Producer David O. Selznick lived a large Hollywood life.
Most famously, he produced Gone With the Wind. His memos to directors are legendary for their exhausting length and minutely detailed analysis of scripts and dailies. He was married to Irene Mayer, L.B. Mayer’s brilliant and accomplished daughter. But he blew up that splendid relationship with multiple affairs and finally a sad marriage to the fragile actress Jennifer Jones.
Selznick gobbled amphetamine and was constantly short of money even as he spent vast sums on a luxurious life style.
Selznick was born Jewish, but his real religion was the movies.
The only film Selznick produced that had Jewish content was an adaptation of a Fannie Hurst story Symphony of Six Million with Ricardo Cortez (b. Jacob Krantz) and Irene Dunne. The film is unique in that it dramatizes the ritual of Pidyon HaBen, the Redeeming of the First Born. Other than this little known film, Selznick stayed away from Jewish material.
But Selznick’s best friend, legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht—who had a hand in every movie Selznick ever produced—was proud of his Judaism. Hecht was also a vocal and active Zionist who recruited scores of the Hollywood elite to support and donate funds to the nascent Jewish state.
But when Hecht tried to get his friend involved in the Zionist cause, Selznick demurred.
David Thompson relates the following anecdote in his excellent biography, Showman: The Life of David O Selznick.
For years, David had distanced himself from Jewish causes or alignments. It was the one topic over which he and [screenwriter] Ben Hecht ever clashed and the one situation in which Hecht abandoned his cynicism. In the early 1940s, when Hecht had been working to help set up a state of Israel in Palestine, David had been very wary. “I am an American first, a Jew secondarily,” he declared. “As an American, I have the right to interfere or to protest only in American affairs. The fact that my antecedents were of the Jewish race is purely incidental as far as I am concerned.”
Hecht had retaliated with a famous ruse. He asked three people the question: “Would you call David O. Selznick an American or a Jew?”