Jackson Leighter was my (Helena Seth-Smith's) Godfather.
Seems he was quite a character. Most of what I remember about him was the absurdly extravagant Girl's World I got for my 11th (?) birthday.
To give an idea of what he did, and what kind of guy he was, I have reproduced his CV, and included a few links related to him. He knew Walt Disney, Roosevelt and countless Hollywood stars.
Born in San Francisco June 4, 1905.
Educated in the public schools of California and the University of California. During period managed a major motion picture theatre in Berkeley and wrote daily newspaper releases for regional press about student life.
1925: Merchandising Manager of Oakland Tribune, a metropolitan newspaper. Also second-string dramatic critic.
1926: Placed under contract by Paramount Pictures as a student actor. Bored with inactivity, spent most so-called school days playing pool with Lionel Barrymore.
Resigned Paramount contract. Obtained first contract for sale of neon lights in Northern California. Married Pauline Kelley Moran. After extraordinary success in neon light operation had to close it down: source of product, Claude Neon Light Co., of Chicago, was indicted due to patent infringement, fraud etc., resulting in considerable loss to young company. After full payoff, decided such business was for another kind of man.
1927: Became Managing Editor of Marysville Democrat, once edited by Mark Twain. Persuaded competing newspaper, the Appeal, to cease publication. (Bret Harte had once been its editor.)
1928: Recommended by Clifford Irish of Oakland Tribune to James Houlihan, operator of a large advertising agency, as a copywriter. During next four years developed national reputation as a leading copywriter on automobiles and motor products. Also a producer of radio specials. Produced first California originated nationwide radio musical special directed by Raymond Paige entitled “California Melodies”.
1929: Produced a weekly one-hour radio show featuring Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, the Rhythm Boys, Mildred Bailey and, for the first time, motion picture guest stars on a weekly basis.
Made Palm Springs world-famous spa with the assistance of Albert Einstein and many motion picture stars.
1934: At the suggestion of friends Frederick Marsh, Melvyn Douglas and writer George O’Neil, entered the motion picture business as a representative of writers. Other clients included composer David Rose, Mary Martin and Jane Wyatt. Was unhappy albeit successful. Finally, in 1938, called all clients to lunch at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Restaurant and announced retirement.
1939: Accepted assignment a secretary and operations officer of ‘Hollywood for Roosevelt’ prior to the 1940 election campaign. Was credited by the motion picture industry, the Democratic Party and by President Roosevelt with the most effective campaign in political history. More than 80% of the motion picture and theatrical industries, and the arts and sciences, supported Roosevelt.
1940: Working with John Hay Whitney, became liaison to the motion picture industry for Nelson Rockefeller’s Committee for Latin American Affairs in Hollywood. Supervised many films made by Walt Disney for the U.S. Government, including two features: “Saludos Amigos” and “Los Tres Cabelleros”.
1942: Joined Orson Welles as partner and president of Mercury Productions, Inc. Successful partnership continued until after United Nations inaugural meeting in San Francisco.
1945: Asked by the State Department to set up many arrangements for guests to the world meeting.
In July, was asked by the owner of the New York Post to become vice-president of the newspaper and president of its radio-television corporation. Accepted. Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth had agreed to divorce, he wanted to live in Europe.
1947: Resigned New York Post for personal reasons. Made series of educational films in association with Hugh Harmon of Harmon-Ising for MGM. Participated, financially, in a major hit of “Call Me Mister”, produced by Melvin Douglas.
Offer from Italian Government to reconvert Cine-Cita studios from displaced persons’ camp to its former stature as one of the world’s finest motion picture studios. After comprehensive study of the problems, particularly the removal of hundreds of homeless men, women and children to safe residence in other countries, declined the assignment.
Helped Orson Welles finance his adaptation of “Around the World in Eighty Days” for Broadway production, with Cole Porter music. Great artistic success. Production was too costly for profit, but sale of rights for motion picture resulted in overall profit.
1947-48: Created the Friendship Train, which bought more than 500 large American freight-car loads to the near starving people of France and Italy, also three separate ship-loads from New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Campaign was conducted by Drew Pearson and his publisher and radio station owners. Owned the sales rights to the Pearson programme for many years.
1949-50: Consultant to Trygve Lie, first head of United Nations. Helped from UNESCO. Consulted by Lie on day of United States’ declaration of war against North Korea as to United States position. When called to meeting was producing and in pre-rehearsal of a musical written by Leon Pearson and George Shearing good-naturedly ridiculing the armed services. The new war ended the musical.
Executive Director United Nations World Magazine. Producer of Pearson’s programme and creator of programme sold to NBC and CBS by my one-time protégé, Fred W. Friendly.
1951: Went on safari with Prince Ali Khan and Rita Hayworth to East Africa and East Ocean Islands and Persia. Also studied economy, social and political situation in Egypt under our host King Farouk. Wrote, shot and edited a highly successful feature length film, “Champagne Safari” starring Rita Hayworth.
Did radio programme for CBS with Ethel Barrymore called “A Room with a View”. Miss Barrymore was too caustic to last. She blew the program right off the air by her attacks on the “China Lobby”.
Signed Producer/Writer contract with Charles Feldman productions (Red River, Streetcar Named Desire, etc.). Wrote four screenplays, “The Lonely Steeple”, “Hilda Crane”, “The Wayward Bus” and “Song of Ruth”. When Feldman became ill, he decided against producing, sold the scripts to David Zanuck for $2,000,000.
1952: Became secretary and operating/ executive chief of Beckworth Corporation, Rita Hayworth’s production company. In two years built a net of over $3,000,000. Resigned because of personal loss of $300,000 due to star’s romantic entanglement with Dick Haymes, who was responsible for her default of contract.
1953: Contracted by Schenley Industries (distillers and distributors of liquor and pharmaceuticals) to produce major industrial film for fee of $99,000. Later became vice-president and director of their information service at $200,000. Resigned because of unreasonable behaviour of Schenley chairman.
1956: Named International Vice President of Fairbanks-Whitney Corporation (now Colt Arms) with temporary headquarters in Mexico City. Conceived plan for small-farm electrification. Mexico’s president pledged support, but large land owners strongly opposed.
1957: Resigned when group headed by IT&T executive took control. Offered presidency of MGM Record Company, but refused on basis not knowledgeable in rock market. Formed own record company, making a successful series of jazz records, a distinguished spoken-work album by Melvyn Douglas and a remarkably profitable album entitled (in United States) “Jazz for Bach Buffs” and worldwide as “Hits of 1726”.
1960: Sold record company to Deutsche Grammophon Company and returned to California.
1961: Offered consultancy to Amerace Corporation (Major suppliers to automobile industry and highway safety devices. Also suppliers to Eastman, Polaroid and other camera manufacturers), with the ultimate object of becoming an officer. Accepted, remained until 1968, retiring as vice-president.
1968: Having long been dedicated to doing a film about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, returned to California to research the subject. Commissioned several scripts, one of which, by James Brabazon, is basis of current production plans. He is also a full partner.
Last twelve years plus have been devoted for the most part to the Schweitzer project. During the period have participated as consultant and part-time contributor to other motion picture and TV projects, most recently “Italia Gloriosa”, a 13-part series self-conceived, now in pre-production in England. Also, produced nationally televised jazz concerts with major stars, including Benny Carter, George Shearing, Ray Brown, Herbie Mann, Bud Shank and Shelley Manne.
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Last updated: February 2006
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