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. Knowles said. "He banked on star quality, and put Hollywood stars and producers on bank advisory boards because they knew the community well and could guide the bank in making productive loans, figuring out who might be a good risk."

Bank of Italy became Bank of America in 1930, and the newly-named bank became a major lender to independent producers, including David O. Selznick, who made "Gone With the Wind," for $1.5 million. Half of the 1939 film was financed by the bank.

Another Hollywood classic, Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," about a struggling savings and loan executive, was underwritten by the bank in 1946.

But by the 1960s, Bank of America was no longer providing funding to specific movies or their makers. Large syndicated loans to the major studios became the choice method of finance.

BankAmerica still lends to big entertainment companies. Walt Disney Corp. currently has a five-year credit facility for buying film "product" and distributing it, according to Bank of America managing director Dudley W. Mendenhall.

The bank also provided half of the funds for the making of "Independence Day," last summer's action blockbuster produced by Fox Inc. for $75 million.

But some of the romance has left the business since the days when the Giannini brothers hobnobbed with Vivien Leigh and Louis B. Mayer.

Now, said Mr. Mendenhall, the major studios "view film as branded product. Any time you have a successful film title, it's just more software that you can pump through this huge distribution system."

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