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on November 18, 2004
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. He strove mightily to achieve another gigantic success like it, but finally ruefully lamented that when he died "it will say in my obituary story that David O. Selznick was the producer of `Gone With The Wind.'"

There was much more to Selznick than "Gone With The Wind", however, and one of his cornerstone achievements was bringing Britain's great director Alfred Hitchcock to Hollywood under contract to Selznick International Films. While the Hitchcock relationship involved clashes between two strong-willed titans, Selznick, a superb editor, was able to take script projects and scripts presented by Hitchcock apart, performing the role of a tough and uncompromising drill sergeant. A classic example was their first project together, the 1940 classic "Rebecca." The film, which starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, secured for Selznick the second of two consecutive "Best Film" Oscars, coming one year after "Gone With The Wind."

Selznick's quest for perfection led to a restlessness in which he took Benzedrine to stay awake and held conferences from late evening until dawn. He also was an obsessive gambler and drank too much, not to mention being also a compulsive womanizer, which put a strain on his marriage to Irene Mayer Selznick, daughter of the powerful head of MGM.

Selznick's volcanic marriage came to an end following his affair with the protégé to whom he became irrevocably linked in film annals, actress Jennifer Jones. It was his quest to put her on filmdom's highest pedestal through providing her with a vehicle that he hoped would secure even more enduring success than "Gone With The Wind."

The film was "Duel in the Sun" and it became immediately devoured with problems, beginning with spiraling budget costs and a Hollywood strike that plagued the production. According to Thomson, Selznick's preoccupation with overseeing every aspect of "Duel in the Sun" and seeking ultimate perfection stemmed from what the author viewed as a coming of age sexually for Selznick with Jones, the woman he would marry and spend the rest of his life with after divorcing Irene. He was particularly concerned with the steamy love scenes Jones performed with co-star Gregory Peck.

While "Duel in the Sun" would eventually become accepted as a scenic spectacle, though never garnering the tributes of "Gone With The Wind," on its initial release it was widely panned by critics and was a box office flop. It was a ponderous 26 hours long before Selznick began laboriously cutting and brought it down to a little over three hours in its initial release form.

After the problems encountered in "Duel in the Sun" Selznick went off to London, where he became embroiled in another gigantic flop, "The Paradine Case," which ended his contractual and working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock. He would have one more gigantic hit, but from afar, as the heralded "The Third Man" was produced and filmed in London and Vienna while Selznick peppered co-producer Sir Alexander Korda in London with endless memos from his Culver City office.

Thomson had a great deal to work with in the form of a fascinating achiever who led a colorful life and wrote some of the most memorable chapters of Hollywood history. He made the most of his opportunity with "Showman".
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on August 30, 2009
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. Reading this full-length portrait of the man gives one an excellent idea of just what kind of energy and drive it took to helm these productions, and what a trial it must have been to keep up with such a person. Selznick was completely blind to the stress he caused his co-workers and staff. One illustrative story is that of Selznick dictating well into the wee hours of the morning and his guest suggesting that perhaps Selznick's secretary was tired. "I'm so sorry," Selznick said to the exhausted woman, "I should have offered you a benzedrine."

There were a couple of things that didn't sit well with me with regard to Thomson's telling of the story. The first is the standard auteur's conceit (subtle, but present, in this volume) that all European film is superior to all American film, which is a generalization that has always rankled. Films made in Europe aren't better simply because of where they are made, and there are American films that are superb. Also, Thomson seems to be fixated on Selznick's looks and how "ugly" he was. While not centerfold material, he was not repulsive by any stretch of the imagination, and it is thoroughly understandable that he would attract attention from women who like a great smile and an exuberant nature. On these two points, I realize that Thomson is entitled to his personal opinion - I was just hoping that he would retain the objectivity used so well in the rest of the book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 14, 2001
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 14, 2001
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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on September 8, 2014
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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