Abstract: Writing the Script for Survival and Resurgence: RKO Studio and the Impact of the Great Depression

Edwin J. Perkins


This paper focuses on the management strategies of the RKO movie studio (Radio-Keith-Orphem) during the height of the Great Depression. The source material for this study is, I believe, genuinely unique. In a vast archive of movie memorabilia, I discovered two file cabinets that contained the business correspondence of the studio's top management for a period of approximately eighteen months starting in early 1932. The major movie studios in the 1930s had dual headquarters. The New York offices managed the distribution and exhibition ends of the business, and they handled the most important financial affairs. In Hollywood, studio heads were in charge of the manufacturing units for feature films, shorts, and newsreels. During these trying times, the RKO studio head, David Selznick, convinced his superiors to maintain the core institutional capabilities of the firm's production facilities and ride out the crisis. His plan succeeded brilliantly.