June 19, 1914: Paramount Pictures is born

Paramount_Pictures_logo_(2013)Paramount Pictures Corporation (also known as Paramount Pictures and simply Paramount) is an American film studio based in Hollywood, California, that has been a subsidiary of the American media conglomerate Viacom since 1994. Paramount is the fifth oldest surviving film studio in the world, the second oldest in the United States, and the sole member of the “Big Six” film studios still located in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Hollywood. In 1916, film producer Adolph Zukor contracted 22 actors and actresses and honored each with a star on the logo. These fortunate few would become the first “movie stars.”

Paramount Pictures dates its existence from the 1912 founding date of the Famous Players Film Company. Hungarian-born founder, Adolph Zukor, who had been an early investor in nickelodeons, saw that movies appealed mainly to working-class immigrants. With partners Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman he planned to offer feature-length films that would appeal to the middle class by featuring the leading theatrical players of the time (leading to the slogan “Famous Players in Famous Plays”). By mid-1913, Famous Players had completed five films, and Zukor was on his way to success. Its first film was Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth, which starred Sarah Bernhardt.

That same year, another aspiring producer, Jesse L. Lasky, opened his Lasky Feature Play Company with money borrowed from his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfish, later known as Samuel Goldwyn. The Lasky company hired as their first employee a stage director with virtually no film experience, Cecil B. DeMille, who would find a suitable site in Hollywood, near Los Angeles, for his first feature film, The Squaw Man.

Paramount_logo_1914Starting in 1914, both Lasky and Famous Players released their films through a start-up company, Paramount Pictures Corporation, organized early that year by a Utah theatre owner, W. W. Hodkinson, who had bought and merged several smaller firms. Hodkinson and actor, director, producer Hobart Bosworth had started production of a series of Jack London movies. Paramount was the first successful nationwide distributor; until this time, films were sold on a statewide or regional basis which had proved costly to film producers. Also, Famous Players and Lasky were privately owned while Paramount was a corporation.

In 1916, Zukor maneuvered a three-way merger of his Famous Players, the Lasky Company, and Paramount. Zukor and Lasky bought Hodkinson out of Paramount, and merged the three companies into one. The new company Lasky and Zukor founded, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, grew quickly, with Lasky and his partners Goldwyn and DeMille running the production side, Hiram Abrams in charge of distribution, and Zukor making great plans. With only the exhibitor-owned First National as a rival, Famous Players-Lasky and its “Paramount Pictures” soon dominated the business.

ParamountLogo1930sBecause Zukor believed in stars, he signed and developed many of the leading early stars, including Mary Pickford, Marguerite Clark, Pauline Frederick, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and Wallace Reid. By the 1930s, talkies brought in a range of powerful new draws: Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Jeanette MacDonald, Claudette Colbert, the Marx Brothers (whose first two films were shot at Paramount’s Astoria, New York, studio), Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, band leader Shep Fields, famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel, and Gary Cooper among them.

By the early 1960s, Paramount’s future was doubtful. The high-risk movie business was wobbly; the theater chain was long gone; investments in the DuMont Television Network and in early pay-television came to nothing; and the Golden Age of Hollywood had just ended, even the flagship Paramount building in Times Square was sold to raise cash, as was their Los Angeles TV station KTLA (sold to Gene Autry in 1964 for a then-phenomenal $12.5 million). Their only remaining successful property at that point was Dot Records, which Paramount had acquired in 1957, and even its profits started declining by the middle of the 1960s.

In 1966, a sinking Paramount was sold to Charles Bluhdorn’s industrial conglomerate, Paramount_Pictures_(Gulf+Western)_logoGulf + Western Industries Corporation. Paramount’s reputation for commercial success was restored with The Odd Couple, Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Chinatown, and 3 Days of the Condor. Gulf + Western Industries also bought the neighboring Desilu television studio (once the lot of RKO Pictures) from Lucille Ball in 1967. Using some of Desilu’s established shows such as Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix as a foot in the door at the networks, the newly reincorporated Paramount Television eventually became known as a specialist in half-hour situation comedies.

Paramount_Pictures_print_logo_(1968).svgIn 1970, Paramount teamed with Universal Studios to form Cinema International Corporation, a new company that would distribute films by the two studios outside the United States. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would become a partner in the mid-1970s. Both Paramount and CIC entered the video market with Paramount Home Video (now Paramount Home Entertainment) and CIC Video, respectively. Paramount’s successful run of pictures extended into the 1980s and 1990s, generating hits like Airplane!, American Gigolo, Ordinary People, An Officer and a Gentleman, Flashdance, Terms of Endearment, Footloose, Pretty in Pink, Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Fatal Attraction, Ghost, the Friday the 13th slasher series, as well as teaming up with Lucasfilm to create the Indiana Jones franchise. Other examples are the Star Trek film series and a string of films starring comedian Eddie Murphy like Trading Places, Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop and its sequels.

In 1993, Sumner Redstone’s entertainment conglomerate Viacom made a bid for a merger with Paramount Communications; this quickly escalated into a bidding war with Barry Diller’s QVC. But Viacom prevailed, ultimately paying $10 billion for the Paramount holdings. Viacom and Paramount had planned to merge as early as 1989.

Paramount is the last major film studio located in Hollywood proper. When Paramount moved to its present home in 1927, it was in the heart of the film community. Since then, former next-door neighbor RKO closed up shop in 1957 (Paramount ultimately absorbed their former lot); Warner Bros. (whose old Sunset Boulevard studio was sold to Paramount in 1949 as a home for KTLA) moved to Burbank in 1930; Columbia joined Warners in Burbank in 1973 then moved again to Culver City in 1989; and the Pickford-Fairbanks-Goldwyn-United Artists lot, after a lively history, has been turned into a post-production and music-scoring facility for Warners, known simply as “The Lot”. For a time the semi-industrial neighborhood around Paramount was in decline, but has now come back. The recently refurbished studio has come to symbolize Hollywood for many visitors, and its studio tour is a popular attraction. [Wikipedia]

Read more at www.paramount.com.

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