Walter Wanger: The SIMPP Years
by J.A. Aberdeen
Lang, Joan Bennett, and Walter Wanger announce the formation of Diana
Productions in 1946.
The career of Walter Wanger featured the extreme ups-and-downs typical of
classic Hollywood independent film productionówhere prosperity came with each
successful film, and insolvency loomed with every flop. In 1942, during SIMPP's
first year, Wanger was the highest paid Hollywood figure behind Louis B. Mayer.
His personal income tax for the year was an incredible $900,000 following the
success of Eagle Squadron (1941) and Arabian Nights (1942).
Diana Productions team: Walter Wanger (producer), Dudley Nichols
(screenwriter), Joan Bennett (actor) and Fritz Lang (director).
Accordingly, Wanger took advantage of the postwar boom with a vast
diversification and a brief sojourn into distribution. In 1946, during his
reorganization of Walter Wanger Productions, he reactivated Walter Wanger
Pictures to accelerate his plans to produce prestige pictures, and also formed
Young American Films, Inc. to specialize in 16-millimeter educational movies. He
joined forces with other independents like William and Edward Nassour who became
SIMPP members in 1949 (not to be confused with the Nasser family which also
joined SIMPP around the same time).
In 1949 Wanger organized his own distribution company in partnership with the
Nassour brothers and Joseph Bernhard, the owner of Film Classics which had
acquired most of the Selznick International film library. They formed the
Wanger-Nassour Releasing Organization, but it was quickly stunted by Wanger's
financial difficulties, including the unraveling of Diana Productions (with Joan
Bennett, Fritz Lang, and Dudley Nichols) and Sierra Pictures (with Ingrid
Bergman and Victor Fleming).
of Arc (1948). Ingrid Bergman stars in the coatly Walter Wanger
production. (Aberdeen collection).
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Unfortunately Wanger had approached Joan of Arc (1948) too ambitiously, and had
overconfidently risked the subsidiary rights from his previous films in order to
finance the new epic which he considered his equivalent of Gone With the Wind.
The failure of Joan of Arc brought unforeseen damage by costing Wanger
the television rights to his film library at a time before the TV market had
matured. In January 1951 Bank of America filed a petition of involuntary
bankruptcy against Wanger for his outstanding debt from The Reckless Moment
(1949), the film which incidentally had delayed Wanger's deposition-taking in SIMPP
v. United Detroit. He protested the action, and started to put his
production company back on its feet with a three-year, $5 million deal with
Bennett, wife of Walter Wanger.
Unfortunately the distinguished independent veteran became embroiled in one
of the most sensational attempted murders in the history of Los Angeles. Wanger
suspected extra-marital activity between his wife Joan Bennett and her agent
Jennings Lang of MCA. On December 13, 1951, the gentle, silver-haired Wanger
shot the agent with two bullets during a rendezvous between Lang and Bennett
outside the Beverly Hills apartment of Marlon Brando. The SIMPP producers,
including Goldwyn and Disney, came to Wanger's defense during the ensuing legal
proceedings. The MCA agent recovered, and Wanger served four months in prison.
CLICK HERE for more on the Shooting
of Jennings Lang
After his parole, Wanger produced other films including his best-remembered
movie from this period, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). A few
years later he convinced Twentieth Century-Fox to film one of his pet projects, Cleopatra
(1963). He served as a salaried producer for the feature which became one of the
most problematic film productions in Hollywood history, held the record as the
most expensive movie ever, and nearly brought ruin upon Twentieth Century-Fox.
In 1965 Walter Wanger's marriage to Joan Bennett ended in divorce. The
independent producer died from a heart attack on November 17, 1968, leaving
behind an $18,000 estate.
Wanger in his later years.
Walter Wanger's reorganizationóWalter Wanger Pictures, Young
American Films, Diana Productions, Sierra Pictures: "Wanger Pictures
Reorganized," LAT, April 15, 1946. Also "Wanger Sets Up Film
Budget of $14,00,00," LAT, February 11, 1946; "Wanger Schedules
10 Big Films," Los Angeles Examiner, February 11, 1946.
The Wanger-Nassour Releasing Organization: see "First
Film Pacted by Wanger-Nassour," HR, June 7, 1949.
Allied Artists deal with Wanger: "Wanger Will Produce For
Allied Artists Release," MPH, June 16, 1951.
Shooting of Jennings Lang: "Joan Bennett Sees Mate Shoot
Agent," LAT, December 14, 1951, p. 1; "Shooting Story Told by
Wanger," LAT, December 15, 1951; "Joan and Lang Held Trysts at
Brando Home," Los Angeles Examiner, December 21, 1951. Also see
McDougal, The Last Mogul, pp. 170-173.
Wanger obituary: "Film Producer Walter Wanger Dies at
72," LAT, November 19, 1968, pp. 3, 16.