The Price of Liberty

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Of all the independent movie companies in the Hollywood pool, Liberty Films Inc. seemed most likely to become a big fish. It had three of Hollywood's top directors: Frank Capra (Mr.Deeds Goes to Town), a three-time Oscar winner; William Wyler, whose Best Years of Our Lives won nine Oscars last year; George Stevens (Penny Serenade) and Samuel Briskin, who was once Columbia Pictures production boss.

They formed Liberty because they wanted to have more freedom in making pictures than they could get from major studios. And by dissolving Liberty a few years hence, they would pay only a 25% tax on the profits instead of the enormous income taxes they have been paying on their enormous salaries. They planned to make at least 15 pictures.

Capra made the first one, It's a Wonderful Life. It was an excellent film, but not at the box offices. It was released just about the time that movie's attendance, in general, began to slump. It's a Wonderful Life cost $2,300,000 and has grossed only about $2,000,000 so far, less than half of what Liberty expected.

With the artistic freedom they had gained, Capra, Wyler and Stevens had also acquired the worries of businessmen. Wyler sighed: "I have no talent for business. I don't like it. What I want to do is direct pictures. But now I have to fuss with lawyers, make decisions about distribution, be a salesman and so on. I just don't know how."

Last week, the artists decided that it was not worthwhile to turn themselves into businessmen. They gladly made a deal with Paramount Pictures to sell it Liberty Films, including It's a Wonderful Life and various other scripts for a rumored $4,000,000 in Paramount stock. All agreed also to go to work for Paramount. To Hollywood's independent companies, it was a shock to hear that one of the best had given up. The signatures with which the deal was settled seemed like the handwriting on the wall to the war-born independents.