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SELZNICK and the STARS Fay Wray in the grasp ofKing Kong. Wray was already a formidable silent film star when Selznick started his career as a HoUywood executive in the 1920s. As a young studio boss at RKO, he pushed along a project that had been languishing in production/'The Beast," starring Wray and her unlikely admirer, the ape, which Selznick renamed King Kong. 70 · The Missouri Review David O. Selznick DAVID O. SELZNICK: THE INDEPENDENT THE STORY OF David O. Selznick can't be recounted without mention of his older brother, Myron, and his father, Lewis, who started Ui the movie business In New York after 1910. Like others among the fürst generation of moviemakers, Lewis Selznick was an immigrant Jew who had started In another métier—selling diamonds Ui Pittsburgh. When young David was learning to walk, Lewis moved his wife and three sons to New York and attempted to start "the world's largestjewelry store," an enterprise that faUed during startup. Ui 1910, viewing movies was stiU a dubious activity, associated with the demimonde that haunted nickelodeons, and Lewis Selznick had little interest in them. However, this was at the dawn of the most Important discoveries in the craft of storyteUing in moving pictures. D. W. Griffith and other creative dUectors were inventing the techniques that would change movies from a curiosity to a major entertainment vehicle: the use of natural acting Instead of the old theatrical arms-inthe -air style that had dominated the Uve American theater, cut-back shots, close-ups, sophisticated Ughting and large, natural sets. These directors were discovering what Ui retrospect are the obvious advantages of movie cameras—their ability to get close to actors, their Intimacy and dramatic power when used with cutting and Ughting, and their capabiUty of bringing settings to an audience that theater could not. Instead of one-reelers shot by a sleeping camera on a tripod set twelve feet from flimsy sunlit stages on the roofs of buildings in New Jersey, movies were getting longer and more sophisticated. They were set Ui more realistic locations, and they were offering close-ups and dramatic exchanges. And whUe movies were quickly evolving, the old nickelodeons were rapidly being replaced by "movie palaces," which made attendance more sociaUy acceptable. Lewis Selznick had an Instinct for business, and new theaters opening across the country were crying for first-run entertainment. His opportunity came when an old acquaintance, Mark Dintenfass, wanted to sell his one-third stake In Universal Pictures, a new company Ui turmoU because of a feud between its two other initial Investors, an Irishman named Pat Powers and a German named Carl Laemmle. David O. Selznick The Missouri Review · 71 Laemmle was an aggressive producer and promoter, but the new company was about to fall apart before it had gotten off the ground. Acting as his friend's "negotiator," Lewis Selznick talked Laemmle Ulto buying his stake for $75,000. Ui what became one of the apocryphal tales of the early movie business, Selznick then proceeded to occupy a desk at Universal, study its books, and, on no authority but his own brashness, instaU himself as Universal Pictures' "general manager." The corporation was so strife-ridden that employees assumed he had been hired by some other faction. Selznick learned the basics of the business, quit Universal Ui 1914, and started World Film, where he came Into his own as a producer. He brought his sons Myron and David Ulto the business when they were still boys, Inviting them along to negotiations and asking thek advice on important matters. At seventeen, David Selznick's weekly allowance was $750, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand dollars m today's money. Lewis told his sons to spend it however they wanted, since then they'd be forced to work hard to keep up the extravagant habits they developed . He encouraged them to Uve expensively—eccentric advice from a father, which may have helped them deal with the large sums of money that the movie business Uivolved. Lewis had his own ways ofwasting money. Aserious gambling habit, along with business problems, forced him into bankruptcy Ui 1923, but not before his...


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