Financing Hollywood through The Great Depression

Bank of America financed many of Hollywood’s most famous early films, including The Kid, Gone with the Wind, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, It’s a Wonderful Life, and West Side Story. The bank also helped to finance film studios in their formative years.

A.P. Giannini loved the movies. His commitment to financing film productions in Hollywood was strong, even during the Great Depression. Starting with The Kid in the 1920s, the bank went on to finance several other historically famous films including Gone with the Wind, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, It's a Wonderful Life, and West Side Story. Both Disney's Snow White and David O. Selznick's Gone With The Wind were made in the 1930s in the thick of the Great Depression. The more expensive movie, Gone With The Wind, had a production budget of $3,900,000.

Gone with the Wind was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell, which was almost never even published. Mitchell was a private person who didn't want to share her 418,053 word book with the public. Her husband claimed that Mitchell spent too much time reading while recovering from an accident, so he stopped getting her books from the library and told her to write her own. After Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, a friend recommended she give it to Harold Latham of Macmillan Publishers. At first, she denied the existence of the manuscript. After she finally gave it to Latham, she changed her mind later and asked for it back. Latham refused and published the novel, which went on to sell nearly 2 million copies in the first year. A month after publication, the movie rights were sold to David O. Selznick for a then-record $50,000. Selznick later gave Mitchell another $50,000, admitting she'd been underpaid. She never published another novel, which many guessed was because of the huge and unwanted publicity surrounding her first.

Clark Gable was under contract with MGM at the time and they did not want to release him to play the role of Rhett Butler. Selznick had his heart set on Gable, and negotiated to pay him $7,000 ($115,574 today) per week and MGM would get half the profits from the film.

During the film’s production, Selznick ran out of money. A.P. Giannini met with Selznick and watched the footage of the movie in progress. After the screening, Giannini agreed to give Selznick a loan to finish the film.

Factoring in its eight rereleases in theaters over six decades, Gone with the Wind is considered the highest grossing film of all time. Many also believe that it's the most watched film in terms of total tickets sold for theatrical screenings. Although there is no accurate tally, about 35 million tickets were sold in the UK alone since its original release in 1939.

In addition to film productions, Bank of America also helped to finance film studios in their formative years, including Columbia Pictures, United Artists, MGM and Warner Brothers along with independent producers like Sam Goldwyn and Hal Roach. Many of the film industry’s leaders like Joe Schenck, Sidney Grauman, Will Rogers, D.W. Griffith, Louis B. Mayer, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford at one time sat on the bank’s advisory boards for branches specifically connected to studios, like our Hollywood branch or on our executive loan committees, advising on the financing of films. Famed director Cecile B. DeMille was, for a time, a vice president of Bank of America. 

Joseph Kennedy once spoke of Bank of America's role in financing Hollywood during a lecture he gave at Harvard Business School. He spoke specifically of Attilio “Doc” Giannini (who managed many of our early film accounts and was the brother to one our bank’s founders A.P. Giannini) that he'd been: “Really responsible for the condition of the motion picture business, so far as finance goes today. Dr. Giannini took on the financing of the motions pictures when hardly a bank in the United States would consider it. He is responsible today for most of the financing of many companies.”

Bank of America went on to finance hundreds of films, a tradition that continues to this day.

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