Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Edward Selzer

What was Warner Bros. cartoon producer Eddie Selzer really like? Well, just about every cartoon fan has heard the stories from his former directors—he reportedly didn’t want cartoons pairing Tweety with Sylvester (more on that in a moment), or with Tazmanian Devils, or bulls fighting Bugs Bunny or camels jockeyed by Yosemite Sam.

But it appears Selzer had some successful directing experience himself, albeit limited. It’s revealed in this amusing wire service column of June 8, 1942.

Around Hollywood
United Press Staff Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD —Edmund Goulding, the movie director, admits he doesn’t think much of Edmund Goulding, the movie actor.
Goulding, the actor, had just ruined a simple scene three times by missing his timing and forgetting his dialog lines.
“If I could just show him how it is done, like I do Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine and my other players,” complained Goulding, the director, “he might snap out of it and do all right.”
But despite director Goulding’s best efforts, actor Goulding just didn’t get it. He went right back to blowing his lines once he got within staring distance of the camera lens.
In a Trailer Film
Goulding, the director, and Goulding, the actor, were having their bout on a Warner Bros.
sound stage. They wore one suit of clothes, one makeup and looked like the same individual. They were, however, two separate personalities.
Confusing as all this sounds, it was simple compared with the way the man in the neatly pressed blue serge suit and the camera makeup felt. The director had been called back from a Palm Springs vacation to act in a special trailer for his new picture, “The Constant Nymph.”
For the first time in his career Goulding found himself before the camera, taking direction, instead of behind the camera giving it. Edward Selzer, head of the studio trailer department, was giving the directions, but they didn’t get results.
Finally Goulding figured it out.
Learns His Lesson
“If I can get rid of this guy Goulding, the director, I’ll be all right,” he told Selzer. “I’ve been trying to watch my timing and listen to my lines as though I were guiding someone else. From now on I’m in your hands.”
Then Goulding the actor breezed through the scene with assurance. Two takes, two okays, a couple of closeups, and the crew was ready for another setup.
“Goulding,” said Goulding, “let that be a lesson. If you’re directing, you don’t want Goulding in one of your pictures. If you’re acting, you don’t want Goulding as your director.”

Not a lot seems to be out there about Eddie. As a young man, he was an amateur boxer—New York State champ in the 108-pound class in 1915. The following March, he was a sports writer for Associated Newspapers out of New York City. By 1932, he was working for Warner Bros. in their Flatbush studio, became the head of Warners studio publicity on the West Coast the following year, then was made general assistant to Bryan Foy at the same studio in 1937. Eventually, he was promoted to head of the trailer department, then installed as a cartoon producer when Leon Schlesinger sold his studio to Warners in July 1944. Daily Variety announced his retirement on March 1, 1958 after 28 years with the company. While Selzer’s directors told stories that summed up their opinion of his personality, perhaps we should let Eddie speak for himself.

Despite being the head of the cartoon division, Selzer was never credited on a single cartoon. The honour went to Warner Bros. itself. But Selzer picked up all four Oscars the studio won while he was in charge, including the first one for ‘Tweety Pie,’ featuring the first pairing of Sylvester and Tweety—something that Selzer actually forbade until director Friz Freleng walked out on him and the producer had to renege the next day. Deep within an Associated Press story on the Oscar ceremony (I have not found a byline) of March 22, 1948, is Selzer’s reaction to his studio’s first Academy Award. His boys beat Disney and beat MGM with their bigger budgets. What did he think?

A small party followed at the home of Edward Selzer, who produced the winning cartoon, “Tweetie Pie.” He said, “I’m afraid my family was more excited about it than I was.”

Selzer began a family in New York City in May 1928 when his wife Laura gave birth to daughter Phyllis. In fact, it’s on the subject of marriage that I’m been able to find Eddie the most loquacious. This is from a column in the women’s page of Hamilton Daily News of Hamilton, Ohio, December 9, 1925.

We Women
Edward Selzer is an energetic young newspaper man of my acquaintance. Before he entered the newspaper field he was a good boxer, so good that he was ameteur [sic] champion of his class in New York state. He has the quality which most newspaper men lack, that is sound business sense. This quality makes him the sort of man who should be the head of a family and for a long time I have been curious as to why he is not married. I finally persuaded him to tell me.
“Why I’m not married?
“Well I guess it is because I think so much of my mother. My dad died when I was twelve years old, leaving my mother with nothing but three young healthy sons. She refused repeated offers to marry again, not wishing to give her children a stepfather. She worked hard to give us a good education. The sacrifices she made for us has made my affection for her so great that it doesn’t seem possible for any girl to make an impression upon me.
“Of course I like girls and have been very fond of your sex. But somehow or other none of them have been able to come up to my ideal of a wife. No doubt they suffer from comparison with my mother. And to be honest with you, for what I am and what I have I expect too much.
“My mother wants me to marry. But was there ever a mother who didn’t think her son too good for any girl?
“I have numerous friends who are happily married and some others who are not, but there isn’t one of them who hasn’t envied me my single bliss. If I want to go anywhere I can do it and there is and one to say me nay. A mother doesn’t mind staying home. In fact it is difficult for her to get out. When you are married, things are different.
“Perhaps I’m a moral coward.”
Marriage seems so sacred to me. The best wouldn’t be good enough for any girl I thought enough of to marry. Yet the thought of marrying a girl and then finding out we were not gaited the game way makes me afraid to take the plunge.
“Consequently I have refused to permit myself to fall in love.”

And, evidently, he could have added “with cartoons” at the end of the last sentence.

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