Hidden Hollywood: Casting Call for Tzar Nicholas

David O. Selznick at MGM with a photograph of his father Lewis J. Selznick. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull.

David O. Selznick, producer of Gone With the Wind, probably the most profitable movie ever made, was the son of industry pioneer Lewis J. Selznick.

The elder Selznick had been an independent producer in the early days of Hollywood who pioneered a new age of Wall Street investment in the motion picture business.

David, born in 1902, was a teenage wunderkind in his father’s film company, already composing his elaborate memos. But while David was still a young man, his father suffered a reversal of fortune that brought the Selznick organization to ruin during the silent era. L.J. lost millions and never again regained his footing in the film business.

David O. went on to become one of the greatest of Hollywood producers. His brother Myron became the most powerful agent in Hollywood inventing the concept of packaging. There was a third brother, Howard, the eldest. But he was deeply troubled, or perhaps afflicted with some kind of mental disability.

In 1917, when patriarch L.J. Selznick was still a power with whom to be reckoned, this brash Jewish immigrant from Russia, land of poverty and pogroms, fired off a telegram:

To Nicholas Romanoff:

When I was a poor boy in Kiev some of your policemen were not kind to me and my people. I came to America and prospered. Now hear with regret you are out of job over there. Feel no ill will what your policemen did so if you will come New York can give you fine position acting in pictures. Salary no object. Reply my expense. Regards you and family.

Selznick  New York

Nicholas II of Russia with the family (left to right): Olga, Maria, Tzar Nicholas II, Tzarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana.

Tzar Nicholas II never replied. Who knows if he ever received L.J’s telegram.

The Tzar, his family, and several courtiers were savagely shot, clubbed and bayoneted to death by the Bolsheviks in a dark basement in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16-17 July, 1918.

Ironically, there is a superb silent film, The Last Command, 1928, directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Emil Jannings, William Powell, and Evelyn Brent, the story of a Tzarist general who ends up as a lowly extra playing a Tzarist General in a major Hollywood production.

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  1. Bill Brandt
    Posted August 15, 2018 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    BTW I read that the search for Scarlet was taking on feverish interest in the country. I think Paulette Goddard had the inside track (look at her test on YouTube) but she was livinkg across the street with Charlie Chaplin (from David O) and Selznick felt fans would turn from the scandal.

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  2. Bill Brandt
    Posted August 15, 2018 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I have heard that Nicolaus was not the smartest of Tsars. A tragedy of Russia was around 1860 there was a Tsar who was assassinated but he wanted to bring real democratic reform to Russia.

    I’d expect if Nicklaus knew what was to be his fate (an family’s) he’d have gladly taken that job offer.

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  3. Barry
    Posted August 15, 2018 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    A really fine post — and heartily agree that David was the producer all others should follow, except in his reliance on amphetamines. In the last years of his life, the Selznick family spent time in Malibu. Louis Hayward and his wife June told me they would see him marching up and down the beach. Louis said: ‘A man of great energy, with nothing to do.”

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted August 15, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      David O. also had a massive gambling problem, and he was incapable of being faithful to one woman.

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