Today is the birthday of Adolph Zukor (1873-1976).
In the unlikely event you didn’t know, Zukor was the founder and long time President, then Chairman of the Board of Paramount Pictures. Originally from Hungary, he immigrated to the U.S. at age 16 and became an apprentice furrier, rapidly working his way up to being a prosperous merchant. In 1903 he invested in the Automatic Vaudeville Company,a chain of nickelodeons, which got him into the film business on the ground floor.
In 1912 he formed Famous Players, so called because its mission was to present famous stage actors (such as Sarah Bernhardt) in the cinema. In 1916 he merged with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company to form Famous Players-Lasky, which then merged with the Paramount Pictures Corp. started by W.W. Hodkinson as a minor concern a couple of years earlier. Over the course of the 1920s, the Paramount brand came to displace “Famous Players-Lasky”. Along the way, Zukor became a pioneer of what came to be known as “vertical integration”, the concentration of film production, distribution and exhibition within the hands of a single corporate entity, a practice that was ended by law in the late 1940s.
While the studio was famous for prestige productions like the big budget epics of Cecil B. DeMille, it also became known for being especially hospitable to comedy — for a time. Mack Sennett and Fatty Arbuckle distributed through Paramount for awhile, Ernst Lubitsch directed his “sophisticated, European” style comedies, and the contract players included the Marx Brothers, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Hope and Crosby (together and separately), Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and later Martin and Lewis.
Zukor retired in 1959, and died in 1976. Check it out — the tough old bird lived to be 103 years old!
For more on the early film industry don’t miss 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
To learn about show business history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.