HINT: Whitney, the brother-in-law of William and Babe Paley, was a man of varied interests and talents. He was of the East Coast elite and also one of the richest men in the United States. Yet, he did not look down upon new arrivals, most particularly those who had a unique perspective on life. A case in point: Hollywood producer David O. Selznick was among his closest friends.
Per A Star Is Born, The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration, Whitney was displeased with the ho-hum title for the upcoming 1937 Selznick picture in which an ingenue played by Janet Gaynor arrives in Hollywood hoping for stardom and falls in love with an alcoholic leading man portrayed by Frederic Marc. Whitney argued that the title, "It Happened in Hollywood" be changed to "A Star Is Born," ... and the rest is history. In this instance, history repeated itself: three times, in fact. The first was in 1954 with the Judy Garland/James Mason remake. It did so again in 1976 with the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version. And, here history goes again, with the 2018 Gaga/Cooper remake.
John Hay Whitney was also instrumental in snagging the rights to Selznick's greatest success, Gone with the Wind. The movie came out in 1939, three years after publication of the book. Before its release in mid-1936, the rumor mill was abuzz. It was obvious that the potboiler novel would become a runaway bestseller, and that every movie studio would want the rights. Time was of the essence. Selznick's story editor, Kay Brown, realized this immediately, but she was rebuffed by David Selznick after she sent him a long synopsis of the book. Selznick hesitated, explaining Civil War pictures had crashed at the box office and that casting the leads would be difficult [spoiler alert: casting proved to be a challenge, but the publicity it generated paid for itself]. Selznick also balked at what he considered to be an exorbitant asking price for the rights—$65,000 (in retrospect, an incredible bargain).
With the clock ticking, Kay Brown sent the long synopsis to John Hay Whitney. He responded more enthusiastically, declaring, "if Selznick didn't buy the rights, he would go after them himself." Ultimately, Selznick secured the rights for $50,000, and the film went on to become one of the highest grossing in movie history (the highest grossing if one adjusts for inflation).
Three cheers for the multi-faceted John Hay Whitney. Not only was a star was born, a movie mogul was made.