Independents Protest the UNITED MOTION
PICTURE INDUSTRY (1942)
Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen
The Unity Plan (UMPI)
The MPPDA (later known as the MPAA) joined with several exhibitor
organizations to form the Motion Picture Industry Conference Committee in
December 1941. Together they had a five-point mission to attack several of the
industry difficulties such as tax reform and international trade. However the
focus of the group was turned to something called the "Unity Plan"
which the Conference Committee created as an alternative to the Consent
Decree of 1940 to satisfy the Justice Department and avoid the reactivation
of the Paramount case.
MGM general manager William F. Rogers served as chairman of the organization,
and Jack Kirsch, the president of the Allied Theatre Owners of Illinois, headed
the drafting committee to revise the Consent Decree. The independent exhibitors
agreed to adjust the limit on block booking
from five films to 12 films in each block, if the distributors gave the theaters
a liberal rejection privilege. Both the distributors and exhibitors seemed
pleased with the compromise, and eager to hammer out the fine points of the
Meanwhile the Department of Justice became aware of the Motion Picture
Industry Conference Committee's activities, and viewed their decree-amending
efforts with circumspection. They sent a telegram to the group during the Motion
Picture Industry Conference in January 1942, prompting a meeting of the
distributors and exhibitors that lasted into the late night on January 22.
Planning to immediately get the Unity Plan off the ground, the committee asked
each exhibitor group to contribute $1,000, and every distributor to pledge
$7,000. To promote the image of industry solidarity, the group decided to change
the name of their organization to the United Motion Picture Industry (UMPI).
Opposition from the Independent Producers
Though, in name, UMPI was seen as a unified effort encompassing the entire
industry, the conspicuous absence of the independent producers was evident in
the deal being worked out between distributors and exhibitors. Trade showing was
being cast aside; block booking was on the resurgence. The prospects for the
independent producers were devastating. They feared that the so-called United
Motion Picture Industry was undermining any headway that had been made since
1938. The spirit of industry compromise in late 1941 and early 1942 provoked the
independent producers to announce the
formation of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.
By March 1942 the UMPI committee officially disclosed its plans for a
modified block booking arrangement between studios and exhibitors. UMPI would
soon try to convince the Department of Justice to accept the plan as an
amendment to the Consent Decree of 1940 which was to expire in less than three
months. The Unity Plan officially recommended limiting block booking to 12 films
or, for the larger studios, up to 25 percent of the annual studio output. Of
these dozen films, five would be trade-shown and would not be subject to
exhibitor cancellation; the remaining films would be sold blindly but two of the
seven could be canceled by theaters. The plan received the support of the major
studios and most of the influential exhibitor organizations including the Motion
Picture Theatre Owners of America, Allied States Association of Theatre Owners,
and the Independent Theatre Owners Association. UMPI's Jack Kirsch explained
that copies of the Unity Plan were being mailed to exhibitors throughout the
country, urging the theaters to join with the major studios to petition the
Department of Justice to accept the proposal as an alternative consent decree.
On April 29, SIMPP held a meeting to discuss the problems created by their
initial attack on the Unity Plan and to "lay the groundwork for a campaign
to thwart the so-called Unity effort and preserve the advantages of an open
market for the licensing of films," SIMPP meeting notes indicated. The
group was called together in New York by Loyd Wright and John C. Flinn, who
would replace James Allen as executive secretary effective May 1. Several key
independents sent their east coast representatives to the meeting—Grad Sears
(United Artists vice president in charge of distribution), James
Mulvey (representing Goldwyn), William B. Levy (for Disney), and Steven
Pallos (from Korda's London Films).
"Changed sentiment within the trade, with the exception of a few
isolated spots, is not anticipated," the meeting notes reasoned. "The
drive must be aimed to reawaken the public groups and the public press to the
realities of the proposals." In other words, long experience had shown that
the independent producers could not convince the industry itself; they would
have to take the issues to the people. SIMPP decided to undertake a national
publicity push orchestrated between the eastern and western branches of the
Society, as well as the publicity departments of the various producers, to
convince the public to continue the pressure on the Department of Justice with a
letter writing campaign.
SIMPP's Anti-Block Booking Letter
During the first week of May, the Society drafted a petition in the form of
an open letter to Assistant Attorney
General Thurman Arnold. It was titled "Shall
Block Booking of Motion Pictures Be Permitted to Return?" and printed
as a special pamphlet to be mailed to film representatives, special civic
organizations, and various government bureaus. SIMPP executive secretary John
Flinn personally delivered a copy of it to Thurman Arnold, head of the antitrust
division of the Justice Department.
The letter was dated June 1, 1942, the same day that the Consent Decree of
1940 expired. The Justice Department had only a short time to make up its mind,
whether it would accept an alternate plan, like the Unity Plan, or take the Big
Eight back to court.
In the open letter, written by Loyd Wright and John Flinn, the producers were
introduced as entrepreneurs in a "unique and highly vulnerable
position." They asserted that the independents' existence, and that of
their highly articulate films, depended on competition free from monopoly
control. "The names of the members of this Society," they said
capitalizing on the filmmakers' reputations, "are synonymous with the most
courageous, artistic and popular films over a period of years." In the
pamphlet SIMPP reaffirmed its complete objection to block booking of any kind.
The diatribe contained scathing language ("poisonous influence" and
"villainous career") to decry the indulgence of block booking as
"the root of all evil in the film industry."
In addition to the names of the Society president and executive secretary,
the letter was signed by SIMPP executive committee members Roy Disney, Samuel
Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walter F. Wanger.
CLICK HERE to read the full-text of the
SIMPP anti-block booking letter from June 1, 1942
Meanwhile, the UMPI committee presented the Unity Plan to the Department of
Justice. Despite the efforts of SIMPP, the industry trades reported that the
UMPI proposal would almost surely be accepted. As late as July 9, the industry
expected Thurman Arnold to adopt the plan with minor changes: "Speedy
Approval Is Seen," one trade headline roared. The major studios were
confident; Paramount, Warners and RKO began selling their films in accordance
with the plan, as if it had already been accepted. Twentieth Century-Fox, as a
sign of good faith, continued with the five-picture block, expecting to make
additions to the blocks when the new consent decree finalized. However, the
Department of Justice admitted that a recent public opposition to the Unity Plan
sparked by the independent producers gave them pause for consideration.
Mentioning the SIMPP letter as one of the most significant protests, the Justice
Department said it would need to consider the UMPI amendment in the light of
these new circumstances.
The Government Sides with SIMPP
The Justice Department indicated that the antitrust division supported this
action during the war, to preserve raw film ingredients that were also essential
to producing certain kinds of explosives. The antitrust division admitted
publicly that they agreed with SIMPP—that to allow the Unity Plan's 12-film
blocks would result in the unadvisable trend to more B-films. Seeing the new
report from Arnold, John Flinn telegraphed the Society: "Am more encouraged
than at any previous time that we are winning this UMPI fight."
The Unity Plan was indeed toppled by the Department of Justice when Thurman
Arnold rejected the proposal on August 17. Thereafter the United Motion Picture
Industry faded, even though only one of its original five-point missions had
been acted upon. William Rogers finished with UMPI, then resigned as general
sales manager of MGM to become president of RKO.
Motion Picture Industry Conference Committee, the Unity Plan, and the United
Motion Picture Industry: "Industry Unity Program Looms As Film Branches
Meet Today," HR, January 21, 1942, pp. 1, 2; "Industry Branches
in Accord," HR, January 22, 1942, pp. 1, 8; "Anti-Trusters
Report Swings Attention of Pix Unity Meet," HR, January 23, 1942, p.
1, 9; Thomas M. Prior, "By Way of Report," NYT, March 1, 1942,
sec. X, p. 3; "New Sales Plan For Films Urged," NYT, March 4,
1942, p. 22.
SIMPP opposes Unity Plan—"to consider desirability": Loyd Wright
to SIMPP, telegram, March 26, 1942, WW; Loyd Wright, SIMPP, untitled, (press
release), April 13, 1942, WWP; "Chaplin and Other Independents Oppose New
Plan for Block Booking of Films," p. 16.
SIMPP v. UMPI: Thomas M. Prior, "In This Corner: Presenting a
Three-Sided Fight Over Proposed Changes in Selling Films," NYT,
April 19, 1942, sec. VIII, p. 4; Samuel Goldwyn, "Mr. Goldwyn Takes Up the
Cudgels," p. 4.
In no known instances had a SIMPP founding member block booked a package
consisting of their own features. However, early SIMPP member Hunt Stromberg
reissued Lady of Burlesque (1943) and The Guest in the House
(1944), sometimes as a unit, sometimes separately according to the Hunt
Stromberg United Detroit case deposition: The Society of Independent
Motion Picture Producers, et al v. United Detroit Theatres Corp., et al,
case number 7589, District Court of the United States for the Eastern District
of Michigan Southern Division, Deposition of Hunt Stromberg, April 8,
1949, p. 86, AMPAS.
SIMPP meeting notes April 29: John C. Flinn, May 1, 1942, WWP.
SIMPP anti-block booking: Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers to
Thurman Arnold, "Shall Block Booking of Motion Pictures Be Permitted to
Return?" An Open Letter, published by SIMPP, New York, June 1, 1942.
Unity Plan makes progress: "UMPI Has New Sales System," DV,
March 2, 1942, p. 1; "UMPI Plan Gets Tentative O.K.: Speedy Approval Is
Seen," HR, July 9, 1942, pp. 1, 10; "Para, Warners, RKO Will
See New Season Pix in 3 Blocks," HR, July 13, 1942, pp. 1, 4.
Unity Plan regress: "UMPI Sales Plan Faces Hurdles," HR,
July 17, 1942, p. 1 (Consent Decree amendments given in full: Sections III-A,
IV-A and VII); "UMPI Plan Seems Doomed," HR July 22, 1942, p.
1; "UMPI Handed K.O. by Arnold," HR, August 18, 1942, p. 1.
"Am more encouraged": John Flinn to Loyd Wright, telegram, July 22,
Big Five maintain block booking: "Five Majors Will Continue Blocks of 5
If UMPI Fails," HR, July 31, 1942, p. 1; "Metro Selling Blocks
of 8," HR, August 14, 1942, p. 1; "4 Majors Continue Blocks of
5," HR, August 19, 1942, p. 1.