Selznick, Irene Mayer (1910–1990)

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Selznick, Irene Mayer (1910–1990)

American theater producer. Name variations: Irene Mayer. Born Irene Gladys Mayer on April 2, 1910, in Brookline, Massachusetts; died in 1990; youngest of two daughters of Louis B. Mayer (the movie producer) and Margaret (Shenberg) Mayer; attended public schools in Brookline, Massachusetts; attended Hollywood School for Girls, Hollywood, California; married David O. Selznick (the movie producer), on April 29, 1930 (divorced 1948); children: Jeffrey Selznick (b. 1932); Daniel Mayer Selznick (b. 1936).

The daughter of a powerful movie mogul and the wife of another, Irene Mayer Selznick made her own mid-life debut into show business as a theatrical producer, bringing to the Broadway stage A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and The Chalk Garden (1955), among others. Born Irene Gladys Mayer in 1910 in Brookline, Massachusetts, she was the youngest of two daughters of Louis B. Mayer and Margaret Shenberg Mayer . Selznick spent her first ten years in Massachusetts, where her father began his movie career as a theater owner and film distributor. After he moved into film production and formed his own company, the Mayers moved to Hollywood.

"There was nothing spartan about our lives, but strictness prevailed," Selznick wrote in her memoir A Private View (1983), describing her decidedly conservative Jewish upbringing. In 1926, she began dating one of her father's bright and ambitious new assistants, David O. Selznick, whom she married in April 1930.

Over the next 17 years, David rose to become one of Hollywood's greatest movie-makers, producing such films as A Star is Born, Rebecca, and his crowning achievement Gone With the Wind. In addition to his obsession with work, he partied, gambled excessively, and took drugs to keep functioning beyond the point of exhaustion. During that time, Selznick raised their two boys, ran several fully staffed houses, and generally oversaw their lavish and frantic lifestyle. "If I hadn't been so accommodating and efficient, it might have served David better in the long run," Selznick wrote. "But it wasn't his fault. I didn't feel imposed on. I was Privileged! This was exactly what I wanted to do: be fully used; grow, learn; have his dreams come true. This was not unselfishness, it just happened to be the limit of my ambition. I was not only old-school, I was old-country."

In 1945, following an intensive round of psychoanalysis and her husband's continued gambling and drug use, Selznick left her marriage, moving to New York. Attracted to producing, and having the right contacts, she cut her teeth on Heartsong, a new play by Arthur Laurents, even investing her own money in the project. The play failed in tryouts but proved to Selznick that producing plays, however difficult, might be easier than life with David.

Selznick's second project, Tennessee Williams' masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire, opened on December 3, 1947, and ran for 855 performances. Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Jessica Tandy , Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, the play also won every major honor, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Donaldson Award, and the New York Drama Critics' Award. Selznick, now on sure footing, went on to produce Bell, Book and Candle (1950), Flight into Egypt (1952), The Chalk Garden (with Irving Schneider, 1955), and The Complaisant Lover (in association with H.M. Tennent, Donald Albery and F.E.S. Plays, 1961). After turning down John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and Shelagh Delaney 's A Taste of Honey, she decided that it was time to retire from the theater. "Now I wanted options and, luckily, I could afford them," she wrote. "Once again I was quitting while I was ahead, and with my reputation intact."

Selznick spent her later years in a sprawling home ("Imspond") two miles from the Connecticut border, sharing her life with a man whose name she may have revealed only to her former husband. Her friendship with David endured until his death in 1965. She died in 1990, age 80.


McGill, Raymond D., ed. Notable Names in the American Theatre. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1976.

Selznick, Irene Mayer. A Private View. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

Wilmeth, Don B., and Tice L. Miller, eds. Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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