Creator of so many memorable movie classics down through the years, Paramount Pictures, the longest operating and only remaining major studio in Hollywood, has been at the vanguard of film-making for over a century, writes Tom McParland.
Before movie seduction existed it was summarised by the old Irish saying: May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead. And we’ve all spent those hypnotic heavens watching some of the most tasteless turkeys imaginable – The Conqueror (1956), or prodigious weepies – Magnificent Obsession (1954), or just wrecking the joint – Rock Around The Clock (1955). The star systems also seduced us into paying good money to see hams who were to acting what Quasimodo was to straightness.
One of Hollywood studios to have successfully seduced audiences for 110 years is Paramount Pictures. Its internationally familiar twin cream arches have from 1927 proclaimed the famous logo: Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood. But this last remaining big studio in the film capital did not begin there. Nor was it called Paramount Pictures.
It began in 1912 as Famous Players Film Company making silent movies at Astoria Studios, New York, and would go through five name changes between 1912 and 1936. Shorthand for Paramount could certainly be Adolph Zukor who remained as its first president for 54 years till he retired aged 91 in 1966.
Nickelodeon businessman Adolph Zukor and associates including his brother-in-law Samuel Goldwyn, Jessie Lasky and Cecil B DeMille founded Famous Players Films. Its first release was a 1912 French import, The Loves of Queen Elizabeth, starring the famous opera star Sarah Bernhardt who, then 68, described it as ‘my last attempt at immortality’. It concerned the love affairs of the Virgin Queen. So, Paramount’s virgin entry into moviedom was achieved by the simple substituting of English intertitles into a foreign film.
The success of this 53-minute, 4-reeler convinced other makers of American one and two reel movies that feature length was the way to go. Between July 1912 and February 1914 FFP released 19 studio-made releases, all examples of Zukor’s uncanny ability to select product that could be re-made over and over again. The Prisoner Of Zenda (4 remakes), Brewster’s Millions (7 remakes), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Hardy’s best novel, 8 remakes) and The Count of Monte Cristo (29 remakes) were just some of them.
Zukor left the actual production and direction to others such as Jessie Lasky, Cecil B DeMille and later to Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, and Rouben Mamoulian etc. But the determination with which movies were chosen, development of corporate goals, assigning budgets and overseeing publicity was Zukor’s responsibility.
In 1914 Zukor released its films through W. W. Hodkinson’s chain of nearly 2,000 cinemas called Paramount. A decision central to the growth of Zukor’s companies was his hooking-up with and adapting Hodkinson’s company name Paramount. A new logo was devised to reflect the new Paramount Pictures and its various strands. It consisted of Paramount Pictures against a black-and-white Utah mountain base – the 9,712-foot-high Ben Lomond.
Paramount’s peaking from billowing clouds with a halo of 22 stars represented those actors who’d ascended beyond its peak, among them: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid, Rudolph Valentino, Bebe Daniels, Clara Bow and Adolphe Menjou. Over the years the logo changed little. Skies, foothills and a horizon were added to the mountain but the 22 stars still reflected the studio’s policy of hiring prominent moviestars.