Hollywood Renegades Archive

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Howard Hawks—Independent Profile

Montery Productions: The Independent Film Company of Director Howard Hawks and Agent Charles K. Feldman

by J. A. Aberdeen

Howard Hawks (Press photo from the Goldwyn Studio c. 1930s).

Howard W. Hawks maintained tight artistic control of his films, and was known to walk off the set when the studio or its producers interfered. Like many of the independent producers, Hawks viewed himself as a hit-maker, creating films that pleased himself, but were designed to entertain the masses. He could not consider himself a success unless his tastes were in synchronization with the public. By carefully selecting his own projects, and methodically reworking them on the set, Hawks naturally gravitated toward a position where he could be his own boss.

Hawks had become close friends with Charles K. Feldman, a talent agent since 1932 who had film production ambitions. Feldman negotiated on behalf of Hawks to direct Sergeant York (1941), the Jesse L. Lasky independent production that became a box office smash. During World War II, Hawks and Feldman organized H-F Productions an independent company that acted more like a liaison with the studios to provide the director more creative leverage. H-F acquired talent and story properties, developed material, and then sold each project as a package to a studio, usually with Hawks as producer-director. Two Hawks successes at Warner Bros. originated in this manner, To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946).

Hawks and Feldman formed their independent company Monterey Productions in 1945. Hawks and his wife held a majority share of the company, while Feldman received the coveted title of executive producer. They were assisted by another agent-turned-producer Edward Small who arranged a distribution deal for Montgomery at United Artists. Small and his investors syndicate also financed the first Montgomery project Red River (1948). Unfortunately out-of-control spending pushed the budget sky-high. Originally estimated at $1.7 million, Red River suffered from severe cost overages that exceeded the budget by an astronomical $1 million. Production stalled while Hawks refinanced the film. In the process he ceded most of his interests in the film to Small.

Howard Hawks (right) with another studio producer who later turned independent Hal B. Walis.

After spending $2.8 million, and with Monterey's share going to creditors, Hawks renegotiated with United Artists for better percentage terms, and threatened to take the film to another distributor if they would not give in. Deadlock ensued when UA refused to cancel Monterey's contract. Meanwhile, Small threatened to foreclose if the delay continued.

Monterey was forced to move out of its headquarters on the Samuel Goldwyn lot, and disbanded in 1947 while the fate of Red River was still being fought over. Though the film became a smash hit when it was released the following year, Hawks was unable to keep his independent company alive. Hawks was already raising revenue by directing for Sam Goldwyn. He then accepted an offer from Darryl Zanuck to make films at Twentieth Century-Fox.


Monterey (Howard Hawks, Charles Feldman, and H-F): McCarthy, Howard Hawks, pp. 401-434, 468-469; Schatz, pp.424-425.

See Bibliography.


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