Jesse Lasky (born this day in 1880) is best known these days for being one of the founders of Paramount Pictures (you see his name in the titles of those early silents “Famous Players-Lasky”). But he climbed to his exalted position all the way up the show business ladder, never skipping a rung. Beginning from his native San Francisco, he started out in medicine shows, then became a coronet player, forming a vaudeville act with his sister Blanche. From here he became an agent and promoter.
In 1911 he built his own version of the Parisian Folies Bergère in Times Square, where the likes of Olga Petrova and Mae West found early employment. It was an expensive flop, but it put him on the map.Within a few months, he rebounded big time, forming the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company the with his brother-in-law Samuel Goldfish (who changed his name to Goldwyn), producing the first real American feature The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. Demille. In 1916, the company merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players, which after several mergers, became Paramount. Lasky continued to produce films for the rest of his life, passing away in 1958.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. To learn more about the early film industry please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc