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Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick Hardcover – October 20, 1992


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

David Selznick (1902-1965) was 20 when his father, a high-rolling silent film producer/distributor, went bankrupt. Bent on fame, wealth and publicity, the precocious son who had served his domineering father as a sorcerer's apprentice would actually surpass his father. In his entertaining, prodigiously researched biography, Thomson characterizes Selznick as an arrogant manipulator, a megalomaniac hooked on Benzedrine, a brash charmer who believed he was pursuing perfection as a noble aim neglected by Hollywood. A walking contradiction, the highly sexed mogul made a pass at nearly every woman he employed but shied away from the erotic on screen. The self-educated high-school dropout produced Anna Karenina, David Copperfield, Dinner at Eight, Gone with the Wind and King Kong. Thomson, a novelist and author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film, has written a scintillating bio that includes glimpses of Garbo, Hepburn, Gable, Olivier, Dietrich, Graham Greene, Alfred Hitchcock and dozens of others. The book follows Selznick's trajectory from expansive creator to suspicious negotiator preoccupied with a fear of failure. Photos. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Selznick, producer of such notable films as Gone with the Wind (1939) and A Star Is Born (1937) , was a protean and complex man. Much about this self-destructive yet brilliant egotist can be discovered in his (in)famous memos, from which author Thomson quotes generously. Thomson also had access to many of the people who knew Selznick intimately. It is perhaps this personal contact which engendered the seeming dislike of his subject that permeates this work, including the open editorializing about Selznick's numerous shortcomings. Thomson presents many facts (in sometimes rambling fashion) but does not quite succeed in the admittedly formidable task of capturing the man. Still, this is a useful adjunct to such works as Memo from David O. Selznick (Viking, 1973) and Hitchcock & Selznick (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987).
- Roy Liebman, California State Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 792 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (October 20, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394568338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394568331
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By William Hare on November 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Veteran San Francisco-based film historian David Thomson does a fine job of putting into perspective the life of one of the most complicated giants of the Hollywood scene in "Showman", a restlessman whose quest for perfection led ultimately to obsession, the danger of perfectionists. David O. Selznick grew up with the film industry in his blood and pursued the dominating passion to become the number one producer and culture influence during a period when the film industry ranked second only to that of automobile production.

Thomson traces Selznick's journey from his New York roots, when he would leave school and visit his father's office, dutifully studying film and making recommendations to his father, at the time one of America's giants in movie distribution. He had no desire for book learning and spurned the idea of attending an Ivy League college in the manner of so many rich men's sons and quit school early, moving directly into the film business, where fame was awaiting.

When Selznick's father lost his fortune and career as a result of the movement toward major film studios in Hollywood, the determined son moved to Hollywood and went immediately to work. His brother Myron did the same and became one of the industry's leading agents.

Gregory Peck, one of Selznick's most glittering discoveries, explained David O. Selznick's dilemma not long after his death in 1965. Peck revealed how Selznick had told him once with a tone of sadness how he had achieved a career niche with the production of the classic "Gone With The Wind" when he was a young man. As a result Selznick, who had achieved immortality with the great Civil War film classic before his fortieth birthday, felt the pressure of the classic film's giant shadow.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on August 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a long-time fan of Gone with the Wind, I've naturally grown interested in the man in whom all points of that beautiful film meet (to paraphrase Vivien Leigh). In this exhaustive, thoroughly researched biography from film historian and critic, David Thomson, I've learned much more than I ever thought I would about the bundle of nerves, energy and (sometimes) delusion that was David O. Selznick. Precocious as a child, Selznick was involved in his father's film work from the very beginning, showing an astute, if irritating eye for detail, and starting a lifelong habit of papering the world with correspondence. It is due to this correspondence, and the family's foresight in retaining it, that Thomson has been able to provide as full a picture of Selznick as he has. Thomson was given full access to the family files and other records, and received ample cooperation from Selznick's sons as well as his first wife, Irene. Jennifer Jones opted not to become involved, which is a shame, because she could have given an interesting perspective on Selznick's final years.

Nobody comes off terribly well here, and there are no stereotypical "heroes" or "villains." Selznick is generous, funny, loving and genuinely interested in film. He is also mercurial, paranoid, childish, deluded, unfaithful, self-pitying and self-destructive. The people with whom he comes in contact are shown in equally even-handed ways.

As other critics have noted, there are other, better books to read if you're interested only in the making of Gone with the Wind. Contrary to how history remembers him, Selznick did a great deal more than produce just that one film, and his entire life and career are covered here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Few producers left so much on record as did David O. Selznick, the legendary producer of Gone with the Wind. This bio has something other bios of Selznick did not- a writer/author who had COMPLETE access to Selznick's papers - everything from notes on actors' contracts to his letters, gambling accounts and financial records. Along with that, there is a complete record of the Making of Gone with the Wind, nearly a disaster before it became a record-breaking triumph. The making Gone with the Wind, however, has been chronicled in other, perhaps better, books. I'd recommend this bio for the look at the private life and business moves of Selznick. And it makes for a fascinating book indeed.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Few producers left so much on record as did David O. Selznick, the legendary producer of Gone with the Wind. This bio has something other bios of Selznick did not- a writer/author who had COMPLETE access to Selznick's papers - everything from notes on actors' contracts to his letters, gambling accounts and financial records. Along with that, there is a complete record of the Making of Gone with the Wind, nearly a disaster before it became a record-breaking triumph. The making Gone with the Wind, however, has been chronicled in other, perhaps better, books. I'd recommend this bio for the look at the private life and business moves of Selznick. And it makes for a fascinating book indeed.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ari V. on September 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know I'm in for a treat… 700 pages of David O. Selznick's life can only mean one thing: bliss! I became interested in the life of DOS after reading the book, 'Memo from DOS'. Because of how much admiration I have for the man, I felt it necessary to purchase this book, and I'm glad I did. I haven't read it yet, so I cannot offer specific reviews but with all of the rare photos and 700 pages of information, I don't see how I could at all be disappointed. In addition, I am very pleased with this seller. I ordered the book last week, and received it this week. The condition of the book is very good. Enjoy!
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