BankAmerica's Legacy: Tarzan to 'Snow White' to 'Gone with the Wind.' (Lending to Motion Picture Producers)

Article excerpt

Back in 1937, when a young Walt Disney made the rounds to get funding for the first full-length animated motion picture, he was laughed at.

But then he went to see an executive at Bank of America, then being run by its founder A.P. Giannini.

Mr. Giannini "saw that Hollywood was growing into an indigenous industry for California, just like wine," according to BankAmerica Corp. historian Duncan M. Knowles. Grabbing the opportunity, Bank of America gave Mr. Disney $2 million to make "Snow White."

The rest, as they say, is history.

In the years that followed, the bank financed the "Silly Symphonies," Mickey Mouse shorts, and many full-length Disney animations, including "Dumbo," "Bambi," and "Fantasia."

The love affair between the bank and Hollywood had actually begun years earlier, when Bank of America was only four years old and still called the Bank of Italy.

In 1908, Mr. Giannini made a $500 personal loan to Sol Lesser, producer of the Tarzan movies. Mr. Lesser, grateful for his start, introduced Mr. Giannini's brother, A.H., better known as "Doc," to the nickelodeon owners of New York City. At the time, Doc Giannini was president of the East River National Bank, Bank of Italy's first New York affiliate.

The banner year for the bank's relationship with Hollywood may have been 1923. That year, the Bank of Italy created a motion picture loan division in Los Angeles and helped Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith start United Artists. Also, Cecil B. DeMille became a vice president and chairman of the advisory board on motion picture lending at an affiliate, Commercial National Bank.

"Doc Giannini had a lot of personal relationships with entertainers, including Will Rogers," Mr. …