Jewish movie lords . . . " On the other hand, "Kennedy . . . had no intention of competing with 'producers [who] were fighting to get their pictures on Broadway, and State Street in Chicago . . . " Under Kennedy, FBO continued to specialize in low-budget films " . . . for unsophisticated small-town audiences."
In 1927, Kennedy " . . . approached the Harvard Business School with a proposal to stage a seminar on this new and hitherto ignored aspect of American business. When his alma mater agreed to put up the money, Kennedy invited twelve of the giants of the movie world--Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, Harry Warner, and others--to appear as speakers. These men, many of whom hadn't finished high school and had never been in a college classroom, were flattered at the chance to appear at the nation's leading university and indebted to Kennedy, who made the affair a smashing success . . . he sent each of them a calf-bound volume of the book he compiled from the proceedings . . . titled The Story of the Films . . . " Although authors Collier and Horowitz rather casually state that Kennedy was then accepted by the film moguls as " . . . one of them . . . " and that henceforth his name would " . . . appear alongside those of Hollywood's great tycoons in statements of filmland policy . . . " it is more likely that such "acceptance" was in appearance only.
In October of 1927, RCA (a General Electric subsidiary), whose general manager was David Sarnoff (Russian-born and of Jewish heritage) " . . . purchased a stock interest in FBO for $400,000." Sarnoff wanted " . . . to buy a large block of Film Booking Office stock, thus gaining access to a production company which would use G.E. technology."
In the meantime, Paramount's " . . . Adolph Zukor, a brilliant strategist and plunderer famous for his sweeping raids on ailing companies and choice stars . . . outbid Kennedy for . . . " the services of FBO " . . . cowboy movie star . . . Fred Thomson . . . " when his " . . . contract expired . . . " in 1928. This may have been one of the first volleys in the battle that would ultimately drive Kennedy the outsider from Hollywood. Kennedy's next step was to begin raising nearly $5 million and use it to buy the huge Keith-Albee-Orpheum chain of theaters . . . the once big-time vaudeville circuit that could still offer a desirable . . . parcel of several hundred theaters." Kennedy bought out Albee (in 1928) and " . . . assumed the chairmanship of the K-A-O board . . . " He then " . . . worked to engineer a complete consolidation between those companies and RCA. The result was the future Hollywood giant, R.K.O. Studios. In addition to seeing his stock options for Film Booking Office and Keith-Albee zoom upward, Kennedy received a fee of $150,000 for engineering the merger that produced R.K.O." Later that year he sold out his interest to RCA and acquired an interest in Pathe Exchange, of which he was president and director until 1930, when the company merged into RKO."
As reported by Betty Lasky (Jesse L. Lasky's daughter) Kennedy also held " . . . the position of special advisor to Pathe at a weekly salary of $2,000." He was subsequently able to switch " . . . his title from advisor to chairman of the board (and) . . . he named his trusted Irish henchman (Lasky's term) E.B. Derr executive vice president." Lasky goes on to report that Cecil B. DeMille, who by that time had already produced the religious epic King of Kings (1927) " . . . picked up more bad vibrations. Abruptly, he sold his Pathe' stock and severed his connections. He beat a path to MGM, taking with him his distrust of things Irish."
At the beginning of 1928, Kennedy (a married man) became romantically involved with one of the " . . . most glamorous . . . " actresses of the time, Gloria Swanson. Their " . . . first meeting occurred as a lunch date at the Barclay Hotel in New York, in mid-November of 1927, and (according to Lasky) had been strictly business for Gloria Swanson, the queen of Hollywood. She was in New York shopping for financing and financial advice for her next picture. Her friend Bob Kane, studio manager of her former employer, Paramount, recommended his friend Joseph P. Kennedy."
Kennedy agreed " . . . to finance independent pictures for his mistress under the vanity banner of Gloria Productions, Inc." They set out to produce The Swamp to be directed by Erich von Stroheim whose " . . . movie-making method was to expose miles of film, improvising as he went along, with uninhibited attention paid to every sexual kink. In The Swamp, he told the tales of a convent-bred girl who inherits a string of African bordellos. The climactic scene would show the once-innocent Irish convent girl, who had become a prosperous Madame, on her deathbed, receiving the last rites from a humpy young priest. A strong suggestion of necrophilia was the kicker." In 1928, the film " . . . was unreleasable." The " . . . movie was never shown in this country; Kennedy saw eight hundred grand--in 1928 big bucks--go flush down the drain."
On the other hand, this financial disaster for Kennedy does not appear to have been a total accident. Director Eric von Stroheim was already well-known to the Hollywood moguls before Kennedy came onto the scene. He " . . . often devoted weeks of work and considerable chunks of Universal, Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer money . . . filming wild scenes of . . . decadence that no censor in the world at that time would have passed--certainly not Will Hays with his prim Purity Code of 'Don'ts' and 'Be Carefuls.'" Kenneth Anger reports that it " . . . is suspected Stroheim was burning up MGM money with malice aforethought on such unshowable scenes in revenge for the destruction of the miles of negative of his epic study in avarice, Greed, by his mortal enemies, Irving Thalberg, production chief of MGM, and its new boss, Louis Mayer. Thalberg earned Stroheim's enmity in 1923, when the former was production manager at Universal, and took the direction of Merry-Go-Round away from Von after he had indulged in a series of wild extravagances . . . Mayer and Thalberg (reportedly) . . . set out to 'get' him and spread the word around town that Von was an untrustworthy wastrel, 'uncommercial' and a sex maniac . . . " Von Stroheim then " . . . had difficulty finding backers." Whether it was true or not, the " . . . front-office men echoed from studio to studio that 'working with Stroheim was like shoveling dollars down a well . . . The little minds of the front-office men got the better of this ferocious visionary . . . " Recommending Von Stroheim to Kennedy was simply part of a campaign to rid Hollywood of both.
Also, according to Collier and Horowitz, Gloria Swanson was "Hollywood's reigning sex goddess (in the late twenties) and the most powerful woman in the industry . . . (largely as a result of her steamy portrait of Somerset Maugham's Sadie Thompson)". Collier and Horowitz state that Swanson sought Kennedy out " . . . because of his growing reputation as one of the shrewdest money men in the film world." Again, according to the Collier/Horowitz writing team, Swanson was a " . . . strong-willed woman with a keen business sense (and) she was anxious to buck the studio system and set up her own production company." Kennedy helped her " . . . set up an independent company . . . personally taking over management of her tangled affairs, and working to insinuate himself into the center of her life."
The relationship between Joseph Kennedy and Gloria Swanson may actually have been one of the earliest examples of a strategy used by the Hollywood insiders to deal with ambitious outsiders, a strategy in which a Hollywood star is encouraged to establish a relationship with a wealthy outsider and to help drain his resources as well as place him in a vulnerable position with respect to his sexual liaisons. If this theory of the relationship is correct, it may be true that Gloria Swanson sought Kennedy out, but not for the reasons stated by Collier and Horowitz. In the alternative, even though Swanson's objective was as stated by Collier and Horowitz, the studio moguls who controlled her activities at the time, only allowed her to set up her own independent production company because they hoped it would help keep the Kennedy incursion in Hollywood from succeeding.
Lasky also reports that Swanson" . . . had turned against the studio bosses . . . in Gloria's case the studio bosses (had already) resorted to some creative deception to keep her second husband, Herbert Somborn, from revealing a purported list of lovers that had actually included their names along with that of her current lover, Marshall 'Mickey' Neilan, in Somborn's suit for divorce. The Paramount moguls had fabricated a telegram that instructed them to settle the Swanson divorce suit out of court, signed Will Hay's name to it, and thereby gained her undying enmity . . . The ungrateful Gloria had scorned their offer of $1 million a year and had . . . gone off to join those elitist-lunatics at United Artists . . . " Thus, Swanson " . . . was not the first movie actress to receive $1 million a year, (but she) was the first one who turned this sum down." In other words, she wanted more. This is another reason why the movie moguls of Hollywood, wanted to get rid of Swanson, among other things, she was becoming too expensive.
In any case, Kennedy " . . . dangled before her the chance of working with the greatest director in America, the Austrian genius Erich von Stroheim. Idle, following three scathing experiences with MGM and Paramount, but under contract to Pat Powers, whom he had also alienated, von Stroheim was champing at the bit to work again . . . " It was supposedly already well known in Hollywood " . . . that the eminent director's chief talent was his genius for spending large sums of money."
Kennedy was back in New York " . . . during the first stage of production (for Queen Kelley) and did not keep an eye on von Stroheim . . . who shot scenes of the story . . . over and over in search of the perfect effect. He was not only accumulating thousands of feet of film but also beginning to highlight the decadence in the story, interpreting scenes in a way that everyone else on the set realized would never get past the Hays Office . . . When Swanson telephoned Kennedy to express her alarm at mounting expenses and new interpretations of the script, he assured her that he could handle von Stroheim." Meanwhile, von Stroheim and his film, now titled, Queen Kelly. . . were increasingly out of control . . . " When Kennedy finally did get to Hollywood " . . . he found that there were already some thirty hours of film representing only a quarter of the script . . . He fired von Stroheim (whose brilliant career then began to go to pieces) . . . " The news of the " . . . film Waterloo traveled fast. Von Stroheim's enemies exulted, While Kennedy's friends did their best to salve his wounds." Kennedy " . . . tried another director with a rewritten script. But there was no way to salvage the project. Queen Kelly was put on the shelf, one of the greatest debacles in film history." Ultimately the failure cost $800,000.
Kennedy tried to " . . . recover from Queen Kelly by commissioning another script for Swanson, a frothy comedy titled What a Widow! But although he spent heavily on the picture . . . the film did not jibe with the grim mood of the country at the onset of the Depression and was dismissed as trivial by critics." Kennedy's " . . . affair with Swanson ended as abruptly as it had begun--so abruptly that it seemed as if Kennedy had been looking for any excuse to escape what was now a financial and emotional quagmire." On May 8 of 1931, Kennedy " . . . announced his retirement from Gloria Productions . . . and as 'active head' of Pathe' as well . . . (although) he continued to serve as chairman of the board of that company . . . " Not surprisingly, Lasky suggests that Kennedy's " . . . own lackadaisical management had, in fact, severely weakened the company." Such a claim, of course, is typical of the Hollywood insiders when describing why the Hollywood outsiders fail, and it is part of the overall Hollywood pattern of bias and discrimination against outsiders.
On the other hand, the claim by Collier and Horowitz that Swanson was a " . . . strong- willed woman with a keen business sense . . . " and that she was " . . . the most powerful woman in the industry . . . " does not seem entirely consistent with their additional claim that Kennedy undertook management of her "tangled affairs." In addition, the written agreement between Kennedy and Swanson provided that if Queen Kelly made a profit, the two of them would split revenues and expenses " . . . fifty-fifty. But if there were losses, Gloria got them all!" Thus, the film reportedly " . . . wound up costing her close to a million dollars." So much for her "keen business sense".
Furthermore, according to Collier and Horowitz, Kennedy left Hollywood in 1929 " . . . $5 million dollars richer . . . " The Kennedy biographers do not explain whether the reference to the $5 million dollars Kennedy apparently accumulated during his Hollywood years was made importing liquor during prohibition, with his ongoing film business relating to other projects, through his activities on Wall Street or a combination of the above. Also, if Swanson was " . . . anxious to buck the studio system and set up her own production company . . . " as stated by Collier/Horowitz, it is very likely that she had already made her break with the Hollywood establishment and could never return anyway.
Collier and Horowitz also suggest that the Kennedy-Swanson episode " . . . significantly affected . . . " the life and career of both Swanson and von Stroheim. It would appear to be closer to the truth to assert that Swanson and von Stroheim were already on the "outs" with the Hollywood establishment when Kennedy came along and he very simply played the role of the foolish outsider, who was encouraged by the Hollywood movie moguls to invest money in their already doomed careers. In addition, Kennedy never really understood that he was being duped and manipulated by a very shrewd group of ruthless competitors. It is one thing for a Hollywood outsider to make small pictures that are shown on main street in the small towns of America, but even as early as 1929, it was a different story trying to try to compete head-to-head with the Hollywood insiders for the best theatres in the country and the film industry "gold mine" that Kennedy knew existed.
William Randolph Hearst--Genealogists trace William Randolph Hearst's Anglo-Saxon family history back to " . . . Scotland in the Middle Ages . . . The family later went to Ireland, from where they emigrated to America about 1680." William Randolph Hearst's grandfather George and his wife Phoebe " . . . became mine owners, large land owners, and ultimately multimillionaires . . . " George and Phoebe then lived in a " . . . large new mansion . . . " in San Francisco. George Hearst " . . . became not only one of the richest men in the country, but later, a U.S. senator and newspaper owner. He died in 1891."
Although young William Randolph Hearst was taken (in the temporary absence of his mother) by his Irish governess to be baptized by a Catholic priest, Hearst's mother was Episcopalian. On the other hand, according to his son William Randolph Hearst, Jr., the elder Hearst " . . . never practiced a formal religious creed."
In his early years, William Randolph Hearst worked as a " . . . reporter on Joseph Pulitzer's New York World . . . " newspaper, then moved on (in 1887) to " . . . assume direction of . . . his father's . . . San Francisco Examiner . . . " Then at the age of 32 (in 1895), he " . . . left San Francisco to purchase the New York Journal . . . " He deliberately chose to challenge the most powerful newspaper interests in the nation by entering its largest and most competitive market."
On the other hand, according to the pro-Hollywood Katz Film Encyclopedia Hearst "[a]lmost single-handedly . . . forced the U.S. into the Spanish-American War (in 1898) as a circulation booster . . . " Here is an example of the kind of vicious statements made by the Hollywood trade press directed toward Hollywood outsiders. Katz' statement appears to be false on its face for at least four reasons: (1) the U.S. cannot be "forced" into a war, certainly not by a civilian; (2) Katz cannot know what motivated Hearst's interest in reporting on the events that led up to the Spanish-American War; (3) human beings rarely are motivated by a single objective (i.e., to boost newspaper circulation); and (4) it cannot be fairly reported that any war was started by a single event.
In addition, a source friendlier to Hearst (his own son) offers information which contradicts the Katz interpretation. Hearst, Jr. states that his father " . . . is often accused of helping to start the Spanish-American War in 1898 . . . " and he admits that his father's " . . . angry headlines and stories on the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana Harbor virtually ignited the conflict." The paper " . . . accused Spain of blowing up the Maine, although we now know that it's more likely the ship went down because of a fire in its bunker." In any case, " . . . 250 American seamen perished . . . " and Hearst, Sr. " . . . believed in the rebel cause of ousting Spain from Cuba . . . [h]e wanted to rid the Americas of European colonialism . . . " Thus, the Katz Film Encyclopedia claim that the Hearst papers' report on the events leading up to the Spanish-American war was merely designed to boost circulation appears to be another of those rather shallow and irresponsible Hollywood insider claims directed toward a Hollywood outsider. The motives of Hearst, Sr. were clearly much more complex, and Katz offers no evidence that the information reported by the Hearst paper was not the most reliable information available to newspaper editors at the moment of publication.
In any event, Hearst, Sr. also ran " . . . for Congress (from New York) in 1902 . . . (and) was elected to a two-year term." He was " . . . elected to a second term in Congress in 1904 . . . " The California delegation nominated " . . . him as a presidential candidate at the Democratic national convention in St. Louis (in 1904)." Hearst " . . . was forty-one years old . . . " at the time. "The Republicans had earlier nominated Theodore Roosevelt in Chicago. Clarence Darrow, the great trial lawyer, led the Illinois delegation in seconding . . . " Hearst's nomination. "Judge Alton B. Parker became the Democratic nominee (and) . . . Roosevelt won in a landslide." Hearst ran for mayor of New York in 1905. The election was allegedly stolen, however, by the so-called Tammany Hall political machine.
Hearst then " . . . ran for governor of New York . . . " in 1906. "His election slogan called for popular rights over special privileges." The eventual Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes won the governor's race. In 1909, Hearst " . . . once again ran for mayor . . . (against what he called) the most disgraceful Tammany ticket ever nominated in the city." He claimed that the Tammany organization " . . . was being paid off big by the utilities; water rates were four times those of other municipalities, while power and gas were ten times higher." Hearst " . . . began losing confidence in both (of the then existing political) parties (and became) . . . a leader of the Progressive Movement (seeking) . . . political reform and the revitalization of economic competition in the country . . . He was convinced that American capitalism might be destroyed unless it was drastically changed. By that he meant sweeping out some assumed prerogatives of the wealthy--primarily monopolies and trusts that reneged on democratic competition." He " . . . assailed Teddy (Roosevelt) for holding a stick over the heads of many of the nation's trusts on one hand while taking their campaign contributions with the other."
Hearst, also a married man, first saw Marion Davies " . . . in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. Marion was not exactly an intellect, and she stuttered. But (Hearst) . . . was smitten with her, and she became his sex kitten." They " . . . began seeing one another regularly in 1918 when he was fifty-five years old and she was twenty-one. The affair became public only after (Hearst's mother Phoebe) passed away in 1919." Hearst " . . . formed Cosmopolitan Productions (as) . . . a natural outgrowth of his wide-ranging media empire, but . . . also (in an effort) . . . to raise Marion to national stardom (as a movie actress)." Hearst opened his film studio in the Bronx in 1918 where he shot Little Old New York with Marion. Hearst also filmed a " . . . very successful serial called The Perils of Pauline. It was full of cliff-hanging scenes, an early-day soap opera." He then " . . . moved from this and similar shorts to full-length silent movies . . . he insisted on 'family' entertainment . . . (he) never allowed any off-color or indecent scenes in any movie he ever made." According to Hearst, Jr., William Randolph Hearst, Sr., once mentioned that " . . . moving pictures would one day have greater public impact than newspapers."
From the time Hearst, Sr. " . . . began seeing Marion steadily in 1919, to his separation from (his wife) in 1925 (he and his wife) . . . continued to live under the same roof. But Marion was always in the shadows (i.e., Mrs. Hearst was aware that there was another woman)." The married couple " . . . finally agreed to separate, amicably." Mrs. Hearst became " . . . a matron of New York society (and) . . . prominent for her charity work . . . (but) [t]here was hardly a week that (Hearst, Sr.) . . . didn't write a letter, send a telegram, or speak (with his wife) . . . on the phone."
As William Randolph Hearst, Jr. reports, "[t]here have been suggestions made by acquaintances of Mrs. Hearst that she may have at least been partially responsible for their separation since as " . . . a Catholic, she did not wish to practice birth control (and) . . . began to withdraw from (Hearst, Sr.)" There was also a medical explanation for such a withdrawal (aside from a religious reason), that is, Mrs. Hearst " . . . felt she could not safely have more children after the (couple had) twins."
William Randolph Hearst " . . . was fifty-six years old when construction began in 1919 . . . " on what was to become known as the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. The home had " . . . a small movie theater to view pre-release(d) or new films." Parts of the movie Spartacus (1960) were " . . . filmed with the Hearst Castle's 345,000 gallon outdoor pool and its "temple" or colonnaded pavilions as a backdrop.
In the early 1920s, Hearst, Sr. " . . . began spending more and more time making movies with Marion in Hollywood . . . the movie business was to occupy much of his time for the next twenty years . . . " "From 1919 to 1923 the Cosmopolitan films were released by Paramount. Despite a good deal of publicity (according to Katz), they all lost money, largely because Hearst insisted on the most expensive production values for his protegee." Here again, is another example of a film industry trade publication speculating about why a Hollywood outsider's films lost money, and rather arbitrarily focusing on the supposed mistakes of the outsider, without even considering the possibility that others in Hollywood were engaged in anti-competitive practices that virtually insured the failures.
Again, according to Katz, Hearst is " . . . said to have lost as much as seven million dollars on the Cosmopolitan film ventures over the years. Miss Davies was certainly pretty and quite talented, especially in comedy roles. She might have made it to the top by herself and would probably have enjoyed a much more successful and sustained career had it not been for the aggressive campaign Hearst launched in her behalf, a campaign that infuriated exhibitors and alienated the public . . . " Again, the Katz publication provides speculation about the state of mind of exhibitors who chose or did not choose to exhibit the Davies films and about the public, whose members chose or did not choose to purchase tickets to see the films. It is just a likely as the Katz explanation that many of the exhibitors actually engaged in reciprocal preferences with the major studio/distributors to prevent the Davies films from being exhibited in many of the best theatres and also participated in an effort to siphon off film revenues from those theatres where her films were actually shown. Such predatory business practices were widespread in the industry during this period.
In 1924, Cosmopolitan and Davies " . . . moved over to the Goldwyn Company, and when Goldwyn merged with Metro shortly after to form MGM, Cosmopolitan was part of the package. Louis B. Mayer, MGM's production chief, was quick to realize the potential value of associating with Hearst, both in terms of free publicity and social prestige." According to Ronald Brownstein, " . . . Mayer doggedly recruited Hearst to transfer his operation to the new enterprise. Mayer pursued the deal not on his faith in Davies--a friendly, good-hearted, reasonably talented comedienne forced by Hearst into shoes far too big--but on his faith in what Hearst could do for him. Mayer agreed to finance Davies' pictures, give Hearst a share of the profits, and pay Davies the huge salary of $10,000 a week. In return, Hearst at least tacitly agreed that his newspapers would look benevolently on Mayer's movies." Part of the deal between Hearst and Mayer was that the Hearst papers would mention MGM star Bette Davies or MGM every day.
In 1925 Hearst, Sr. and his wife " . . . agreed to live apart permanently. He spent much of that year in Hollywood and she remained in New York." (Mrs. Hearst " . . . passed away in 1974 at the age of ninety-three.") Hearst " . . . moved full-time to San Simeon in the late 1920s, and transferred his news headquarters there." Hearst, Jr. asserts that "[d]espite repeated claims that (Hearst, Sr.) . . . sought the presidency up to 1925, Marion was one indisputable reason why that could never have been realized--at least after . . . " they began seeing each other regularly in 1918 and the relationship became public in 1919.
That same year (1925) " . . . Louella Parsons, who was to become one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, began her climb to the top as a movie columnist for the Hearst newspapers. She (Hearst, Sr.) . . . and Marion were to become longtime friends." Parsons joined the Hearst papers shortly after the incident in which Hearst supposedly shot Thomas Ince (by mistake), in the presence of Parsons and others in the film community, but no one would testify against him. On the other hand, Hearst, Jr. writes that the reporting of Louella Parsons " . . . first caught (William Randolph Hearst's) . . . eye while she was a movie columnist for the old Chicago Record-Herald. She later (went) . . . to New York with the Morning-Telegraph. Finally, (Hearst) . . . hired Louella and sent her to Hollywood (as a columnist for the Hearst papers)." "She closed out her long career somewhat disenchanted with Hollywood . . . " telling Hearst, Jr. that " . . . she was fed up with the amount of filth in films."
At normal weekend get-togethers, Hearst " . . . showed a pre-release or new movie after dinner in his ornate, damask-hung private theater." "Weekends at San Simeon became a prized, if bizarre, experience for the film colony's elite . . . " Marion Davies " . . . was the star of (Hearst's parties) . . . because most of the guests worked in the movies and were friends of hers . . . " Hearst was also " . . . famous for his birthday parties . . . 100 to 300 guests in a costume extravaganza. The festivities featured fabulous foods, champagne, a big-name orchestra, humorous skits, Hollywood's brightest stars and celebrities, as well as personal friends . . . "
Hearst also became a frequent guest at Mayer's home . . . as Heart's populist fervor burned away, their political interests grew more closely aligned as well . . . Nurturing elaborate ambitions as a kingmaker, Mayer lobbied Hearst on Hoover's behalf as the 1928 election approached . . . Mayer arranged for the candidate and the press lord to meet at Mayer's home during the election year." Hearst ultimately endorsed Hoover " . . . On June 8, 1928." " . . . Mayer wooed Hearst even more intently than he wooed Hoover, for Hearst could do more for Mayer than Hoover could. The undisputed lord of the nation's largest press chain, the syndicator of gossip columnist Louella Parsons, Hearst more than any other individual shaped America's view of Hollywood, its stars and its films . . . Hearst could also do more for Hoover than Mayer could. As Hoover moved closer to seeking the presidency in 1928, Mayer's principal political function came to be influencing his friend Hearst on behalf of his friend Hoover."
In 1928, Hearst built " . . . Marion a fourteen-room 'bungalow' on the MGM lot in Culver City (for an estimated $700,000) . . . " He also built " . . . a $7 million beach house at Santa Monica (for Marion Davies)--some $3 million for construction and another $4 million for furnishings. They began to throw the best parties in all of filmland . . . "
Variety listed Marion Davies " . . . as one of MGM's six top stars (in 1928). The list included Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Marie Dressler . . . A number of her movies lost money, but a few were big box office . . . " On the other hand, according to Brownstein, " . . . Marion Davies had not done well at the box office; only one of her MGM films turned a profit. Hearst thought his protege would do better if she could move beyond light comedy, and he had set his sights on weightier parts that Thalberg coveted for his wife, actress Norma Shearer . . . " In other words, a conflict developed between a Hollywood insider (Irving Thalberg) and a Hollywood outsider (William Randolph Hearst, Sr.) regarding movie roles for their respect romantic interests (Irving's wife versus Hearst's mistress). And, of course, the Hollywood insider won.
In 1934 Hearst " . . . broke off with MGM after several choice roles he had intended for his protegee went instead to . . . Shearer." Frank Brady reports that " . . . Hearst was one of the principal stockholders in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but he liquidated his holdings in 1934 when the studio refused to cast Marion Davies as the lead in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Within a short time, he secured stock in Warner Brothers, and soon after Marion Davies came under contract with that studio." "The famous bungalow was moved to the Warners lot but did not stay there for long. The 1937 financial troubles of the Hearst empire also marked the end of the film career of Marion Davies. She retired renowned and wealthy . . . " " . . . Hearst shuttered his movie operation (that year) after losing as much as $7 million in his quest to convince America that he had chosen the right woman."
Politics created a deep division between Hearst, Sr. and his Hollywood friends. From the mid-1930s onward Hearst " . . . became increasingly disturbed about the growing Communist influence in the (U.S.) . . . " In his usual rather blunt terms, Hearst said " . . . communism meant death to democracy and God . . . touching off a storm of national debate that was to last more than three decades . . . When Senator Joseph McCarthy warned of the dangers of communism at home (Hearst) . . . believed it was time that Americans be awakened. Communists and their (so- called) fellow travelers then boycotted the Hearst newspapers . . . Liberals across the country-- many college professors, others in the media, a number of Hollywood and other leftists--assailed (Hearst) . . . because he supported McCarthy's investigations." Hearst " . . . continued his battle against communism until he died in 1951."
William Randolph Hearst, Jr. suggests that " . . . [p]erhaps no American fought communism harder than (his) . . . " father and he believes that is " . . . one of the reasons why some of (Hearst Sr.'s) . . . critics have been so harsh for so long." Hearst Jr. states that "[m]any liberals in this country have never forgiven the old man for his anti-communism." Hearst Jr. stated that "[m]any leading liberals despised my father for his anti-communism, although his view was primarily based on strong patriotism."
In 1934 Hearst led a group on a European tour which included a stop in Germany and an " . . . interview with Hitler." He was interested " . . . in meeting Hitler (because) . . . he thought such an interview might be a big scoop for (his) . . . papers, and it would be a favor to his good friend, Louis B. Mayer." Before leaving the States for Europe, " . . . the Hollywood movie mogul had seen (Hearst) . . . privately and asked him to intercede with Hitler for Germany's Jews, who were already suffering under the . . . " German leader. Hearst " . . . saw Hitler in Berlin and . . . kept his promise to Mayer. He told the German leader that he and his policies would find more acceptance in the United States if persecution of the Jews and other minorities would halt . . . Critics branded (Hearst) . . . a 'fascist' for seeing Hitler."
Upon returning to the U.S., Hearst " . . . told Mayer, other Jews, and his news colleagues that naziism was spreading in Germany . . . He was deeply concerned about Hitler's attitude toward the Jews (and) . . . eventually saw the inevitability of (the U.S. entry into) . . . World War II . . . The threat to the United States had become too great. But he clearly preferred America to remain at peace as long as it could." Hearst initially " . . . believed that we should think of American interests and our sons first, not bleed the nation's youth and U.S. Treasury for others who would certainly think twice about bailing us out." He was subsequently assailed by his critics as " . . . an American Firster, a pro-Nazi, and an English hater."
Katz states that "Hearst's fascinating and enigmatic character and his long, costly affair with Miss Davies provided the inspiration for Orson Welles' film classic Citizen Kane (1941)." Hearst, Jr. reports that his " . . . basic problem with Citizen Kane was that its portrait of (his) . . . father was untruthful and unfair." To really get a good idea of what some segments of Hollywood will do to discredit its perceived enemies, see Citizen Kane. It is a blatant disparagement of Hearst, Sr. The mother of Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly sat in on one of the pre-release private screenings of Citizen Kane held by RKO and commented afterward that it " . . . was a very good picture, but it should never have been released while William Randolph Hearst is alive."
Some even placed much of the blame for the Citizen Kane controversy on Louella Parsons, after all they argue " . . . she gave the film glowing plugs and 'went overboard' for the movie while it was being made. However, in the closing weeks of shooting, Louella learned that Kane was presumably not merely any mean-spirited tycoon, but, in reality, her old friend and chief, William Randolph Hearst." At that point, Louella supposedly " . . . really went wild." and she was " . . . giving the film a lot of ink and creating a larger audience for it." "Contrary to many claims, (Hearst, Jr. reports that his father told him) . . . that he never made any effort to stop the film." "Louella managed to get the film blackballed by most of the big theater chains. She masterminded attacks on almost everyone connected with it."
In 1991, when William Randolph Hearst, Jr. published his book about his father the Hearst Corporation owned interests in newspapers, magazines, other periodicals, book, television stations, cable programming, radio stations, overseas publications, comics and features. Hearst Corporation was at that time, the largest publisher of monthly magazines in the nation with a total circulation of more than 21 million among fourteen publications including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Connoisseur, Town & Country, Esquire, House Beautiful, Popular Mechanics, Sports Afield, and many trade publications. The Hearst Corporation also owns a publishing company in England that publishes six magazines in ten languages. The company also publishes books under William Morrow and Company. It owns a dozen daily and five non-daily newspapers including papers in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Albany, San Antonio and elsewhere in Texas, Michigan and Illinois. The organization owns six television stations (Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Dayton). Seven radio stations (Milwaukee, Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico). The group's cable television holdings include joint ventures in Arts and Entertainment, Lifetime, the ESPN sports network, the New England Cable Newschannel and various television production companies. Some 12,000 people work in the 135 different businesses of the Hearst Corporation, including a data-bank information service, electronic publishing, large real estate, timber and livestock holdings. The one glaring omission from this expansive communications/entertainment empire is an interest in the U.S. film industry. That was lost many years ago, partly because the Hearsts were Hollywood outsiders.
Orson Welles--In the summer of 1939 RKO's George Schaefer " . . . had signed that 'spectacular genius of the show world,' Orson Welles, to act, direct, and write, as well as produce four movies . . . " Welles, originally from the Mid-West, of Christian background, though not very religious, " . . . burst onto the Hollywood scene as the incarnation of D.W. Griffith, intent on distancing himself from the old Hollywood and its orthodox ways. Welles' extreme youth, coupled with his ruddy, robust, more-than-six-foot-tall attractiveness and unique credentials, brought out the worst in the movie colony. All its jealously and possessiveness erupted as the press continued to revel in the Orson Welles phenomenon."
Because of his reputation and performances on the stage and in radio Orson Welles had been invited to Hollywood as early as 1937. "When David O. Selznick was in New York . . . to promote A Star is Born, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, he had invited Welles to the '21" for a drink , after seeing him in Doctor Faustus and had attempted to persuade him to come to Hollywood . . . (to) head his story department." "Director William Wyler invited Welles to Hollywood late in 1937 to take a screen test." Also in 1937 " . . . during his production of Julius Caesar, Welles' progress was observed and noted by executives of RKO Radio Pictures . . . Although RKO was undergoing arduous financial strains as the time . . . (after the) studio's new president, George J. Schaefer, who had come to RKO from a distinguished career as General Manager for Paramount and United Artists, was appointed on October 21, 1938. Nine days later, he, too, was listening to CBS at 8:00 P.M., when Welles made his infamous broadcast . . . " The War of the Worlds. Shortly thereafter, Schaefer made Welles his " . . . first serious offer . . . " to come to Hollywood " . . . the part of Quasimodo in . . . The Hunchback of Notre Dame." But Welles did not want to be " . . . cast to play more monster types . . . " he also wanted to direct." Other offers, or at least overtures, were made to Welles by Samuel Goldwyn and Warner Brothers . . . Adolph Zukor and his lieutenants at Paramount Pictures were also interested in Welles . . . " Negotiations continued between Welles and RKO through the Spring and Summer of 1939 and the parties finally signed a deal on July 22, 1939.
According to Roger Ebert, "Welles' original contract with RKO, hailed at the time as the most extraordinary contract any studio had ever given any filmmaker, guaranteed Welles' absolute control over every aspect of the production . . . " Also, according to Bette Lasky, Welles's RKO contract " . . . yielded concessions unprecedented in movie history (and) . . . gave him almost total autonomy . . . " On the other hand, Welles biographer Frank Brady reports that the actual provisions of the contract stated that " . . . RKO . . . had the right of story refusal . . . (and Welles' story concepts were not to be "political or controversial . . . " Also once "RKO approved the story for the film and a script was prepared, Welles was then legally bound not to 'substantially depart from the basic story finally approved' by RKO." Further, all " . . . copyright ownership and all rights of ownership of every kind would belong to RKO . . . [n]o employee or actor could be hired by Welles . . . unless first approved by RKO . . . " and "Welles agreed to show RKO rushes of the film and to confer with studio executives on the final cutting and editing of it before the film was to be considered complete and finished. At the same time, RKO reserved the right to edit, cut, dub, and change the film in any way that it wanted for censorship purposes, in accordance with the Production Code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, and also for any foreign or international release." Otherwise, [o]n the set, Welles was to have the 'complete freedom' that was discussed so frequently by the press." In effect, it appears that the Hollywood trade press played a role in turning Hollywood against Orson Welles, by misleading its readers about the true extent of Welles' contractual autonomy.
Soon after Welles' arrival in Hollywood, " . . . he was invited to a party to celebrate Aldous Huxley's forty-fifth birthday and also the completion of Huxley's latest novel, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that was eagerly awaited by film people since it dealt with the movie colony. It was a fantasy, the story of a multimillionaire who owned studios and stars and yet retreated to his huge, moated Gothic castle with a special . . . boudoir for his child-mistress . . . Everyone was talking about the book and whether it had any possibility of being made into a film. The consensus was that it didn't stand a chance: its lack of reverence for Hollywood was too obvious and it was also too close to a profile of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and his fabled mansion, San Simeon, where, Orson noted, Huxley had been a guest." How much Aldous Huxley's book After Many a Summer Dies the Swan influenced Welles in " . . . choosing a story based loosely on the life of William Randolph Hearst is open to speculation." Clearly certain elements of the two were similar.
In the meantime, many " . . . in the film business . . . were already resentful that a newcomer (and Hollywood outsider) had been given such an attractive opportunity to work in motion pictures." Welles was ridiculed in an F. Scott Fitzgerald " . . . short story published in Esquire . . . [a] series of pranks confronted the real-life Welles . . . (actor/writer) Gene Lockhart . . . composed a poem . . . which criticized the twenty-four-year-old's new involvement in film." In the meantime, "Welles made a few attempts at the very beginning of his life in Hollywood to ingratiate himself, but . . . many prominent members of the movie colony invited to his first party failed to show up . . . (and) [a]n article in Vogue sarcastically reported the inaugural party incident . . . (saying) . . . 'nobody who was anybody came . . . '"
As one observer noted, that during this period " . . . there were two castes in Hollywood, one that was invited to San Simeon and the other, which was not. The former included most of the aristocracy of Hollywood . . . " In the meantime, Welles, had " . . . befriended, and then employed Herman J. Mankiewicz, a Hearst exile. Mankiewicz was a screenwriter, a legend of acerbic wit, outrageous social behavior, and advanced alcoholism." Richard Merryman, a biographer of Mankiewicz, has pointed out that by 1936, three years before Welles came to Hollywood, "Mank" was no longer a part of Heart's group of companions. 'Because Hearst hated the (drinking) habit in Marion, he would not tolerate heavy drinking around him and Herman became an increasingly hazardous guest.' If there had been any doubt in Hearst's mind whether to make an overture of friendship toward Welles, as difficult as such a move would have been under the circumstances, it was eradicated when he discovered the Mankiewicz had been hired by Welles to work on some of the radio scripts for the Campbell Playhouse."
By 1939 Mankiewicz had been involved with about 30 films " . . . most of them worth nomore than a mention in the history of motion pictures . . . Mankiewicz had worked for a number of film companies, but in 1939 he was fired by Louis B. Mayer at MGM for gambling in the studio commissary." "During the fall and winter of 1939 and into the spring of 1940, Welles continued to make sincere attempts to relate to the movie industry socially, creatively, and economically." Welles had a couple of false starts on movie projects (Heart of Darkness and The Smiler with the Knife). Although RKO's " . . . financial problems were not solved, and the fear of a drastically shrinking foreign market worried him, Schaefer still retained faith in RKO and in Welles."
Brady reports that the " . . . genesis of Orson Welles' first Hollywood film is almost impossible to trace . . . " although he did say in a 1969 interview " . . . that he'd been playing with the old notion . . . of telling one story several times, from several different perspectives . . . (and) [a]s he became more intrigued with the concept, he began searching for a specific subject, a man around whom the film would center. He wanted it to be an American, and he wanted the person to be important . . . His first idea was Howard Hughes; after rejecting that, he moved to the concept of the press lords, those men whose hold over the nation's media gave them inordinate power . . . Welles has also indicated in interviews that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was a friend of Richard Welles, Orson's father . . . Welles (has also stated) . . . that at least one scene (in Citizen Kane) was based directly on . . . an old play of his about the boss of a ranch (Last Stand)." Welles was further limited in his choice of the character that he was going to portray in the film since "[no] one would believe a defenseless, humble person played by me." The search for a subject, therefore . . . had certain physical and character limitations."
Welles mulled over the idea " . . . of a film about a publisher and a young woman. At first he thought of trying to manipulate the film into a murder mystery based roughly on the mysterious death in 1924 of film producer Thomas Ince aboard Hearst's yacht, Oneida . . . " "On the brink of failure, Welles, hustling plot ideas with a kindred spirit, the enormously creative but self-destructive screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, had hit upon a daring concept, a film 'biography' about a fictitious publisher modeled on the great yellow journalist William R. Hearst." In the meantime, "Welles considered literally hundreds of other ideas . . . [b]ut he seemed to be unable to get anything going." "The press, for a year, had been openly skeptical about the cinematic potential of the 'boy wonder,' and when no announcement of his first film was forthcoming, newsmen started to turn savage." He was criticized in The Hollywood Reporter and The Detroit News. The " . . . all-powerful syndicated columnists also began a fusillade of sarcastic remarks." Additional, motivation for Mankiewicz may have come from his experience in 1929 when Actors' Equity " . . . called one of the first strikes by film actors . . . " The " . . . Hearst- owned Los Angeles Examiner campaigned vigorously against it in its editorials and news columns. It was mainly because of Hearst's crusade that the strike was broken."
In any event, " . . . Welles was greatly impressed with Mankiewicz's use of language and especially his ability to produce, almost on demand, a pungent, and often brilliant, line of dialogue. He began to talk to Mankiewicz about working together on an idea for a film. It is, of course, not very difficult to understand how Mankiewicz, banished from the graces of William Randolph Hearst, and Welles, who had never been admitted to the Hearst social circle, could have arrived at the idea of doing a film about Hearst's life. Welles' then ex-wife Virginia Nicholson had moved to Los Angeles and married screenwriter Charles Lederer, who according to Brady was " . . . the favorite nephew of actress Marion Davies, the longtime intimate friend and protegee of William Randolph Hearst." "Welles' jealousy over his ex-wife's entry into the sacred bastion of San Simeon (with her new husband, screenwriter/director, and brother of Marion Davies, Charles Lederer), his (earlier expressed) plan to introduce W. N. Hails, (another) newspaper magnate, into (one of the other two earlier film projects Welles considered) The Smiler with a Knife, and his (personal) proclivity to 'great men' roles all lead to a natural conclusion that Hearst, or someone like him, would be the subject of the first Orson Welles Hollywood film. And now, all at once, the pressure was on. The RKO executive board had strongly suggested, almost ordered, that Schaefer cut off all further salaries to . . . employees (of Welles' production company) until such time as Welles had submitted a script that would be approved and a first shooting date had been scheduled."
Items began to appear in the " . . . gossip columns about (Welles) . . . and the film . . . The possibility that he was making a film about the life of William Randolph Hearst began to be noised about. Hearst was one of the richest and most powerful men in America." Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons both " . . . began to run an almost embarrassing amount of publicity about Orson in their respective columns, which reached thousands of newspapers and millions of readers."
Gregg Toland " . . . one of Hollywood's most distinguished cameramen . . . " was hired as the Director of Photography . . . Welles also learned that Toland was another Hearst exile. Before being expelled, like Mankiewicz, for overly alcoholized behavior in the presence of Hearst, Toland had spent many weekends at the San Simeon castle. Experience with Hearst and the details of his surroundings would definitely add dimension to Toland's vision of the film. Permission from MGM, Toland's home studio, had to be secured for him to work on an RKO film; when this was granted, a contract was signed."
Mankiewicz said " . . . he wanted to write some of the scenes of the script itself. Since a number of the good ideas were actually his, Welles felt that ethically he should allow Mankiewicz to work on it. However, Welles' contract with RKO specifically stated that the film was to be produced, directed, performed and written by him, the implication being solely by him. There was no possibility, he thought, of amending the contract, nor did he want to. The studio wanted his name exclusively attached to all areas for the publicity value of his 'boy genius' reputation, and he agreed." In addition, Mankiewicz, agreed to work on the script, together with Welles and Houseman, without receiving credit (i.e., as an employee of Welles' production company), thus in copyright terms creating a "work made for hire". John Houseman was " . . . also involved in the story conferences, and everybody's ideas were discussed and carefully considered."
Mankiewicz and Houseman isolated themselves in a house in Victorville (east of Los Angeles) and started revising " . . . a very rough script of the project (already) written by Welles, entitled John Citizen, U.S.A., a three-hundred page version consisting mostly of dialogue and a few camera directions . . . During the twelve weeks that Mankiewicz and Houseman worked together in the desert, the latter traveled frequently to Los Angeles to confer with Welles." Orson Welles also " . . . occasionally visited the ranch to check on the progress and to offer criticism and suggestions concerning scenes, dialogue, and narrative progression. In twelve weeks' time, a script emerged, retitled American. The basic plot of 'American' is the story of a controversial American publishing tycoon told in retrospect after his death through a series of recollections of people who knew him well."
Relatively early in the process, the Hays Office " . . . was already nitpicking the script and suggesting all kinds of excisions and changes on the grounds of obscenity or bad taste, many of which the studio agreed should be made . . . All requested changes were eventually made by Welles." In addition, a subsequent " . . . complete reworking of the script was undertaken . . . " to meet the objections of RKO's legal department that " . . . 'American' was too close a portrait of Hearst . . . " The script for Citizen Kane apparently suffered through " . . . seven complete revisions . . . " with contributions being made by Welles, Mankiewicz, Houseman, Schaefer, Toland, members of the RKO legal staff and the Hays Office. "For many reasons, Welles could not use a great deal of the script of American, errors of continuity, logic, and motivation being the most prominent . . . Welles also believed that some scenes, as Mankiewicz wrote them, were too exaggerated. 'In the original script, the bad guy was really bad,' Orson told an interviewer on BBC years later . . . " Orson's concepts prevailed and he went about to sculpt the screenplay in a more ethereal way." George Schaefer actually came up with " . . . the title, Citizen Kane" Also, "Welles kept insisting to Schaefer that the film was not about Hearst, that elements of many of the rich press lords and financial tycoons of America could easily be found in the personality of Kane . . . But no matter how much Welles attempted to convince the skeptics, the evidence of similarity between the Kane character and Hearst was overwhelming . . . "
In a court proceeding years later, Mankiewicz gave his account of how the idea of the Welles film began, saying that it " . . . evolved out of a discussion of technique: a character would be shown in a March of Time sequence, and then the film would tell about the person. 'We were going to The Life of Dumas, remembered Mankiewicz, 'and then I told him about how I would be interested in doing a picture based on Hearst and Marion Davis. I just kept telling him everything I knew about them. I was interested in them and I went into all kinds of details . . . It wasn't really Citizen Kane at all, because we were going to do a great love story, which . . . Citizen Kane didn't turn out to be . . . "
Film critic Pauline Kael later wrote an essay entitled Raising Kane, first published in The New Yorker in 1971 which attempted to " . . . elevate Mankiewicz's position as the principal screenwriter on the film . . . " Kael also wrote a subsequent book, The Citizen Kane Book (Little, Brown), with her famous essay Raising Kane, which argues that the contribution of writer Herman Mankiewicz to the production has been under appreciated . . . " The primary purpose of Ms. Kael's book and essay appear to be to discredit Orson Welles. They thus also appear to be an additional examples of how Hollywood uses the press rewrite history, to honor its heroes and diminish the work of Hollywood outsiders. In any case, the question of who ought to be credited with writing the script for Citizen Kane that Pauline Kael was so concerned about is a non-issue for purposes of this book. It is enough to know that several people (those named above) made valuable contributions to the script. Besides, whatever contributions Herman Mankiewicz made to the script were made as an employee of Orson Welles' production company, Mankiewicz' writing was being paid for by the Welles' firm (supported financially by RKO) and the writing was being accomplished under the supervision of Orson Welles, pursuant to an agreement signed by Mankiewicz. Therefore all credit for such work legally belonged to Orson Welles and anyone's claim on behalf of Mankiewicz for most or even more credit for the Citizen Kane script is simply inappropriate.
What is important for purposes of the Hollywood insider/outsider analysis is that Mankiewicz was an old Hollywood pro, who had lots of contacts within the Hollywood insider community, that he was the primary source of much of the malicious information in the film directed toward Hearst, a man that Welles hardly knew, and that Mankiewicz, therefore, must take much of the responsibility for shaping the film as a vicious attack on a prominent U.S. citizen, another Hollywood outsider. In fact, as noted above, some of what Mankiewicz wrote was apparently so vicious, that Welles, the RKO legal staff, the Hays office and others had to tone it down.
In any case, the " . . . picture caused one of the greatest storms of controversy in the history of the film business." Hearst lawyers and others " . . . dissected it scene by scene . . . The film portrays a wealthy by tyrannically ambitious man who seeks political power. In the failed process, he dies a lonely death in a ghoulish castle. There are many brazen references to (William Randolph Hearst) portraying him as an arrogant, megalomaniacal newspaper publisher drained of human compassion. His character is framed in one scene of doom after another. The moral is: Having gained the world, he loses his soul."
The story is actually about a wealthy and powerful publishing magnate who dies. The final word he uttered was "Rosebud". A newsreel producer sends his reporters out to discover what the term means and in the process the life of the publisher is told in the film through a series of interviews with various people who knew him. It appears at the end of the story that the word "Rosebud" is the name of a sled that belonged to the publisher as a child and is thus " . . . a symbol of his lost and innocent childhood." In addition, the " . . . parallel to Marion Davies was strong in the scenes of Susan's drinking, doing jigsaw puzzles, complaining of having no friends at the castle, and so on . . . "
Even " . . . Welles has admitted that the final scene, with Welles himself playing Charles Foster Kane, is a 'gimmick.' Kane's last word is 'rosebud,' a bleak, obscure reference to something in his childhood--perhaps recognition of a lost youthful innocence. Welles described it as 'rather dollar-book Freud.'" According to Hearst, Jr. "[t]hat was no cinematic artistry speaking. It was box-office bucks. Welles dismissed the staged scene as a Freudian subtext of a poor, little, rich boy who never recovered from the loss of his mother. All of this is set in place as part of a moral judgment of (Hearst, Sr.)." Hearst, Jr. writes that it " . . . is an inaccurate debasement of his person." Hearst, Jr. further contends that "Welles and Mankiewicz targeted (Hearst, Sr.) . . . because his life was big box office." On the other hand, Hearst, Jr. admits that he was told that " . . . at the time, Citizen Kane didn't make money." Of course, filmmakers who are seeking big box-office do not necessarily succeed, particularly if exhibitors are afraid to show the film, which was the case with Citizen Kane.
Brady reports that what is " . . . known and agreed upon by all concerned is that Mankiewicz came up with the concept of 'Rosebud', the enigmatic word uttered by the dying mogul, the verbal icon around which the film revolves." Film critic Roger Ebert reports that some sources in Hollywood indicate that " . . . Mankiewicz, used 'rosebud' as an inside joke, because as a friend of Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies, he knew 'rosebud' was the old man's pet name for the most intimate part of her anatomy." Welles biographer Frank Brady, also reports that the story " . . . made its way into the popular press in the late 1970s . . . " suggesting the " . . . even more personal reason why Hearst was upset over Citizen Kane. It was claimed that Hearst's pet name for Marion Davies' pudenda (external genital organs) was 'rosebud.'" Again, this entire episode really represents an example of an old-time Hollywood writer who had been around, taking advantage of a young first-time director and trying to use the young director's first film as a vicious and revengeful attack on William Randolph Hearst. Mankiewicz succeeded in that regard.
By 1941, Welles had finished Citizen Kane, the film that " . . . would eventually become known as the greatest movie of all time . . . But he was having trouble getting it released . . . To many observers, Charles Foster Kane bore an uncanny resemblance to William Randolph Hearst, the aging press tycoon who lived in San Simeon, his famous California castle. And to Hearst's underlings, Citizen Kane was so unflattering to their boss that they banned all mention of it from the Hearst papers, radio stations, and wire services. For good measure, they also banned all mention of every other movie from the same studio, RKO Radio Pictures." "Schaefer began to feel pressure from various RKO studio executives and members of the board of directors . . . To confess that he had erred in contracting the controversial Welles, and to have to cancel one of RKO's major features of that season (an $800,000 investment) would have meant his almost immediate removal as the president of the corporation."
Hearst syndicated columnist "Louella Parsons made it clear to everyone that if 'Citizen Kane' was released, other Hollywood notables would be exposed in Hearst papers and Hearst would also wage a relentless campaign against the hiring of aliens in the motion picture industry . . . " She warned that" . . . the refugee situation will be looked into . . . At a time when many American-born Hollywood writers were unemployed, the studio heads had given employment to many aliens, including some German-Jewish writers who couldn't speak English." (See related discussion at "A Preference for European Immigrants" in Legacy of the Hollywood Empire).
Louis B. Mayer, the man who authorized the loaning of cinematographer Gregg Toland from MGM to RKO for his work on Citizen Kane, with knowledge that the film might be about Mayer's supposed friend William Randolph Hearst, " . . . acted outraged over the idea of a film about Hearst and the possible repercussions to the industry and promised Louella he would lead a cause to stop it. Louella also called producers Joseph Schenck, Nicholas Schenck, Y. Frank Freeman, Darryl Zanuck, and David O. Selznick to enlist their aid and received, if not outright support, a certain sympathy from all of them. What could be so important about another picture by a Hollywood newcomer if it meant a Hearst retaliation that could hurt the entire motion picture industry, they reasoned. And a national newspaper campaign attacking the large number of European aliens and refugee talent then employed in Hollywood could prove embarrassing."
In a call to Mayer " . . . Hearst did not specifically threaten the movie industry, but he quietly claimed that in order to protect himself and other publishers from additional attacks from studios, he felt he would have to do something in retaliation. He pointed out to Mayer the many times he had buried or canceled a scandalous story, for example, about a drunken studio executive and a starlet, and how on many occasions he would plug an ailing film or publish lavish picture stories about it and its stars when a film needed pushing at the box office . . . "
Louella was relentless. " . . . She then called, one by one, every member of the RKO board of directors and threatened them with fictional accounts of their lives in Hearst papers and magazines if Citizen Kane was released." It is doubtful that if such a controversial film had been produced by a Hollywood major studio/distributor that was then controlled by Hollywood insiders, that she would have gone about the effort to stop the release of the film in the same reckless manner. Further, it appears quite likely that Louella Parsons had additional motivation for her attacks. Only a few days after the Orson Welles "Mercury Theatre On the Air" radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (October 30, 1938) Campbell's Soup chose to sponsor the weekly CBS dramatic radio series and "began making plans to cancel another program that it sponsored, Hollywood Hotel, hosted by gossip columnist Louella Parsons." Thus, it is also possible that Louella Parsons had her own personal reasons for attacking the Orson Welles film.
As Roger Ebert reports, during one extraordinary moment " . . . in the negotiations leading up to the release of Citizen Kane, the very existence of the film was in doubt. Terrified by the possibility of an anti-Hollywood campaign by the Hearst press, a group of industry leaders, led by MGM's Louis B. Mayer, offered RKO a cash settlement to simply destroy the film. It would have covered RKO's costs and added a small profit. But by then Welles had already sneak- previewed the movie to so many powerful opinion-makers that it was too late to sweep it under the rug." Schaefer refused the offer. Welles was also advised by legal counsel that if "RKO refused to release the picture . . . he might be able to sue the studio for breach of contract, since he . . . held a one-fourth interest in the profits of the film . . . " Meanwhile, RKO's Schaefer began a carefully orchestrated series of screenings to industry leaders of the film resulting in such " . . . plaudits as, '[o]ne of the greatest motion pictures that ever came out of Hollywood.'" "Almost everyone who had seen the film considered it, if not a masterpiece, at least a work of art."
Finally, an opening date for the public " . . . in those theaters around the country that would consent to exhibit . . . " was set for " . . . the first week of May 1941 . . . (and) the film opened to strong reviews . . . " "During the summer of 1941, Citizen Kane was road-shown throughout the United States as part of RKO's block-booking policy. A number of theaters took the film, paid for it, but then refused to exhibit it, writing off their rental fees as a loss. All of the Fox theaters on the West Coast took it but dared not show it, citing fear of the Hearst corporation for their reluctance." In addition, the film " . . . could not play in the major theaters in many cities, because they were block-booked by the big studios which boycotted it." In essence, Citizen Kane never did get a proper national release. Not surprisingly, after " . . . several months, RKO's corporate ledgers indicated . . . red ink. The greatest motion picture of all time had lost $150,000 . . . " At Academy Award time in February of 1942 the film " . . . had received no less than nine nominations." It won for Best Original Screenplay. Of course, if the Hollywood insiders can make the "greatest motion picture of all time . . . " lose money at the box office, just imagine what the implications are for the great majority of films that are released today, and how ridiculous it often is for anyone to assert that a film did not perform well at the box office because it was a bad film, or that a film company failed because audiences did not want to see their movies. There is obviously more going on here than is generally known or reported by the trade press.
Fifty years later, on May 1, 1991, Citizen Kane was " . . . re-released at two Manhattan movie theaters. The New York Times described those openings as 'the movie event of the year, one of the two most glorious achievements of American black-and-white cinema.' The other was D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. Many respected industry greats and movie critics view the film as an artistic classic. In particular, cameraman Gregg Toland apparently shot magnificent deep-focus scenes, a technique allowing audiences to see objects far and near with equal clarity in the same frame. This is especially effective since the four major movements of the film are flashback recollections . . . However, there is a critical difference between artistic and moral stature. A film can be cinematically outstanding but morally reprehensible. Essentially, (Hearst, Jr. states that he believes) . . . that to be the case concerning Citizen Kane."
In any event, on July 1 of 1942, the Orson Welles Mercury Productions unit was ordered to " . . . vacate its offices on the . . . lot . . . the order came 'at a time when Citizen Kane has been judged one of the outstanding pictures in 1941 . . . " Another Welles film The Magnificent Ambersons was " . . . receiving unusually high praise from the critics' . . . " and Welles had gone to Brazil " . . . at the request of the Washington Coordinating Office to make a picture in the interest of hemispheric solidarity . . . " In addition, Kane had not " . . . earned its cost because it had yet to be booked by a major-chain distributor. As Time (magazine), a staunch Welles defender, pointed out: 'Most moviegoers have never been given a chance to see Kane" Of course, that is also true of many of the independently produced motion pictures of today, audiences never get a chance to see them.
In the wake of the Citizen Kane controversy, Time wrote " . . . Hollywood . . . appeared to be destroying its greatest masterpiece . . . " Even though RKO eventually decided to release the film " . . . it was doubtful that the major, producer-owned circuits would immediately play it. One company head, identified by insiders as Harry Warner, let it be known that RKO would have to put up a $1 million bond to protect his houses against possible suits." "The Hearst papers had always protected the moguls . . . " and the moguls protected Hearst.
Roger Ebert states that the " . . . legends of Citizen Kane and Orson Welles were, in the next half century, to become one of the central myths of Hollywood: How a boy genius in his mid-twenties was given a completely free rein to make exactly the movie he wanted to make, and how in response he made the greatest movie of all time, only to see both the film and his own career chewed up and spat out by the venal, small-minded Hollywood establishment. Welles became the great outsider hero of cinema . . . " Unfortunately, Ebert's statement of the legend is inaccurate in at least one important respect. Welles was not given a " . . . free rein to make exactly the movie he wanted to make . . . " It would be more accurate to characterize the youthful Welles' plight as that of kid walking into a hurricane, under time pressures to produce, with Mankiewicz pushing to portray Hearst in even more damaging ways, and with Houseman, Schaefer, the RKO legal staff and the Hays Office all exerting pressure for their views to be inserted in the script. It took a genius to survive that buzz saw.
Although " . . . the question of who did what to create the script has long been open to debate and speculation . . . " it is not necessary (as noted earlier) to finally and precisely answer that question in order to provide support for the theory of Hollywood offered by this book. It is only necessary to recognize that Herman Mankiewicz contributed significant ideas and dialogue for the script, that Mankiewicz was more closely tied to the Hollywood insider community that Orson Welles and that it appears that Mankiewicz was at least partly motivated by vindictiveness toward Hearst, while others were motivated by vindictiveness towards Welles.
Thus, this book's interpretation of the Citizen Kane affair is that it was nothing more than another example of the ongoing war for control of Hollywood between the Hollywood insiders and outsiders. Most of the Hollywood studios did not want to sponsor a direct assault on the powerful press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, but secretly wanted the film made and hoped it would be as scathing as possible. One of their associates (or as Betty Lasky would say "henchmen" if referring to someone other than a Hollywood insider), Herman Mankiewicz helped significantly in that regard. Steering the film to a rival studio, also owned by a wealthy Hollywood outsider (the son of a Methodist minister, Floyd B. Odlum) was the perfect opportunity to do severe damage to the interests of Hearst, Odlum, and the up and coming young whipper-snapper Orson Welles, all of whose meddling in the business of the Hollywood insiders was resented by the Hollywood insider establishment. The film defamed Hearst, helped to destroy Orson Welles' young career in film and the Hearst counter-attack nearly fatally wounded the Odlum owned RKO. A nice bit of work by the Hollywood insiders, or just another day at the office for the Hollywood establishment.
Even though still " . . . somewhat alienated from the Hollywood establishment . . . " Orson Welles " . . . was presented with a special award for his lifetime achievement in motion pictures . . . (during) the 1970 Academy Awards ceremony . . . " Also, in 1975 Welles " . . . received . . . the Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute . . . " As Frank Brady points out, the " . . . irony of the moment rested in the fact that Orson was being feted by people in the industry who, for years had refused to work with him, to give him acting roles, or to finance his films; yet they still claimed to have recognized his greatness as a cinematic genius."
Some forty years after the film was produced, " . . . Orson admitted that (the film's) . . . portrait of Susan Alexander Kane as a vacuous Marion Davies was a joke, 'a dirty trick,' played on Hearst to enrage him." In 1982 Orson Welles flew to Paris " . . . to accept what he considered to be the greatest and most prestigious award of his career, the French Legion of Honor." In the presentation, French President Francois Mitterrand stated: "You have expressed through film what is deepest in the human soul and reached a universal audience . . . "
Following Welles' death of natural causes in October of 1985 " . . . film people invariably eulogized him: 'We all wish we could have made more use of Orson's genius,' Janet Leigh said. John Huston saw an element of sadness in Welles' life: 'What a shame . . . that one of the finest talents motion pictures has ever had was rejected out-of-hand.' Charlton Heston proclaimed: 'We have lost the most talented man I ever knew.'"
At a memorial service held a few days after Orson Welles' death in the Director's Guild of America auditorium, Welles' longtime companion Oja Kodar appeared " . . . outraged and bitter, her face streaked with tears. It was clear that she was disturbed over the presence in the audience of some of the very people, uninvited guests now mourning Orson, who wouldn't even lift a telephone receiver to help him when he was alive. She talked of the 'dreary little selves whose fingers are still sticky from plucking at his wings' . . . the audience gave her a thundering ovation. Virtually everyone in the auditorium, especially those who worked in motion pictures, was feeling outraged and depressed and at least somewhat guilty. Some commented, afterward, that they wondered at the time why they hadn't helped Orson more." It is likely that they did not help him for the same reason it is difficult to organize the creative community today. Most all of the people working in Hollywood are still intimidated by the major studios, and are so concerned with their own futile careers that few, if any, are willing to take the necessary steps to bring about long-term, lasting reform in the film industry.
At the inauguration of a new national film theater in the Hague, a retrospective of Orson Welles' films was chosen to launch the opening "In the fall of 1981, some thirty international film directors, including Bernardo Bertolucci of Italy and Roger Vadim of France, and 350 other guests, honored Orson at a Hollywood Foreign Press Association tribute dinner given at the Beverly Hilton." "In this country, and perhaps internationally, there can be no history of the cinema, no archive of broadcasting, no chronicle of the stage, that can fail to include among its pages the name of Orson Welles as one of its most illustrious talents." The New York Times' Eugene Archer after reviewing Orson Welles' film Mr. Arkadin in 1962 said the film (produced during Welles' stay in Europe) was " . . . the work of a man with unmistakable genius for the film medium." "A group of French critics . . . proclaimed Mr. Arkadin one of the twelve best films every made." Actress Nancy Guild (Black Magic--1949), described Orson Welles as the " . . . most exciting director I've every worked with." And movie director Henry King (Prince of Foxes--1949) described Orson Welles as " . . . the most cooperative actor I've every worked with . . . " He was selected as Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal in Compulsion (1959).
On May 6, 1985, in celebration of Orson Welles 70th birthday, " . . . the BBC repeated its renowned 1982 interview (with Welles) and showed a few of his more distinguished directoral efforts. Then London's National Film Theatre screened a program of Welles' films over several months. England seemed to be saying that even if the United States was too blind to recognize one of its own greatest filmmakers, they were not." Columnist James Brady called Orson Welles " . . . arguably the most talented man this country's movie business every had . . . " and went on to lament the fact that Welles had " . . . been reduced to doing work that any hack could do while 'Hollywood shells out millions to 'B' actors in 'C' movies made by 'D' Directors.'" In an appearance before a group of film students at NYU in 1942, Orson Welles was once introduced as "the most original, creative force in motion pictures since D.W. Griffith . . . " Ironically, this great filmmaking talent was only permitted by the Hollywood establishment to make 12 films in his lifetime. As Frank Brady points out, Welles, " . . . still had ideas to express, images to make, messages to send, films to shoot."
Of course, all of this recognition for Welles is not nearly as important as the tragedy of the U.S. film industry's failure to help Orson Welles express more of his vision through movies. The entire U.S. population and the people of the world have suffered that great loss due primarily to the fact that the U.S. film industry is controlled by people who place a greater emphasis on controlling the creative process, communicating the messages they approve and making huge amounts of money, than allowing filmmakers to more freely express themselves through film. Even more important today, is that the greedy Hollywood insider's club continues to destroy the careers and lives of many of our most talented creative people.
Andre' Bazin pointed out that, " . . . like the careers of D.W. Griffith, Erich von Stroheim, Abel Gance, and Sergei Eisenstein, the life of Orson Welles could be seen as a prime example of an artist faced with intractable social or commercial obstacles in the attempt to exercise his art, and like Robert Flaherty and Mace Sennett, he just could not figure out how to work in the Hollywood system." On the other hand, maybe it is time for us to realize that our great filmmaking artists should not have to change in order to " . . . work in the Hollywood system . . . " but that this defective system should be abolished and replaced with an industry that values creativity and diversity (see the discussion relating to remedies in Motion Picture Industry Reform) an industry that is not divided between insiders and outsiders.
Howard Hughes--Howard Hughes was born on September 24, 1905 in Humble, Texas (just to the East of Houston) to parents from Episcopalian and Baptist families, oil wildcatter Howard Robard "Bo" Hughes and Dallas heiress Allene Gano. Howard's father "founded the Texas Fuel Oil Company in 1903, which later became Texaco." By November 20, 1908, Bo Hughes " . . . had invented the Hughes tool bit, which, improved yearly for most of a decade, (was) marketed all over the world (and) . . . formed the basis of the countless millions of the Hughes fortune . . . " which Howard inherited at an early age after both of his parents passed away.
In 1926, at age 20, Howard Hughes began investing money " . . . in Hollywood films. Among the pictures he produced in the late '20s and early '30s were such quality productions as Two Arabian Knights, The Front Page, and Scarface. But he made his name in the industry as the producer-director of Hell's Angels (1930), a film notable for its opulent aerial action scenes and for launching the career of Jean Harlow . . . "
According to author Charles Higham, by " . . . 1929, Hughes had become established as a filmmaker of great enterprise and daring, even before Hell's Angels was finished, but only with the public; the heads of the film industry, dominated by the great studios MGM, Warners, and Paramount, as a whole detested him, not least because of his gross anti-Semitism, his refusal to succumb to the controlling interests, and his mania for independence." An interpretation of this Higham quote, more in line with the insider/outsider theory of Hollywood would suggest that the Hollywood moguls (insiders) detested Hughes from the very first days in which he attempted to play a role in the film community and that the accusations of anti-Semitism came about as part of the Hollywood insider's effort to discredit Hughes. After all, neither Higham nor others have actually produced conclusive evidence of Howard Hughes' alleged anti-Semitic behavior (see the discussion below relating to "The Anti-Semitic Sword").
In 1929, Hughes made, The Racket, directed by Lewis Milestone, " . . . an expose' of Chicago gangsterdom . . . " The film's " . . . villain, Scarsi, (was) based on the scarred Al Capone. It was a forceful, violent movie that was cut to ribbons by censorship. Hughes fought with Will Hays, guardian of movie morals, and charged Paramount and Jesse Lasky with yielding to Hay's absurd restrictions . . . He even carried the fight into court, charging that Hays was in the pay of corrupt politicians exposed by the movie and that the cutting of the picture created a dangerous political precedent. Paramount refused to support him, and he was forced to give up. The picture did well, but not sufficiently well to recoup his investment, and he had equally disappointing results with a subsequent picture, The Mating Call, based on a story by Rex Beach." If, as reported by Higham, a motion picture does "well", that means it did well at the box office. When the same picture, however, does not recoup the producer's investment, it may well mean that most of the money the picture made was kept by the exhibitors and/or distributor, and that is why the producer did not recoup (see The Feature Film Distribution Deal).
When Hell's Angels was completed, Hughes " . . . decided to stage the most lavish opening of any movie to date; he made a deal with showman Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman's Chinese Theater (on Hollywood Boulevard), not only to open the picture, but to handle its nationwide exhibition. He confirmed an earlier deal with Joe Schenck at United Artists to distribute the movie." Hughes " . . . forbade any advance previews, any interviews with the stars before the movie was released, and every detail of the plot was hidden from reporters. When the zealous editor of the Los Angeles Examiner insisted on invading the Metropolitan studios in person to pick up information, Hughes called the newspaper's owner, William Randolph Hearst, and had the man removed."
The giant premiere took place on May 27, 1930. Although the audience did not appear to respond favorably to the film at first, " . . . once the bombing raid on London began, and the Zeppelin emerged, the crowd gasped and there were sporadic outbursts of clapping . . . When the intermission came, there was a hubbub of excited comment. People walked over to shout their congratulations to Hughes across the seats." At the end of the movie " . . . the audience leapt to its feet and cheered for twenty minutes. It was the greatest night of Howard Hughes' life. But instead of partying in celebration, he worked all night, making notes, calling in his editors to maketrims and tighten certain scenes." The hugely successful film opening did nothing to enhance Hughes' relationship with the Hollywood movie moguls who both feared his independence (i.e., their lack of control over him) and were jealous of his success. Even as recent as 1987, Steven Scheuer considers Hell's Angels the " . . . most famous aerial drama of the early thirties . . . " and in his review Scheuer states that the film " . . . still packs a wallop." Hughes is actually credited as the director for Hell's Angels.
Everywhere Hell's Angels opened (1930), " . . . there were brass bands and banners, searchlights and cheers. Almost overnight, Hughes was the most famous picture-maker in America . . . In October, Hughes moved into new facilities at the United Artists studio." Unfortunately, despite the film's " . . . international success . . . it never earned its money back." According to Higham, "[f]our million dollars was too much to recoup when ticket costs, away from the big cities, were a mere twenty-five cents." Of course, it would be quite interesting to challenge the above Higham statement and find out what the largest number of paid admissions to any movie to that date was and to determine the average ticket price (including the big cities). Then if researchers could determine or reasonably speculate about the deal as between the exhibitor and distributor and the deal as between the distributor and the producer, an estimate could be made as to how much money was received by each on Hughes' film, thus shedding some objective light on whether the above Charles Higham statement is a reasonable statement or again, simply what the Hollywood insider's want most everyone to believe.
Hughes had been a guest from time to time at the William Randolph Hearst mansion at San Simeon since as early as 1928. "On one of his trips to San Simeon . . . Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies, introduced (Hughes) . . . to the stunning star Billie Dove . . . Hughes (subsequently) bought her contract from Jack Warner at the First National Studios. Nervous about Billie Dove's rather high-pitched voice, which might ruin her in talkies, Warner was happy to let her go, but held out for $250,000. He deceived Hughes into thinking she had great value and he was about to renew her contract. Hughes paid Warner the money and her agent $85,000 for her services for five movies . . . a decision he would have cause to regret."
After his experience with Hell's Angels, Hughes " . . . decided to try . . . to make outright winners on medium budgets. Overlooking her tinny voice, Hughes committed himself to turning Billie Dove into a major talkie star. He hired writers to cook up vehicles for her. The first of these The Age for Love, (1931) was (supposedly) . . . poorly written . . . [t]he second, Cock of the Air . . . " ran into difficulties with the censors. Hughes also made Sky Devils starring " . . . Spencer Tracy and William Boyd . . . " during this period but it was apparently " . . . a failure at the box office . . . " Here again, we may have an example of a writer spouting the industry line about why Hughes' films failed (i.e., his mistake in overlooking the tinny voice of Billie Dove, poor writing, censorship problems). On the other hand, Higham and other industry writers have consistently overlooked the more likely reasons why all independent films fail, even today (i.e., the majors either squeeze them off of the limited number of screens available in the marketplace or take away the profits using the hundreds of business practices described in this book and its companion volume The Feature Film Distribution Deal).
Following the successful premiere of Hell's Angels, Hughes " . . . offered Joe Schenck $3 million to buy (part ownership of the distributor United Artists) . . . but ran into much irritating red tape in the negotiations and finally gave up." Keep in mind that the Hollywood insiders had just recently gained control of this distributor from its founding group of actors and directors, the "lunatics" that had taken "over the asylum" as the movie moguls referred to UA's founders. They were not about to let it get back into the hands of an outsider. This attempt by Hughes to purchase a distributor also suggests that Hughes knew what caused his less than satisfactory financial experience with the distribution of Hell's Angels and quickly learned the single most important lesson about film distribution, (i.e., the distributor controls the flow of revenue on a film's backside, and without that control of revenue, neither film producers nor outside investors are not likely to be able to fairly participate in the upside financial potential of their own films).
In 1931, another Hughes film The Front Page was released. It was " . . . based on the celebrated stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It evoked the vicious, unprincipled, dynamic life of a top newspaper (Lewis Milestone directed) . . . The picture was shot at record speed, in barely a month . . . (and) came out to rapturous reviews." Unfortunately, " . . . censor Will Hays insisted on certain trims when the dialogue became too racy, and (the film) . . . was banned outright in Chicago (because of critical statements about Chicago politicians in the text)." Hughes quarreled violently with Joe Schenck for failing to give the picture sufficient weight in promotion. He charged that Schenck was favoring Sam Goldwyn's more heavyweight prestige productions . . . .Hughes plunged several hundred thousand dollars of his own money into additional advertising."
Hughes subsequently " . . . embarked on an even more ambitious project: Scarface. He hired Ben Hecht to write the script." The story was about an Al Capone-like character (Tony Camonte), " . . . who rises from criminal's bodyguard to czar of the Chicago underworld. Camonte would be shown slaughtering everyone who stood in his way as he ran the beer rackets in South Chicago." Howard Hawks was chosen as director and the " . . . Jewish theater star Paul Muni (was selected) . . . to play Camonte . . . As his counterpart . . . George Raft (was cast as Muni's) . . . oily-haired sidekick. Constantly tossing a nickel . . . smirking in the face of disaster, Raft would prove to be as unforgettable as Muni himself."
On October 1, 1931, Will Hays previewed Scarface. He " . . . informed Hughes it was unacceptable and . . . insisted on a new ending . . . " Hughes and his publicist Lincoln Quarberg " . . . began making charges that Hays himself was in the pay of the mob and that the industry was afraid of exposing government corruption. When this failed, he was forced by Hays to put together a clumsy prologue (to the film) in which newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst called attention to the evils of crime. Hays (then decided) . . . this was simply Hearst selling his own newspapers, (and) forbade the prologue, and had a new one inserted in which the New York Police Commissioner called for legislation forbidding the sale and shipment of guns." In mid- November " . . . Hays decided the title Scarface was unacceptable, and that it should be called by a title that would draw attention to Capone's disgrace and imprisonment. Hughes fought against this. But with $800,000 tied up in it, he dared not risk the picture's being nationally banned."
On January 3, 1932, the title The Shame of a Nation was settled on. On January 12, on Hay's orders, Hughes had " . . . a dreadful scene, inserted into the middle of the picture, in which a Hearst-like newspaper publisher addresses a civic-minded group in his office to discuss the necessity for wiping out crime." In the meantime, " . . . the mob threatened Hughes' life . . . The picture was still without an official production seal, and all theater chains refused it until that seal was granted. There was nothing Hughes could do. He was forced to put his staff on half-salary. The Depression was seriously affecting the Hughes Tool Company . . . The disasters of (other Hughes films) The Age for Love and Cock of the Air and fear of the mob's killing him shattered him still further." His publicist Lincoln Quarberg, " . . . begged Hughes to resign from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, make Queer People, and . . . " in effect, tell everyone in Hollywood to get lost. Hughes' repeated bad experiences with the so-called Hays Office, may suggest that he was victimized by the competing studio executives who used their influence over Hays to specifically hurt Hughes' films. A somewhat similar situation exits today with respect to the MPAA ratings board's handling of independent films.
Hughes went ahead and " . . . confirmed an earlier arrangement with Joe Schenck to open Scarface in New Orleans on March 26 under its original title. Quarberg lined up some powerful support; the playwright Robert Sherwood, who was overwhelmed by the picture when he saw it at a private screening in New York, and used his newspaper columns to denounce Hays and Senator La Follette, who introduced the issue into the Congressional Record. Hughes was delighted." He went " . . . to Houston to see old friends and family and to talk to theater owners about releasing Scarface in that city . . . More supporters rallied to Hughes' cause. Columnist Walter Winchell gave radio broadcasts supporting him. Morris L. Ernst of the National Council of Freedom from Censorship condemned Hay's actions. When Joe Schenck proved nervous about pouring money into a promotional campaign, Hughes fired off $10,000 to pay for advertisements . . . "
On April 21, 1932, Wilton A. Barrett, Executive Secretary of the National Board of Review, a special citizens' committee set up to represent appropriate moral views, cabled Hughes: "WE ENDORSE SCARFACE." Hughes opened Scarface to " . . . standing ovations in New Orleans. He flew with . . . (the film's director) Howard Hawks to Houston for the opening. So overwhelming was public opinion that Hays was forced to give the picture a seal . . . The reviews were excellent . . . (and) [b]y June, Scarface was a hit."
Hughes had become " . . . exhausted by the long struggle with Will Hays and had begun to feel that he should follow Quarberg's suggestion and resign from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. The news was greeted with relief, and in some cases, rapture, by the association's members (the Hollywood insiders)." As Higham points out, Hughes' reported " . . . hatred of paying his workers and his reckless disregard of human safety were hypocritically disapproved by many studio bosses who did exactly the same every day in their nefarious dealings. But the fact that he was an outsider, a pigheaded independent, branded him permanently; and his snappish remarks about such moguls as the Warner Brothers and Louis B. Mayer ('king kikes') did him in. He got out of the MPPDA in the summer of 1932, and went a step further: he abandoned motion pictures altogether, disbanded his team, let Quarberg go, and pursued a greater love than movies: flying."
Among his flying exploits, Hughes made aviation history flying at " . . . a record-breaking 325 miles per hour . . . " in September of 1935 before a group of airborne judges (Amelia Earhart . . . the famed pilot Paul Mantz, and the National Aviation Association's Lawrence Thorkelson." On January 13, 1936, he broke the transcontinental flight record making the flight from Los Angeles to New York in " . . . nine hours, twenty-seven minutes . . . " breaking " . . . Colonel Roscoe Turner's record of just over ten hours . . . On April 21 (of that same year), he broke another record, flying . . . into difficult crosswinds from Miami to New York in four hours, twenty-one minutes." "On March 3, 1937, President Roosevelt presented the Harmon International Trophy for best aviator of the year to Hughes in a celebration at the White House. Hughes was only the third individual to win the coveted award; the others were Charles Lindbergh and Wiley Post."
On July 10, 1938 Hughes flew from Floyd Bennett Field on the East coast of the U.S. to Paris " . . . in a record-breaking sixteen hours, thirty-five minutes--less than half the time made by Charles Lindbergh." That flight was merely the first leg of an around-the-world flight in which officials clocked Hughes in another record " . . . he had circled the globe, a distance of 14,716 miles, in exactly three days, nineteen hours, and eight minutes." "Hughes was, overnight, America's idol." He was honored with a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. "He was the symbol of American bravery and enterprise in the midst of the Depression." "In the wake of his world flight . . . " Hughes worth was estimated at " . . . about $60 million . . . (and) [b]y 1940 . . . he was . . . earning, from the Hughes Tool Company, close to two million a month . . . ." Such exploits illustrate what can be accomplished with money, drive and talent in an industry that values achievement.
Subsequent to these aviation exploits, however, Hughes " . . . decided to return to the motion picture business." Hiring Howard Hawks to direct again, they " . . . put together The Outlaw, for release through United Artists . . . " The " . . . screenplay was finished in March, 1940." Hughes had to do battle once again with the censors (this time for seven months), after which " . . . the censors decided that the entire project was impossible, but Hughes . . . went ahead anyway." Jane Russell was cast for the picture as Billy the Kid's romantic interest. "Howard Hawks began filming the picture in Tuba City, Arizona, in November, 1940." Jane Russell's publicity photographs began appearing " . . . in magazines all over the world (and she) . . . became famous overnight . . . Hughes hired . . . cameraman, Gregg Toland, soon to be famous for Citizen Kane . . . The Outlaw was finished on February 8, 1941. Hughes submitted it to censor Joe Breen on March 28 . . . (who promptly) . . . banned the picture outright." Hughes " . . . put the cans (of film) away in a vault . . . stating that The Outlaw was a victim of censorship, that he was fighting for freedom of expression . . . " Hughes then turned his attention to aircraft building, but in the winter of 1942 began " . . . to revamp the soundtrack of The Outlaw and to make some final cuts that at last would allow it to be shown. He opened The Outlaw for its first public screening in San Francisco . . . (but) police . . . closed the theater. Once again, Hughes . . . locked the picture away in a vault."
Finally, in " . . . the summer of 1945, Hughes decided to take The Outlaw off the shelf and release it . . . (but) Hughes had (according to Charles Higham) so infuriated the film industry that the five and a half million feet of raw film he needed to make prints of the picture were denied him . . . He enlisted the help of a handful of movie executives favorable to him, including Sol Lesser, producer of Tarzan pictures, and director Leo McCarey, whom (Hughes) . . . had under contract in 1930. He engaged the popular Harry Gold, United Artists' sales manager, as general manager of The Outlaw's worldwide distribution."
By early 1946, Hughes " . . . launched a new advertising campaign for The Outlaw, with (more sexy) pictures of Jane Russell . . . Hughes engineered a long list of prominent people who complained to the papers . . . " about the film being censored. When the picture finally opened, all over the nation and abroad, the film's promotional campaign " . . . succeeded magnificently. In London, the lines were around the block.." But reviews were sometimes "mocking" and " . . . Maryland banned the picture outright . . . " Hughes subsequently " . . . filed a five-million-dollar lawsuit against the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America for interference with trade in their opposition to The Outlaw. He withdrew from the MPPDA again the same day. In San Francisco, a trial of Hughes by the city for indecency over that picture collapsed when the judge informed the jury that there was nothing disgusting about breasts."
Hughes, of course, was not the only filmmaker who challenged the social mores. For example, director Alfred Green offered Baby Face (Warner--1933) (a pre-production code script) featuring Barbara Stanwyck in a " . . . seductive and aggressive . . . " role in which she " . . . gets off her feet at the speakeasy and climbs the ladder of success by continuing to stay off her feet. In fact, she remains in a horizontal position throughout as she uses and discards men while carving out a career. The portrayal of sexual bartering for favors . . . " in this pre-Hughes film, was described by film critic Steven Scheuer, as " . . . surprisingly tough and cynical." But, this Warner Bros. production was not censored and banned like the Hughes film.
In 1948, at the age of forty-two, Hughes began to think about buying a studio. "While casting about, he began reorganizing his 7000 Romaine Street headquarters (in Hollywood) and hired . . . the twenty-seven-year old Bill Gay, a Mormon, to run it." According to Higham, Hughes also told Gay " . . . to staff the headquarters with only Mormons." Although Hughes biographer Charles Higham cites some general sources relating to the Hughes purchase of RKO, he provides no specific cite to support the contention that Hughes told Gay to staff his Hollywood headquarters "with only Mormons." Evenso, Hughes apparently " . . . shopped for a studio . . . " for months. "MGM remained an unshakable bastion under Louis B. Mayer and Nicholas Schenck. Warner Bros., under Jack and Harry Warner, Columbia, run by . . . Harry Cohn, and Universal . . . were equally elusive and entrenched."
But RKO Pictures was up for sale. "It was a small but spunky and vibrant studio under the banner of Hughes' old friend . . . Floyd Odlum, chairman of the multimillion-dollar Atlas Corporation. It was the studio that had made Katharine Hepburn's pictures in the 1930s, and Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire musicals . . . Cary Grant was under contract there (and) . . . John Wayne, was also at RKO . . . There was just one problem (from Hughes' perspective) . . . RKO housed certain directors and writers who had either been fellow travelers or had actually be (or were still) Communists . . . Hughes could take care of that: he would, five years later, cleanse the nest, and satisfy the ever-probing, ever-vigilant House Committee on Un-American Activities and J. Edgar Hoover, who might take the heat off him if he proved to be helpful in political witch- finding." According to Hughes biographer Charles Higham, "[t]wo survivors of RKO from that time, director Richard Fleischer and producer Stanley Rubin, both recall that everyone at the studio was disturbed by the news of the negotiations." On the other hand, it is not likely, that "everyone" at the studio was disturbed, only those RKO employees who wanted to stay on good terms with the Hollywood power structure. Anyway, " . . . the news came through in mid-May that (Hughes) . . . had sealed up the purchase for $8,500,000, a bargain price . . . "
In January of 1948, " . . . the trade papers reported that RKO's . . . board of directors, headed by Odlum, was in San Diego for conferences with Howard Hughes, 'who desires to acquire the RKO company' . . . on May 10 . . . the Hughes deal was consummated: Odlum sold out Atlas's interest in RKO for $8.8 million--$9.50 a share, giving Atlas $17 million total profit on its original investment . . . (although he) . . . would be getting out of RKO far below its 1946 peak of $28 a share." On the other hand, " . . . Odlum still retained 300,000 warrants for purchase of RKO stock at $15 per share . . . Daily Variety advised Hollywood that because of the purchase, Hughes was now the largest single investor in their industry, with more than $16 million of his own money tied up in films." As Betty Lasky reports, "RKO owned 124 theaters, plus a share in about 75 others; Hughes needed theater outlets for his unreleased films. As one (pro- Hollywood) Hughes observer reasoned, Hughes wanted RKO for one purpose alone, to 'shove his Outlaw down the throats of the general public. He doesn't give a damn about the studio itself!'" Obviously, this characterization of the transaction came from another Hollywood mind reader who is sympathetic to the Hollywood insider perspective.
It is both interesting and instructive to note here how extreme Betty Lasky's criticism of Hughes is and how she appears to be so certain of Hughes' bad motives, something that neither she nor anyone else can be that certain of. Even a respected scholar/writer such as Douglas Gomery, can be caught up in the Hollywood propaganda and disinformation about its enemies. He reports, for example, that " . . . [e]ccentric billionaire Howard Hughes bought an ailing RKO in 1948 as a plaything." Unfortunately, Gomery does not provide any evidence that Hughes' motives relating to movie-making were any less sincere than any other studio owner of the day. And Gomery cannot possibly be any more skilled than Lasky at determining what another human being's sole motive for making a major business purchase was.
In any case, following Hughes' purchase of RKO, Rathvon assured " . . . panicky company employees . . . (that) Mr. Hughes has no hungry army of relatives looking for your jobs . . . (a reference to the practice of nepotism so often engaged in by other movie moguls of the day). Rathvon went on to say that he believed Hughes " . . . will be a valuable and constructive influence in our company . . . " Dore Schary also stated that he " . . . had a number of talks with Mr. Hughes, and we are in complete accord on present policy and on the projected program for RKO." According to Lasky, on the other hand, Schary's first private " . . . reaction to the Hughes purchase had been an offer to resign." She states that "[r]ecent history suggested that Hughes was a self-indulgent filmmaker (and) . . . an unmitigated meddler . . . " Lasky goes on to report that " . . . late in June, Schary received instructions from Hughes to postpone production of three films: Battleground, a World War II epic . . . The Set-Up, the prize fight story (to be produced by Richard Goldstone) . . . and William Pereira's Bed of Roses . . . (and, that on) . . . June 30, Schary tendered his resignation." The Katz Film Encyclopedia also reports that Hughes' " . . . inexplicable policies caused most of the RKO staff to resign within months. Those who remained seldom or never met their boss. RKO, once one of Hollywood's major studios, began to resemble a ghost town."
As late as July 8, 1948, RKO's Odlum and Rathvon maintained that the " . . . entry of Howard Hughes into the organization ensures the continued growth of RKO. One thing the industry can be assured of (Rathvon said) . . . [w]e propose to maintain RKO as a leader in the business." The next day one of the Hollywood trade papers reported " . . . that RKO was cutting personnel by 75 percent, despite Rathvon's assurance to employees only a month earlier that their jobs were secure. The manpower cut, already in progress, moved into high gear over the weekend when approximately 800 more studio employees were dropped from the payroll. The lot (according to Lasky) was in turmoil. In a matter of weeks, a skeleton crew of an estimated 600, instead of a normal roster of 2500, was left to keep the studio on its axis . . . Rathvon's tenure under the new regime lasted exactly two weeks." Lasky reports that on " . . . July 23 the harassed president tendered his resignation following what was described by the trade papers as a 'sharp disagreement with Hughes over studio policy." According to Rathvon he had " . . . agreed to remain as president on the understanding that I would function without interference from Mr. Hughes . . . "
According to Lasky, late in July, " . . . Hughes placed an executive committee of two henchmen, C.J. Tevlin and Bicknell Lockhart, and RKO executive producer Sid Rogell in charge of the studio . . . Weighting the combination even more in his own favor, Hughes sent in his official 'talent' executive, the affable Walter Kane, a former well-known talent agency head, to assist in an unofficial capacity."
In any case, according to Lasky, the word went out that " . . . RKO would not schedule any more 'so-called message pictures.' Entertainment values and box-office potential would be the watchwords of the new regime." Also according to Lasky, "[o]n orders from Hughes, Hollywood agents were notified to stop submitting stories. RKO's ten contract producers were instructed to utilize the stockpile of 400 unproduced properties and 1250 produced pictures that were available for remakes. A few weeks later, RKO offered for sale on the open market fifty story properties valued at $1.5 million." A prudent business person might actually consider this move a wise business decision, since RKO had already spent a considerable amount of money developing these assets. But you can be certain, that the Hollywood agents were infuriated because they lost a buyer for their current screenwriter clients. This episode appears to resemble the scrapes David Puttnam and Barry Diller were to subsequently have with agents when they tried to oppose the interests of the powerful Hollywood talent agents years later.
Meanwhile, RKO production " . . . continued at a crawl. The studio was mainly a releasing organization for Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn pictures of varying merit . . . Hughes churned out low-budget action pictures such as The Threat and A Dangerous Profession, or humdrum westerns such as Riders on the Range. But one picture did engage Hughes' attention: The Woman on Pier 13, originally called I Married a Communist, which was made and released in April and May, 1949." Biographer Higham claims that this film " . . . provided proof of Hughes' naive, simple-minded political thinking and became an instant laughingstock with both the critics and the public . . . " On the other hand, Steven Scheuer describes the movie as an " . . . ultra-patriotic saga about a Communist who sees the light of capitalism and tries to reform himself." Scheuer does not indicate anything about the movie becoming " . . . an instant laughingstock . . . " which may simply reflect the rather subjective judgment of biographer Higham himself or that of some of his biased sources. Higham goes on to pretend to know about Hughes' motives, referring to the movie as a " . . . fling at pleasing the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities . . . " The film reportedly cost Hughes $650,000.
Between 1948 and 1952, RKO (along with the other vertically integrated movie studios) was " . . . compelled by government consent decree to separate the theater chain from the studio operation." In addition " . . . several movies (Hughes) . . . had authorized . . . " showed " . . . very poor box office results . . . " Note here that Hughes biographer Higham does not state whether such poor performing movies were "Schary-originated". Nor does Higham offer any analysis of why such movies performed poorly at the box office. For example, was the poor performance of this group of RKO movies due to pressure applied by the competing Hollywood major studio/distributors to friendly exhibitors not to show RKO movies during this period? They certainly had exhibited anti-Hughes tendencies in the past. Again, anyone suggesting that movie box-office performance is the sole criterion for determining the merits of a movie must consider this possibility. After all, if a movie cannot be booked into very many decent theatres due to the anti-competitive pressures of other studios, the movie is not likely to do well at the box-office.
In October, 1949, again, according to Charles Higham, Hughes embarked on " . . . the most disastrous venture of his career so far: Jet Pilot, another anti-Communist propaganda picture, in which Janet Leigh would appear as a Soviet spy, posing as a defector . . . " and the Leigh character flies to Alaska. The script was written by Jules Furthman. After the film's initial director (British Peter Godfry from Warner Bros.) was fired, Furthman recommended that Hughes hire " . . . the failed director Joseph von Sternberg from 'retirement' in New England to take over the reins." After all, a similar ploy with another failed director had already worked once on Joseph P. Kennedy, it might work again with Hughes. Sure enough the " . . . shooting dragged on until May, 1951, a total of seventeen months . . . the longest schedule in RKO's history." The film was not released until 1957 and according to Higham " . . . lost millions."
Hughes had several meetings with outgoing RKO president Rathvon and executive vice president Ned Depinet. "He was determined to reverse a fall in the studio's profits from just over $12 million to just over $5 million, chiefly due to the escalating costs of production and distribution through the RKO theater chain . . . Hughes also had some meetings with Dore Schary, the tall, mild-mannered Jewish RKO production chief . . . Hughes knew from the grapevine that Schary had bad-mouthed him from the moment he began meeting with Odlum, saying he would resign if Hughes took over . . . "
As noted above, Lasky claims Dore Schary resigned, but according to Gomery, Hughes " . . . fired production chief Dore Schary and seven hundred more employees . . . " stringently insisting " . . . on a non-communist purity for studio personnel and product." In any case, as part of his " . . . severance, Schary requested and received " . . . rights to (the) . . . picture, Battleground which he wanted to make, and which Hughes detested as a project . . . Schary took it to MGM, where it was a hit." Although confirming that the film was " . . . a critical and commercial success . . . " Steven Scheuer says of the 1949 release that " . . . this story of the Battle of the Bulge has only intermittent patches of strong direction and forceful dialogue." Scheuer continues, "[i]ntelligence is everywhere evident, but inspiration is conspicuously lacking." Thus, this Schary film may actually be an example of a mediocre film doing well at the box office because it is supported by the Hollywood insider community.
Hughes promptly announced that " . . . there would be no more big-budget pictures . . . " a possible reaction to his bad experience with Hell's Angels. He also " . . . scrapped thirty- six picture projects . . . " and several more of the studio executives were dismissed (a fairly common pattern following many studio takeovers). One film " . . . which Dore Schary had put through as a pet project (The Boy with Green Hair) . . . " was an " . . . antiwar story about an orphan whose hair turned green because of a chemical reaction to something that happened in the conflict (and who is) teased, mocked, ill-treated . . . " The movie " . . . was a passionate plea for tolerance." According to Higham, Hughes had the film severely edited and turned it into a statement of anti-Communism. "Hughes (eventually) fired 200 more employees and forced N. Peter Rathvon and Floyd Odlum off the board."
Higham also reports that the first picture other than two rather insignificant Fleischer B- unit efforts that Hughes authorized was Schary-originated, The Set-Up (1949), " . . . a boxing movie based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March who had rewritten Hell's Angels." The search for a lead actress for the film ultimately led to Audrey Totter who was under contract to Louis B. Mayer. In contrast to the routine trading of the services of such actors and actresses back and forth among the friendly studios at reasonable rates, Mayer forced "Hughes . . . to pay through the nose . . . to obtain her services." Also, the March poem was described by Hughes biographer Charles Higham as "anti-Semitic". Of course, if Hughes is to be criticized for pushing such a project forward, then clearly Dore Schary (also identified earlier by Higham as the "mild- mannered Jewish RKO production chief") ought to get some of the credit or be the subject of some of the same criticism, unless the Schary version was stripped of its supposed anti-Semitism, just as The Boy With Green Hair (1948) project was converted by Hughes from a "passionate plea for tolerance" to a statement against communism; all of which clearly illustrates, the power of the people who control the studios to make whatever statements through film that they feel are important. Such propagandistic activities have been undertaken for years by whomever in the film industry has the power to make such decisions.
Also in 1949, Hughes made arrangements to handle U.S. distribution for Roberto Rosselini's Italian film, Stromboli, starring Ingrid Bergman. But despite an elaborate promotional campaign emphasizing sexual themes, Stromboli supposedly failed because (according to Higham) " . . . it was a bad picture . . . " and also according to Higham, Hughes had "recut" the film. On the other hand, Scheuer reports that Stromboli was " . . . the first film . . . " Bergman decided to appear in after she " . . . burned her Hollywood bridges behind her to work for Rossellini in Italy . . . " and that the film was "[p]oorly received at the time because of the scandal over her private life . . . " Scheuer goes on to say that Stromboli now " . . . seems remarkably modern." In it, a " . . . woman escapes an internment camp by marrying a poor fisherman, only to find herself trapped on his island, a spiritual sort of prison." The Scheuer comments on Stromboli also seem to imply that even international movie stars who have been lured to Hollywood will be blacklisted if they subsequently return to their roots to work for non-Hollywood filmmakers.
In the meantime, (and again, according to Lasky) " . . . Odlum had quietly entered into an agreement with Hughes to purchase the controlling interest in the proposed new theater company for a cash price to be determined by offers from at least two sources, but not to exceed $4.5 million . . . by February 1949, three or four big bidders for the RKO theater properties were already standing in line . . . Hughes thwarted (Odlum) . . . by placing his 929,000 shares of theater stock . . . into trusteeship . . . (and carried) on a running battle with the Justice Department over the length of time he could retain his theater stock . . . "
Higham goes on to report that in " . . . a desperate effort to bail out a sinking company, Hughes made a co-production deal with the still-potent box-office star Claudete Colbert, as partner in the independent Loring Theater Corporation. But the pictures he made in partnership with Loring--Bride for Sale (1949) and The Secret Heart--were very poor. Here again, Higham's judgments seem to be somewhat more critical of Hughes' films than others. For example, Scheuer calls the film a "[r]omantic comedy acted by old masters, even if the material is thin . . . " suggesting that Higham, in his overly aggressive attacks on Hughes, is not even willing to give credit to anything positive about the film.
Lasky reports that by the summer of 1950 RKO " . . . had dropped from third to fifth place in gross receipts from the previous year . . . Sid Rogell, chief studio executive . . . made a sudden exit in May . . . His serviceable replacement, Samuel Bischoff, a veteran quickie specialist and former associate producer at Warner Brothers . . . " came on board. Then " . . . Hughes closed a deal on August 13 to bring Warner Brothers top talent--the new Jerry Wald-Norman Krasna production unit--to RKO . . . Hughes had paid Warner Brothers the grand sum of $150,000 for the remaining twenty months of Wald's contract." According to Betty Lasky, "Hollywood was impressed. The Hollywood Reporter rated the deal, which would bring the 'wonder boys' to RKO for five years to produce sixty features for $50 million, as 'the biggest independent production transaction in industry history.' Even more astounding was the news that in addition to weekly salaries of $2,500 apiece, the two young fellows would share the profits with RKO on a fifty-fifty basis. This was an industry first." Obviously, the other major studio/distributors would not want such an arrangement to succeed, because the independent producers with whom they were dealing might expect similar deals.
Early in September Hughes selected RKO's " . . . crack distribution head, Ned Depinet, to replace Rathvon . . . the trade papers viewed the choice of the 'universally popular film veteran' for president as 'a major step' by Hughes to retain the little major's position as an industry leader. Floyd Odlum's resignation . . . was announced on November 1 . . . A formal announcement had already been made of Hughes's scheme to terminate the government's anti-trust suit, which had been pending for more than ten years, by dividing the company into two units--splitting the theaters off from the production-distribution end."
Lasky really outdoes herself here. The so-called Hughes "scheme" to terminate the government's anti-trust suit by splitting distribution from exhibition is exactly the remedy the government sought and that remedy was not only sought from RKO but of the other major studios as well. Further, it is simply inaccurate to say the anti-trust suit was pending for ten years, it would be more accurate to say the suit and related litigation matters and negotiations had been ongoing for ten years, approximately the same period during which the other studios were pretty much doing the same thing as RKO. Lasky, then goes on to say that " . . . Hughes, by entering into a consent decree with the Justice Department, had deserted the moguls, whom he personally disliked, in their united opposition to the government . . . " and that " . . . RKO's defection meant that all the other studios would have to hoist the white flag." As this summary of the history of Hughes' experiences in Hollywood shows, the man had good reason not to like the moguls and RKO's settlement with the government had nothing to do with the legal obligations of the other companies.
Again, according to Charles Higham, by " . . . 1951, the studio had lost $5,832,000 due to a succession of bad pictures and Hughes' maddening disruptions of schedules and overspending on Jet Pilot. In addition, he had interfered with, and held up, several good movies, including the excellent The Narrow Margin, thus depriving the RKO theater chain, of which he was now forced to divest himself, of important product." According to Higham, not many film directors wanted to work for Hughes during this period, and of course, Higham lays the blame for this entirely on Hughes saying he " . . . found time to interfere with as many RKO pictures as he could . . . " and that he " . . . had a fierce, angry working relationship . . . " with his directors. Higham completely overlooks the likelihood that the competing movie moguls (many of whom also had reputations for interfering with their directors) would blacklist any director who worked on an RKO picture while the studio was owned by the outsider Hughes. Higham goes on to say that " . . . one of the few directors who could put up with (Hughes was) . . . the brutal Australian John Farrow, father of Mia Farrow . . . " who is further described by Higham as " . . . a sadist and high- level Catholic with strong pro-Fascist leanings." John Farrow directed the 1950 RKO release starring Robert Mitchum Where Danger Lives. Mitchum returned to star with Jane Russell in the 1951 RKO release His Kind of Woman, also directed by John Farrow.
Three Hughes-RKO pictures that " . . . did well in 1951 were The Blue Veil, made by the semi-independent team of Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna . . . a remake of his 1927 silent The Racket, spuriously tied into Senator Estes Kefauver's racket-busting Senate Crime Investigation Committee; and the Wald-Krasna Payment on Demand . . . " starring Bette Davis. "The studio also made Howard Hawk's The Thing . . . " described by Charles Higham only as a story " . . . about a human carrot who menaces aviators at the North Pole . . . " On the other hand, Steven Scheuer calls The Thing a " . . . terrifying thriller about a hostile visitor (from another world) who regards human beings not as brothers but as sustenance." Scheuer also asserts that " . . . this skillfully directed chiller remains one of the great sci-fi films . . . " and that it was "[r]eputedly worked on by Howard Hawks." Clark Blaise states in his essay about The Thing that "Howard Hawks produced it and a reliable contract professional, Christian Nyby, directed." Note that in Higham's writing about Hughes, credit for RKO's successful movies during the period of Hughes ownership of the studio is generally given to others, while the studio's film failures are credited to Hughes. Also, in 1951, RKO released Tarzan's Peril which according to Higham " . . . had the advantage over previous Tarzan pictures of being shot in Africa, a surprising extravagance for Hughes."
Also, during this period, Hughes " . . . embarked on his most ambitious aviation picture since Hell's Angels: Flying Leathernecks (1951), the story of a World War II fighter squadron at Guadalcanal, starring . . . John Wayne and Robert Ryan . . . " Higham offers little else about the film itself, but Steven Scheuer suggests that the film's script was " . . . [b]adly written . . . " and further described the effort as a " . . . slow war drama . . . " although it had " . . . some good actual battle scenes." According to Halliwell's Film Guide, the picture was produced by Edmund Grainger and the script was written by John Edward Grant.
In another picture " . . . Hughes put in motion, My Forbidden Past (1951) . . . " Hughes " . . . borrowed Ava Gardner from MGM . . . " to appear with Robert Mitchum." Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra then apparently had a bit of a tiff over the affections of Ava Gardner and according to Hughes biographer Higham, Hughes pushed Sinatra " . . . down to third billing in the picture Double Dynamite . . . Hughes barred Sinatra from the (RKO) lot . . . " and Hughes " . . . had Mormon spies working overtime checking on Ava's every movement . . . " Higham does not reveal any hint that Sinatra might have retaliated against Hughes in any way and only relates that at one point " . . . Sinatra, insane with jealousy . . . tried to kill himself in New York . . . " In addition, Higham does not discuss or reveal why he felt it was necessary to characterize the Hughes "spies" as Mormons.
On the Hughes-RKO release slate for the following year (1952), the most important entries were not his own but independents': Samuel Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland." Two attempts to take control of the studio from Hughes failed. One " . . . a proxy fight for control of the company, led by a disaffected shareholder, Wall Street banker David J. Greene . . . " The second attempt, also in 1952 was led by L. B. Mayer, in partnership with the millionaire San Francisco realtor Louis A. Lurie. As Lasky reports, the " . . . sixty-seven-year-old Mayer had been cruelly ousted from MGM ten months earlier after a power struggle said to have been engineered by Dore Schary, who replaced him . . . Hughes (supposedly) ignored Mayer's bid to regain some semblance of his former glory." Thus, as might be expected, Lasky would have us believe that Hughes was to blame for preventing Mayer's return to glory. In the meantime, "[o]nly a handful of pictures got made at RKO . . . " during these early '50s years.
Lasky further reports that in the spring of 1952, Hughes " . . . came out of hiding to lead a Red-hunting crusade on the lot . . . " Hughes reportedly had fired screenwriter Paul Jarrico " . . . before he had taken the Fifth Amendment before the House Committee on Un-American Activities the previous April . . . After Hughes removed Jarrico's name from the credits (of The Las Vegas Story), the writer struck back with the support of the Screen Writers guild . . . Hughes launched a lawsuit asking for a declaratory judgment . . . " and Hughes won.
In the summer of 1952, Hughes negotiated " . . . with a five-man syndicate headed by Ralph E. Stolkin, a thirty-four-year old Chicago mail-order millionaire . . . Stolkin's . . . father-in- law and mail-order partner, A. L. Koolish, Texas oil partners Raymond Ryan and Edward G. Burke, and a Los Angeles exhibitor, Sherrill C. Corwin. On September 23, as RKO's 1952 losses surged above the $4 million mark, Hughes closed a deal with the Stolkin group (that included only one 'picture man') for $7.35 million." According to Lasky, " . . . the industry was horrified todiscover (from a Wall Street Journal story) that three of RKO's new owners had been involved with 'organized crime, fraudulent mail-order schemes, and big-time gambling.'" Also, according to Lasky, "[t]o an industry striving to present a clean image to the predatory House Un-American Activities Committee, the possibility of one of its major studios' being under the management of organized crime was inconceivable." Following a wave of unfavorable publicity . . . " the deal fell through. Meanwhile, " . . . Wald and Krasna . . . took advantage of the scandal to get out of their RKO contracts . . . The Stolkin group . . . returned . . . control to Hughes, who returned to the board as chairman and brought back his yes men . . . (although) . . . Depinet took a look at the Hughes-dominated board and declined an invitation to return . . . Hughes (meanwhile) . . . pocketed the $1.25 million down payment . . . " made by the Stolkin group.
Another possible way in which the Hollywood establishment sought to inhibit Howard Hughes' ability to function as a film producer was through the Production Code. One of his 3-D projects The French Line, starred Jane Russell. It was released in 1954. The film tells the story of a multi-millionairess who travels to Paris posing as a model and she falls in love with a dashing Frenchman. This effort also " . . . ran into censorship problems. In its report, the Legion of Decency stated (that the film) . . . contains grossly obscene, suggestive and indecent action, costuming and dialogue . . . (and) is capable of grave, evil influence' . . . Despite . . . deletions, the Production Code Administration denied the picture a seal in December, 1953. Hughes defied the P.C.A. and showed it, starting in St. Louis, Missouri. He had to pay a $25,000 fine as a result. In January, 1954, The French Line was again denied a seal, and was declared finally by Breen to be 'indecent and obscene' . . . The picture never was granted a seal (and) . . . it was banned in New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and British Columbia. Then the theater chains refused it. Hughes lost a fortune on . . . " the film.
Hughes " . . . had begun to weary of these efforts by Joe Breen to stifle . . . " his productions " . . . and decided once more to sell the studio." At this time Hughes business concerns considered together were " . . . earning an estimated $350 million a year . . . " suggesting that in industries other than film, it was not so difficult for Hughes to succeed. Hughes appointed " . . . James R. Grainger, former executive vice president of distribution at Republic Pictures . . . " as RKO president . . . RKO Pictures' stock was down to $3.85 a share (and) . . . five . . . lawsuits had been filed by unhappy shareholders . . . Rather than fight the lawsuits, Hughes maneuvered to convert RKO into a one-man show by offering to buy out the rest of the stockholders . . . " According to Katz, by 1954 RKO " . . . had lost nearly $40 million under Hughes' remote-control management." On the other hand, Gomery states that "Hughes managed to accumulate more than twenty million dollars in losses . . . " In any event, "[t]o everyone's surprise . . . " Hughes " . . . offered to buy all the outstanding stock of the company from the shareholders, for a total of $213 million, twice the real worth of the crippled company."
In 1955, Hughes featured Jane Russell in Underwater, the story of " . . . [t]wo skin-divers (who) brave the perils of the deep to locate sunken treasure." Although, Steven Scheuer states that the film is only "passable melodrama", he does credit the picture with " . . . good underwater photography . . . " The film was shot on location in Honolulu and some of the underwater equipment used was designed by Hughes. For one of Hughes' last films, he decided to " . . . build a major vehicle around (Susan Hayward) . . . and John Wayne--his most expensive production to date." In the 1955 release (The Conqueror), Wayne plays Genghis Khan. Of course, the film was expensive to produce, after all, as Higham reports " . . . Hughes had to pay Darryl F. Zanuck one million dollars under the table in order to get Hayward for the part."
RKO " . . . limped into 1955 with only a skeleton crew running the lot and a few producers making 'token' pictures. Sam Goldwyn had severed his long relationship . . . in 1952. Disney had terminated his . . . (in) 1954 . . . The famed location ranch in Encino had been sold to a real estate company. But still . . . [a]long with the Hollywood and Culver City lots, RKO Radio Pictures' assets included part ownership of the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, its worldwide distribution system (consisting of 101 domestic and foreign exchanges), and a library of about 900 theatrical motion pictures . . . " In July of 1955, Hughes succeeded in selling RKO to " . . . General Teleradio, the entertainment subsidiary of Akron's General Tire and Rubber company . . . " for $25 million. The subsidiary's head, Thomas F. O'Neil appeared to be primarily interested in using selections from RKO's film library as television programming. Variety reported Hughes' final profit on his RKO transactions was $6.5 million. Katz reports $10 million The " . . . previous November, Hughes had sold the valuable theater stock to Albert A. List, a New England industrialist, for $3.372 million cash, plus . . . List's 198,500 shares of the picture company stock."
Hughes still hadn't given up, however, on the motion picture business. He " . . . resurrected his earlier idea of making Carmen--he had never forgiven Harry Cohn for stealing his idea of filming the story . . . " Again, in " . . . collusion with Darryl F. Zanuck, he offered Ava Gardner ($250,000 to appear in) the picture . . . (but she) turned him down." That unsuccessful transaction apparently ended Howard Hughes's involvement in the film industry.
In her book about RKO, Betty Lasky referred to Howard Hughes as " . . . a charlatan--a man who would go to any lengths to protect his image as a 'genius of the aviation industry.'" She called his 1930 film Hell's Angels " . . . his most pretentious production . . . " and suggested that the Hughes organizations did not truthfully report its earnings on the film by stating that the " . . . Hughes public relations force . . . claimed . . . " the film " . . . made a profit of more than $2 million." She also pointed to what she called " . . . Hughes' obsessive need to control every aspect of . . . " production and blamed that "obsession" on the resignations of two directors who had worked for Hughes before. Nonetheless, Lasky claims that " . . . Hollywood . . . put out the welcome mat . . . " a claim that is not supported by this record.
In his book, William Randolph Hearst, Jr. also talked about Howard Hughes in Hollywood, saying, "[i]n those early days, when we were both new to Hollywood, Howard was far from the recluse he later became. I not only liked but admired Howard . . . He was always a straight guy with me." I remember him (partly) . . . for all the scatterbrained starlets we took out together . . . " At some point Hearst, Jr. reports that Hughes " . . . was getting eccentric. Howard began imagining dangers everywhere . . . " Hearst, Jr. said he thinks " . . . it started with his deafness and physical pain from old plane crash injuries (and) . . . [h]e seemed to be hooked on prescription drugs . . . " Hearst, Jr. went on to say, however that to him, Howard Hughes " . . . was an introspective genius, a dreamer . . . "
The most recent Hughes biography, that of Charles Higham, (first published in 1993) is clearly an attempt to paint the most negative portrayal of the man that could be published in book form. Most of the sources for Higham's slanted information about Hughes' Hollywood years appear to have been film industry sources, (i.e., they were obviously biased in favor of the so- called Hollywood establishment). Re-interpreting the information provided by Higham and his questionable sources in a more favorable manner (as such information relates to Howard Hughes and his involvement with the U.S. film industry) the following summary of how Hollywood treated this wealthy outsider can be offered. (For purposes of this summary, references to Hollywood, the Hollywood community and the Hollywood establishment means the Hollywood sources upon which Charles Higham apparently relied).
1. Columbia chief Harry Cohn allegedly stole the idea for filming Carmen from Hughes.
2. Hughes films were repeatedly victimized by the Will Hays and Joseph Breen censorship offices and these censor czars were influenced by the competing major studio heads who were treated more favorably with their films.
3. Warner Bros. tried to impede Hughes' success with Hell's Angels by extorting a similar screenplay from Hughes' friend and cousin John Monk Saunders.
4. Warner Bros. producer Hal Wallis refused to offer the same level of cooperation commonly offered to other studio heads in resolving the dispute relating to whether the Saunders screenplay was a plagiarized version of the Hughes' owned Hell's Angels script.
5. Warner Bros. wrongfully accused Hughes of theft in connection with the Saunders screenplay.
6. Hughes was repeatedly accused by the industry (and Higham's book) of being anti- Semitic, but the Higham book fails to offer sufficient evidence to support the charge.
7. Hughes was repeatedly cheated out of movie revenues by both distributors and exhibitors.
8. Jack Warner at First National Studios (at the time) fraudulently misrepresented the talents of Billie Dove and overcharged Hughes for her services.
9. Joe Schenck wrongfully interfered with Hughes attempts to purchase a share of United Artists.
10. United Artist failed to provide support for Hughes' films in their theatrical release forcing Hughes to spend his own money for advertising.
11. The heads of the major studio/distributors intimidated talent in order to prevent them from becoming involved in the Hughes film project Queer People which was highly critical of Hollywood.
12. The industry used its influence to suppress the Queer People story in the domestic press.
13. Harry Cohn attempted to use his mob connections to force Hughes to loan the services of Jean Harlow.
14. The studio bosses of the day hypocritically criticized of Hughes' "reckless disregard of human safety" on movie shoots, when they routinely engaged in the same or similar practices themselves.
15. The studio bosses eventually made it difficult for Hughes to hire directors other than alcoholics and "has beens" for his projects.
16. The Hollywood establishment wrongfully accused Hughes of being motivated by a
desire to satisfy the House Un-American Activities Committee when he fired former employees of RKO.
17. The Hollywood whisper campaigns against Hughes suggested his primary motivation for making sexy films was that he was a closet voyeur.
18. RKO executives, including Dore Schary, bad mouthed Hughes early on, and attempted to prevent him from purchasing the studio.
19. RKO executives interfered with Hughes' attempts to run the studio as any owner has a right to do.
20. Hughes was criticized for making pictures which reflected his more conservative political attitudes when Hollywood had been engaging in such propagandistic activities for years, only in support of its more liberal views.
21. Studio bosses routinely overcharged Hughes for the services of actors or actresses under contract to them, in comparison to the amounts charged for the same services to the studio bosses' more friendly rivals at the other major studios (another example of reciprocal preferences among the shared monopolists).
22. Competing major studio/distributors used block booking and other illegal business practices to see that Hughes' films did not get into the better theaters or enough theatres to generate adequate revenues.
23. The industry consistently refused to give Hughes any credit for his filmmaking achievements, but credited his employees for his victories and him for the poorly performing movies.
24. The industry accused Hughes of divesting the RKO theater chain months after the government deadline, when other studios had no better record of compliance with the Paramount consent decrees than the Hughes-run RKO. The Loews theatre chain was actually the last of the film industry defendants to accept the Paramount consent decree applicable to it.
25. The Hollywood establishment prevented Hughes from obtaining needed raw film stock to make prints for The Outlaw.
26. The Hollywood community was malicious in its criticism of Hughes' associations with Mormons.
27. The Hollywood community tried to suggest that Hughes was in some way involved with organized crime, although even Higham's hatchet job on Hughes contains little real evidence of such a relationship.
28. Finally, the Hollywood community tried to paint Howard Hughes' sexual tastes as more bizarre than their own.
Many in the Hollywood community seem to have been extremely unhappy about the loss of RKO as a Hollywood film studio. Variety reportedly referred to it as " . . . Hughes' systematic seven-year rape of RKO . . . " Similar accusations would made about Kirk Kerkorian's purchase of MGM (see discussion below). In truth, Variety and the other above cited writers have overlooked the real reasons why Hughes ultimately had to sell RKO. Based on the study of what is really going on in Hollywood reflected in this series of books, it can be concluded that it is more likely that RKO's failure had nothing to do with Hughes' management style, but that the studio failed principally because Howard Hughes was a Hollywood outsider and the power and control of the major studios over the market, along with their anti-competitive practices would guarantee the failure of any company or individual who tried to compete with the Hollywood insider-controlled major studio/distributors. For example, as Dan Moldea writes, in the FBI's 1959 investigation of MCA . . . charges were made that " . . . MCA had helped destroy RKO by refusing to give the studio its talent."
In one of the few favorable statements about Howard Hughes appearing in Charles Higham's book, Higham actually admits that " . . . Hughes played a crucial role not only in aviation and movie-making but in major political affairs . . . " Hughes exploits in aviation and film (under adverse conditions), raise legitimate questions about what kind of innovative films could this highly intelligent and energetic man have produced for the enlightenment and entertainment of the world if he had not been held back by the anti-competitive, predatory practices of a small group of jealous and highly-prejudiced Hollywood movie moguls? Hughes went on to become one of America's wealthiest (and controversial) figures. His estate was reportedly valued at about $650 million when he died in 1975. At least six different biographical works on Hughes have appeared since 1972. Hollywood, thus far, has only been able to generate one film relating to Hughes and it focuses on a very minor and possible untrue incident in Hughes' life (Jonathan Demme's film Melvin and Howard (1980). In fact, the film does not even focus on Hughes. It actually tells the story of what happened to a man named Melvin who supposedly picked up " . . . a doddering old hitchhiker . . . " in the desert, " . . . loaned him a quarter, and was left $156 million in the hitchhiker's will . . . " The hitchhiker, of course, is supposed to be Howard Hughes, played in this movie by Jason Robards " . . . as a desert rat with fading memories of happiness . . . " As noted above, the film is not really about Hughes but focuses instead on what happened to Melvin " . . . between the day he met Hughes and the day the will was discovered." In any case, the film provides a negative portrayal of Howard Hughes.
Contrary to what Higham and other writers try to suggest with respect to Hughes intentions in Hollywood, Howard Hughes, like so many others before and after had a deep and abiding love for motion pictures and just wanted to make movies. His interest in movies started while he was still a teenager when he visited his uncle Rupert Hughes who was a Hollywood screenwriter and during those visits, Howard was able to spend time on the sets of films in production. The actual results of Howard Hughes' involvement with Hollywood, on the other hand, were significantly influenced by Hughes' treatment by the Hollywood insiders. Overall, Hollywood's treatment of Howard Hughes, falls into a similar pattern, echoing Hollywood's treatment of other wealthy or talented outsiders, like Joseph P. Kennedy, D.W. Griffith, William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles.
Kirk Kerkorian--A similar pattern unfolded, in more contemporary times, with Kirk Kerkorian's attempts to become a player in Hollywood. "Kerkorian was the son of an immigrant Armenian farmer . . . " who became an " . . . airline magnate and Las Vegas mogul . . . " and, who in his early years had once " . . . worked as an occasional laborer at the MGM studio . . . " Kerkorian was clearly an outsider in the Hollywood community. He purchased a controlling interest in MGM in 1970 but Hollywood never treated him as anything but another interloper.
Kerkorian is referred to by Peter Bart as a corporate pirate, and Rosenfield states that Kerkorian is often " . . . blamed for running down MGM in the '70s . . . " Rosenfield also offers the rather shallow assessment of Kerkorian, saying he was the " . . . billionaire club recluse who's more business than show . . . Howard Hughes without style . . . " Bart, on the other hand, does admit that " . . . no owner of a movie studio had ever actually liked movies more than Kirk Kerkorian. None had ever, as Kerkorian had, stood on line two or three times a week at theaters in Hollywood or Westwood and munched popcorn cheek-to-jowl with the masses."
When Kerkorian took over MGM, he " . . . installed former CBS production chief James T. Aubrey as president. The new management began an economy drive, ranging from a sharp reduction in personnel and production schedules to . . . " what the Katz Film Encyclopedia called " . . . the sad end-of-an-era auction in 1970 in which hundreds of thousands of props and costumes from the studio's glorious past were put on the block . . . " Note the emotional tone of the comments on Kerkorian from the Katz Film Encyclopedia. It actually made a lot of business sense to sell off old props and costumes that were no longer generating income for the company, but the Katz people suggest that such a prudent business decision ought to be considered "sad". It would also be fair to say that it is probably quite reasonable for any new owner of a Hollywood film studio to start with " . . . an economy drive . . . " including reductions in personnel since everything we know about the Hollywood studios suggests that they have almost always been fat and inefficient, along with their loose financial controls.
In 1973, " . . . MGM ceased to distribute its own movies; domestic distribution was licensed to United Artists and foreign distribution to CIC. By the late 70s, MGM was reduced to a marginal force in films, but the company was prospering once more as a result of diversified investments and large profits from its gambling hotels in Las Vegas and Reno." As Katz reports, the " . . . descent from glory for MGM continued in the '80s."
According to Bart, "Hollywood had long dismissed Kerkorian as someone who had exploited the studio to build his gambling empire in Las Vegas and Reno (at least this is the version the Hollywood PR machine wants the public to believe) . . . " But, in 1981, Kerkorian " . . . startled the filmmaking community by laying out $380 million to acquire United Artists . . . " As Peter Bar reports, however, MGM,
Of course, according to Bart, Kerkorian was entirely to blame for this disaster. On the other hand, several alternative interpretations of the above described events might be just as plausible: (1) that David Begelman and other top level MGM executives who claimed after the fact that Kerkorian had made a serious mistake, failed to properly disclose the facts to their "outsider" partner, prior to his meeting with Wasserman and Bluhdorn; (2) that Wasserman and Bluhdorn actually mislead Kerkorian into thinking they were not "adversaries" on this particular transaction, that they were in fact joint venture partners and that they would all benefit from the new foreign distribution arrangement; and (3) that Wasserman and Bluhdorn knew that they might be able to get Kerkorian to override Begelman's judgment (to the extent that it was expressed) and in fact planned what is referred to by Bart as an "impromptu" meeting, which actually was designed by Wasserman and Bluhdorn to appear that way. Thus, as the "top MGM executive" quoted by Bart states, Kerkorian was "sandbagged" or set up by Wasserman and Bluhdorn, two of Hollywood's most aggressive predators.
In any case, in 1986 Turner Broadcasting System purchased MGM/UA " . . . in a complicated cash/stock deal valued at about $1.5 billion and promptly sold the UA portion, along with MGM's film and TV production and distribution business to Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. The MGM lot and laboratory facilities were sold to Lorimar-Telepictures (the Metrocolor Laboratories would close down in 1989, after 50 years in the film processing business). Ted Turner retained MGM's priceless heritage, the huge library of unforgettable films that made the studio great, along with MGM-owned pre-1948 Warner Bros. and RKO products--3,300 films in all. What remained of MGM eventually underwent various permutations, with several changes in corporate structure and constant reshuffling of personnel at the top." Of course, by this time, the Hollywood insiders had successfully destroyed Kerkorian's attempts to bring MGM back to glory as a film studio, thus he had no alternative but to dismantle various components of his investment. In other words, this interpretation of the events relating to Kirk Kerkorian's experience in Hollywood is that his so-called "destruction" of a grand old Hollywood studio was not his original intention, but a reasonable and necessary business response to the predatory activities of his Hollywood-insider competitors.
In " . . . November of 1990, the MGM/UA Communications Corporation was taken over for $1.3 billion by Pathe Communications, a Rome-based conglomerate headed by publishing mogul Giancarlo Parretti, who named the division MGM-Pathe Communications and appointed as its president Israeli-born Yoram Globus, formerly Menahem Golan's partner in Cannon." Kerkorian, like Hughes and Kennedy before, walked away with a sizable profit for his Hollywood investment.
Despite the Hollywood image projected on Kirk Kerkorian's behalf, this Hollywood outsider did not start out with the intention of merely trading away the assets of MGM. In " . . . the summer of 1989, amid all his feverish trading (which finally ended in the sale of MGM/UA to Giancarlo Parretti's Pathe Communications), Kerkorian was still asking a confidant, "Why couldn't I ever get it to work? Why couldn't I find the right people, the right combination? In the eyes of the film community, Kerkorian had become a one-man wrecking crew . . . Though Kerkorian wanted his studio to turn out hit movies, he never even came close." According to Peter Bart, the " . . . reasons were part financial, part cultural. A creature of Las Vegas, he'd mastered Hollywood's numbers but not its nuances. He could figure the odds, but never understood the players . . . 'I never pretended I could pick the movies,' he would explain, but he nonetheless picked the men who made these choices---and picked them ineptly."
The people who worked at the highest levels in the Kerkorian owned film companies during his reign included Frank Rothman, David Begelman, Jim Aubrey, Dan Melnick, Frank Rosenfelt, Frank Yablans, Richard Shepherd, Freddie Fields, Alan Ladd, Jr., Jerry Weintraub, Lee Rich, Stephen Silbert and Jeffrey Barbakow. The question should be raised, as to whether Kirk Kerkorian really picked "ineptly" as Peter Bart suggests or whether Kirk Kerkorian was doomed to failure in Hollywood simply because he was an "outsider", thus making it irrelevant whom he chose to run his film companies. It might also be argued that some of these top MGM/UA executives knew that Kerkorian would ultimately fail before they even accepted their positions, but simply took the jobs because they were offered and accepted the considerable amount of money involved, knowing that it was a temporary assignment. After all, there is a long history of "outsiders" failing in Hollywood, and notwithstanding the dubious rationalizations of the Hollywood PR machine, this author does not believe it is because they are all "inept".
Another point needs to be made about the people chosen by Kerkorian and other Hollywood outsiders before and after him. It is very unlikely that anyone like a Kerkorian, a wealthy outsider, who comes to Hollywood to purchase a controlling ownership interest in a film studio chooses the studio's top executives without the advice of some in the Hollywood insider community, if nothing else from some of the top entertainment attorneys who have close ties to the Hollywood insiders. It would also be rather safe to assume that as names are suggested, those representatives of the Hollywood insider community advising Kerkorian (or other outsiders) would lean heavily in favor of other Hollywood insiders, even though they may not represent the best people for the job or the most talented people Hollywood has to offer. On the other hand, as the names of possible executive choices from outside the Hollywood insider community are discussed, these same representatives of the Hollywood insider community would strongly urge against such choices. Thus, a studio owner like Kerkorian, either has to go against the advice of people who presumably know something about the film business and bring in people who are loyal to him, or go along with the advice of the Hollywood insiders and hire people whose loyalties are likely to be more closely aligned with the Hollywood insider community. Either way, the outsider, like Kerkorian, loses. He becomes, just like Griffith, Kennedy, Hearst, Welles, Hughes and others, another victim of the sophisticated schemes of the entrenched Hollywood insider establishment.
David Puttnam--London-born David Puttnam presents a particularly interesting example of the conflict between Hollywood insiders and outsiders because he has been identified by Vanity Fair magazine as part-Jewish. He enjoyed, however, (or suffered) only a little more than a year at the top of a movie studio in Hollywood. Upon his selection to head Columbia, Charles Kipps reports that "[m]any in Hollywood were surprised by the choice." Kipps goes on to say that "[t]here were scores of qualified candidates for the job living right in Beverly Hills. And none of David's movies was the kind of box-office hits which would warrant bringing in an outsider to run an American film company." In this case, it appears that Puttnam qualified as a Hollywood outsider because he was British and was never willing to play the Hollywood game.
Puttnam was born in London. He entered movies in the late '60s, " . . . initially producing small-budget trendy films with modest success. After co-producing two of Ken Russell's eccentric screen biographies, Puttnam broke through the box-office barrier as an executive producer of Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone (1976). He scored an even greater hit as co-producer of Parker's Midnight Express (1978), a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. He won the Best Picture Academy Award for Chariots of Fire (1981) and went on to produce other Oscar- nominated British films such as The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986)."
Puttnam's growing reputation as " . . . a judge of talent (directors Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson, and Adrian Lyne made their first films for him) and strict enforcer of tight budgets and schedules led in August of 1986 to Puttnam's appointment as chairman and chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures, then a division of Coca Cola (a corporate outsider). He hoped and promised to deliver quality pictures at reasonable cost, while revamping the studio's inflated salary structure and holding down the increasingly outrageous fees for directors and stars."
Rosenfield describes Puttnam as the "[c]lub rebel who was made president of Columbia, and promptly began offending club members at the very top. More a symbol (of rebellion) than a player himself." As an illustration of his attitude toward the commercial interests that have long dominated Hollywood, on receiving Eastman Kodak's Second Century Award for outstanding contribution to the motion picture industry in 1988, Puttnam said "[t]he medium is too powerful and too important an influence on the way we live . . . to be left solely to the tyranny of the box office, or reduced to the lowest common denominator of public taste."
One of the problems Hollywood had with Puttnam was that he generally either conceived of his own film stories or found ideas for stories in newspapers. As Puttnam reports in Jason Squire's The Movie Business Book, three of Puttnam's films, Chariots of Fire, Local Hero and The Killing Fields " . . . all had their origins in newspaper reporting." That approach, automatically means, of course, that the projects being promoted by the powerful insider Hollywood agents do not have as much of a chance with Puttnam as others in the industry. Thus, Puttnam took away a lucrative source of deals from the Hollywood agents.
Puttnam also challenged the thinking of the typical studio executive in his commitment to staying with the original screenwriter as much as possible. As he points out, he stays " . . . with a writer over many, many drafts . . . " saying that "[o]ver the years . . . " he has " . . . observed that the batting average of writers coming in and rewriting is low." Puttnam also observes that studio executives have little time for script conferences with writers and are " . . . under great pressure to report progress at weekly production meetings. The easy way (for such studio executives) to apparent 'action' . . . " Puttnam relates, " . . . is to decide to replace a writer in the course of that script conference rather than taking the time necessary for the complex, tedious, difficult task of properly developing a screenplay from one draft to the next." Thus Puttnam takes the position that "[u]nless a writer feels 'written out' . . . " he tries " . . . to stick with the same one, since that person probably understands the story problems and solutions better than anyone . . . "
This approach may meet with the approval of the writer involved, but does not please the other writers who specialize in doing studio re-writes, their agents and the other studio executives who feel their system is best (or at least did not want it challenged by the Puttnam approach). Puttnam's script development method was also much more difficult to manage for purposes of meeting a deadline, thus did not fit in with the major studio/distributor's need to meet release commitments to exhibitors (i.e., produce and release the film on time whether it is ready or not).
According to Nicholas Kent, "[w]hen David Puttnam suddenly resigned as chairman, it was generally believed that one reason for his premature departure was his inability to work with the agencies, especially CAA (see the earlier discussion relating to the illegal agency packaging practice). Puttnam criticized CAA for artificially inflating the costs of moviemaking by exacting such high fees for their clients' services."
Dawn Steel, the female studio executive who ultimately replaced Puttnam at Columbia, described her predecessor as " . . . an outspoken outsider and someone who only worked on high- quality projects . . . " Steel also said that Puttnam, had , " . . . come in swinging at Ovitz and the power of the agencies. He made it clear . . . that he was waging an artistic and moral crusade against Hollywood. He announced that he would not make big deals with movie stars or big directors . . . " Steel claimed Puttnam's approach " . . . was highly antagonistic to the Hollywood establishment (the insiders) . . . " Also, she said, "David Puttnam thought . . . sequels were just crass and commercial movies."
As the Katz Film Encyclopedia states: " . . . Puttnam's candor and no-nonsense style were no match for the entrenched, wasteful practices of the Hollywood system." "After 13 months of effort, Puttnam resigned in disgust. He returned to London, where in September of 1988 he announced a $50-million joint Anglo-American-Japanese venture to produce several films for distribution by Warner Bros." In 1989, he was appointed chairman of ITEL International TV Distribution."
Rosenfield claims Puttnam was "[u]ltimately too British to grasp American (or Hollywood) neuroses." On the other hand, it appears that Rosenfield himself is too closely tied to the Hollywood establishment to make such simplistic judgments about outsiders. Even though David Puttnam was not without fault in his ongoing conflict with the Hollywood establishment, films produced by a David Puttnam run studio would be better for the independent film community, the movie-going public in the long run and society in general. It also appears, that David Puttnam was just another outsider victim of the Hollywood insider cartel. In addition, it would appear that the Puttnam experience in Hollywood suggests that even though a person may have some level of Jewish heritage and may thus benefit by getting high level opportunities to work in the film industry that others do not, if such a person does not "play ball" with the Hollywood insiders (i.e., play the game the way the Hollywood insiders want it played), even being a Jewish male of European heritage will not prevent such a person from being thwarted by the Hollywood insider community.
Other Outsiders--There are numerous other outsiders who have been similarly victimized by the Hollywood insider tactics described above. Such persons may include Andy Albeck (CEO of UA in 1978), director/producer Robert Aldrich, screenwriter, producer Robert Altman, director, producer, screenwriter, former actor Blake Edwards, MGM studio head Jim Aubrey, Lawrence Gordon, Dino De Laurentiis, Ted Turner, James Robinson and Rupert Murdoch. Hollywood outsiders may also come in the form of entities as opposed to individuals. Some of those entities passing through in recent years include CBS, Coca Cola, TransAmerica, Westinghouse, Sony and Matsushita.
In a recent example of the conflict between a representative of the Hollywood insider community and a Hollywood outsider, Turner Pictures negotiations with former Paramount Pictures president Dawn Steel stalled and they ultimately chose not to conclude the deal, supposedly " . . . over questions of independence and who will decide what kinds of films will be made." Ted Turner is even referred to in the trade press as "Mr. Outsider". In other words, the Hollywood insiders want to use other peoples' money to produce and release the films they choose with as few strings attached as possible.
Research Project: Develop a good working definition of Hollywood insiders and outsiders, and create a more extensive list of persons considered to be Hollywood outsiders. Then expand the presentation set forth above relating to the possible existence of a pattern of discrimination against such outsiders by the Hollywood insider community, into a publishable book.
Based on the experiences of the outsiders mentioned above, it may be fairly safe to predict that today's Hollywood outsiders (Murdoch and SONY) will eventually suffer the same result, unless significant reform is brought about in the way business is conducted in Hollywood. The group of contemporary Hollywood outsiders includes people like Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch and James Robinson, who may appear to be succeeding for awhile, particularly if they simply function as production companies providing independent product for distribution by the major studio/distributors. If, on the other hand, they actually start competing head to head with the major studio/distributors by distributing films in direct competition, these contemporary outsiders are not likely to fare any better than their predecessors (unless, again, the U.S. film industry undergoes significant reform in the near future).
After reviewing the history of Hollywood, it appears to be a truism of Hollywood that if outsiders are deemed at some point to be direct competitive threats to the major studio/distributors, various tactics will be used to shorten their stay in the industry. In addition, such outsiders will typically be criticized in the Hollywood trade press and in books written by authors who are friendly to the Hollywood insiders and published by publishing companies either owned by the same corporate conglomerates that own the major studio/distributors or by publishing companies owned or staffed by individuals who are on friendly terms with Hollywood insiders.
The above was excerpted from Chapter Four of John Cones' book How the Movie Wars Were Won.