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Paramount Pictures (1912)

Paramount Pictures Corporation

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  Summary  

Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film and television production/distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still headquartered in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Paramount is consistently ranked as one of the largest (top-grossing) movie studios.

Paramount Pictures is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America .

  Biography  

 1912–1920: Early history
Paramount Pictures can trace its beginning to the creation in May 1912 of the Famous Players Film Company. Founder Hungarian-born 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.

That same year, another aspiring producer, Jesse L. Lasky, opened his Lasky Feature show 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 location site in Hollywood, near Los Angeles, for his first feature film, The Squaw Man.

Beginning 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 nation-wide distributor; until this time, films were sold on a state-wide or regional basis which had proved costly to film producers. Also, Famous Players and Lasky were privately owned while Paramount was a corporation. On September 28, 1916, the other two companies were merged into Paramount-Famous-Lasky Corporation.

Soon the ambitious Zukor, unused to taking a secondary role, began courting Hodkinson and Lasky. In 1916, Zukor maneuvered a three-way merger of his Famous Players, the Lasky Company, and Paramount. The new company, 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.

 1921–1930: The rise

Because 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. With so many important players, Paramount was able to introduce "block booking", which meant that an exhibitor who wanted a particular star's films had to buy a year's worth of other Paramount productions. It was this system that gave Paramount a leading position in the 1920s and 1930s, but which led the government to pursue it on antitrust grounds for more than twenty years.

The driving force behind Paramount's rise was Zukor. All through the teens and twenties, he built a mighty theatrical chain of nearly 2,000 screens, ran two production studios, and became an early investor in radio, taking a 50% interest in the new Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928 . By acquiring the successful Balaban & Katz chain in 1926, he gained the services of Barney Balaban, (who would eventually become Paramount's president in 1936), his brother A. J. Balaban, and their partner Sam Katz, who would run the Paramount-Publix theatre chain from New York City. Zukor also hired independent producer B. P. Schulberg, an unerring eye for new talent, to run the new West Coast studio. This new 26 acre studio, at 5555 Melrose Avenue, cost $1 million. In 1927, Famous Players-Lasky took on the name Paramount-Famous Lasky Corporation. Three years later, because of the importance of the Publix theater chain, it was later known as Paramount-Publix Corporation.

Also in 1928, Paramount began releasing Inkwell Imps animated cartoons produced by Max and Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios in New York City. The Fleischers, veterans in the animation industry, would prove to be among the few animation producers capable of challenging the prominence of Walt Disney. The Paramount newsreel series Paramount News ran from 1927 to 1957.

 1931–1940: Receivership
Eventually, Zukor shed most of his early partners; the Frohman brothers, Hodkinson and Goldwyn were out by 1917 while Lasky hung on until 1932, when, blamed for the near-collapse of Paramount in the Depression years, he too was tossed out. Zukor's over-expansion and use of overvalued Paramount stock for purchases led the company into receivership in 1933. A bank-mandated reorganization team, led by John Hertz and Otto Kahn kept the company intact, and, miraculously, kept Zukor on. In 1935, Paramount Publix went bankrupt. in 1936, Barney Balaban became president, and Zukor was bumped up to chairman of the board. In this role, Zukor reorganized the company as Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was able to successfully bring the studio out of bankruptcy.

As always, Paramount films continued to emphasize stars; in the 1920s there were Swanson, Valentino, and Clara Bow. By the 1930s, talkies brought in a range of powerful new draws: Miriam Hopkins, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, the Marx Brothers, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, the band leader Shep Fields and the famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel among them. In this period Paramount can truly be described as a movie factory, turning out sixty to seventy pictures a year. Such were the benefits of having a huge theater chain to fill, and of block booking to persuade other chains to go along. In 1933, Mae West would also add greatly to Paramount's success with her movies She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. However, the sex appeal West gave in these movies would also lead to the enforcement of the Production Code, as the newly formed organization the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened a boycott if it was not enforced.

Paramount cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios continued to be successful, with characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor becoming widely successful. One Fleischer series, Screen Songs, featured live-action music stars under contract to Paramount hosting sing-alongs of popular songs. However, a huge blow to Fleischer Studios occurred in 1934, after the Production Code was enforced and Betty Boop's popularity declined as she was forced to have a more tame personality and wear a longer skirt. The animation studio would rebound with Popeye, and in 1935, polls showed that Popeye was even more popular than Mickey Mouse. After an unsuccessful expansion into feature films, as well as the fact that Max and Dave Fleischer were no longer speaking to one another, Fleischer Studios was acquired by Paramount, which renamed the operation Famous Studios. That incarnation of the animation studio continued cartoon production until 1967, but has been historically dismissed as having largely failed to maintain the artistic acclaim the Fleischer brothers achieved under their management.

 1941–1950: United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.
In 1940, Paramount agreed to a government-instituted consent decree: block booking and "pre-selling" (the practice of collecting up-front money for films not yet in production) would end. Immediately Paramount cut back on production, from sixty-plus pictures to a more modest twenty annually in the war years. Still, with more new stars like Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and Betty Hutton, and with war-time attendance at astronomical numbers, Paramount and the other integrated studio-theatre combines made more money than ever. At this, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department decided to reopen their case against the five integrated studios. Paramount also had a monopoly over Detroit movie theaters through subsidiary company United Detroit Theaters as well. This led to the Supreme Court decision United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. holding that movie studios could not also own movie theater chains. This decision broke up Adolph Zukor's creation and effectively brought an end to the classic Hollywood studio system.

 1951–1966: Split and after
With the separation of production and exhibition forced by the U.S. Supreme Court, Paramount Pictures Inc. was split in two. Paramount Pictures Corporation was formed to be the production distribution company, with the 1,500-screen theater chain handed to the new United Paramount Theaters on December 31, 1949. Leonard Goldenson, who had headed the chain since 1938, remained as the new company's president. The Balaban and Katz theatre division was spun off with UPT; its trademark eventually became the property of the Balaban and Katz Historical Foundation. The Foundation has recently acquired ownership of the Famous Players Trademark. Cash-rich and controlling prime downtown real estate, Goldenson began looking for investments. Barred from film-making by prior anti-trust rulings, he acquired the struggling ABC television network in February 1953, leading it first to financial health, and eventually, in the mid-1970s, to first place in the national Nielsen ratings, before selling out to Capital Cities in 1985. United Paramount Theaters was renamed ABC Theaters in 1965 and was sold to businessman Henry Plitt in 1974. The movie theater chain was renamed Plitt Theaters. In 1985, Cineplex Odeon Corporation merged with Plitt. In later years, Paramount's TV division would develop a strong relationship with ABC, providing many hit series to the network.

The DuMont fiasco
Paramount Pictures had been an early backer of television, launching experimental stations in 1939 in Los Angeles and Chicago. The Los Angeles station eventually became KTLA, the first commercial station on the West Coast. The Chicago station got a commercial license as WBKB in 1943, but was sold to UPT along with Balaban & Katz in 1948, resold to CBS, and eventually became WBBM-TV.

In 1938, Paramount bought a stake in television manufacturer DuMont Laboratories. Through this stake, it became a minority owner of the DuMont Television Network. However, Paramount proved to be a timid and obstructionist partner. Its minority stake hampered DuMont's efforts to expand. KTLA and WBBM were recognized by the FCC as DuMont O&O stations, even though the former was only an affiliate in 1947 and the latter never carried a DuMont program. Since DuMont already owned three stations, the FCC did not allow DuMont to buy any more stations as long as Paramount owned a portion of DuMont. However, Paramount refused to sell. It also refused to help DuMont as it sank during the 1950s. Most importantly, when DuMont agreed in principle to merge with ABC in 1953, Paramount vetoed the deal in part due to an earlier FCC ruling that Paramount controlled DuMont. Within two years of the failed ABC deal, DuMont was no more.

In 1951, Paramount bought a stake in International Telemeter, an experimental pay TV service which operated with a coin inserted into a box. The service began operating in Palm Springs, California on November 27, 1953, but due to pressure from the FCC and theater owners, the service ended on May 15, 1954.

With the loss of the theater chain, Paramount Pictures went into a decline, cutting studio-backed production, releasing its contract players, and making production deals with independents. By the mid-1950s, all the great names were gone; only C.B. DeMille, associated with Paramount since 1913, kept making pictures in the grand old style. Despite Paramount's losses, DeMille would, however, give the studio some relief and create his most successful film at Paramount, a 1956 remake of his 1923 film The Ten Commandments. Like some other studios, Paramount saw little value in its film library . DeMille died in 1959.

 1966–1970: Early Gulf+Western era
By the early 1960s, Paramount's future was doubtful. The high-risk movie business was wobbly; the theater chain was long gone; investments in DuMont and in early pay-television came to nothing. Even the flagship Paramount building in Times Square was sold to raise cash, as was KTLA (sold to Gene Autry in 1964 for a then-phenomenal $12.5 million). Founding father Adolph Zukor was still chairman emeritus; he referred to chairman Barney Balaban as "the boy." Such aged leadership was incapable of keeping up with the changing times, and in 1966, a sinking Paramount was sold to Charles Bluhdorn's industrial conglomerate, Gulf + Western Industries Corporation. Bluhdorn immediately put his stamp on the studio, installing a virtually unknown producer named Robert Evans as head of production. Despite some rough times, Evans held the job for eight years, restoring Paramount's reputation for commercial success with The Odd Couple, Love Story, Chinatown, and Rosemary's Baby.

Gulf + Western Industries also bought the neighboring Desilu television studio 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.

 1971–1980: CIC Formation & High Concept era
In 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 and CIC Video, respectively.

Robert Evans quit as head of production in 1974; his successor, Richard Sylbert, proved to be too literary and too tasteful for Gulf + Western's Bluhdorn. By 1976, a new, television-trained team was in place headed by Barry Diller and his "Killer-Dillers", as they were called by admirers or "Dillettes" as they were called by detractors. These associates, made up of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson would each go on and head up major movie studios of their own later in their careers.


The Paramount specialty was now simpler. "High Concept" pictures such as Saturday Night Fever and Grease hit big, hit hard and hit fast all over the world, and Diller's television background led him to propose one of his longest-standing ideas to the board: a fourth commercial network. But neither the board nor Bluhdorn himself accepted Diller's repeated advancements of this idea and neither did Bluhdorn's successor, Martin Davis. But Diller believed strongly in the concept, and so took his fourth-network idea with him when he moved to 20th Century Fox in 1984, where Fox's then freshly installed proprietor, Rupert Murdoch was a more interested listener. Meanwhile, concentrating on hot films, Paramount was met with critical success with the release of The Godfather, based on the popular novel.

However, the television division would be playing catch-up for over a decade after Diller's departure in 1984 before launching its own television network – UPN – in 1995. Lasting eleven years before being merged with The WB network to become The CW in 2006, UPN would feature many of the shows it originally produced for other networks, and would take numerous gambles on series such as Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise that would have otherwise either gone direct-to-cable or become first-run syndication to independent stations across the country. UPN was able to host a proven winner when it picked up the final two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Paramount Pictures was not connected to Paramount Records until it purchased the rights to use the name in the late 1960s. The Paramount name was used for soundtrack albums and some pop re-issues from the Dot Records catalog which Paramount had acquired in 1958. By 1970, Dot had become an all-country label and in 1974, Paramount sold all of its record holdings to ABC Records, which in turn was sold to MCA in 1979.

 1980–1994: Continuous success

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, Fatal Attraction, the Friday the 13th slasher series, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels. Other examples are the Star Trek series and a string of films starring comedian Eddie Murphy like Trading Places, Coming To America, and Beverly Hills Cop and its sequels. While the emphasis was decidedly on the commercial, there were occasional less commercial but more artistic and intellectual efforts like I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, Atlantic City, Reds, Witness, Children of a Lesser God and The Accused. During this period, responsibility for running the studio passed from Eisner and Katzenberg to Frank Mancuso Sr. and Ned Tanen to Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing . More so than most, Paramount's slate of films included many remakes and television spinoffs; while sometimes commercially successful, there have been few compelling films of the kind that once made Paramount the industry leader. The studio even had its share of box office flops such as Grease 2, Clue and a few others.

In 1981, Cinema International Corporation was reorganized as United International Pictures. This was necessary because MGM had merged with United Artists which had its own international distribution unit, but MGM was not allowed to leave the venture at the time . In 1985, Dawn Steel became head of Motion Picture Production.

When Charles Bluhdorn died unexpectedly, his successor Martin Davis dumped all of G+W's industrial, mining, and sugar-growing subsidiaries and refocused the company, renaming it Paramount Communications in 1989. With the influx of cash from the sale of G+W's industrial properties in the mid-1980s, Paramount bought a string of television stations and KECO Entertainment's theme park operations, renaming them Paramount Parks.

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.

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; Warner Bros. 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.

 1994–2004: Dolgen/Lansing and "old" Viacom era
During this time period, Paramount Pictures went under the guidance of Jonathan Dolgen, chairman and Sherry Lansing, president. During their administration over Paramount, the studio had an extremely successful period of films with two of Paramount's ten highest grossing films being produced during this period. The most successful of these films, Titanic, a joint production with 20th Century Fox, became the highest grossing film up to that time, grossing over $1.8 billion worldwide. Also during this time, three Paramount Pictures films won the Academy Award for Best Picture; Titanic, Braveheart, and Forrest Gump. Dolgen and Lansing also presided over the production and release of other films including Saving Private Ryan , as well as the Mission: Impossible films.

Paramount's most important property, however, was Star Trek. Studio executives had begun to call it "the franchise" in the 1980s due to its reliable revenue, and other studios envied its "untouchable and unduplicatable" success. By 1998 Star Trek TV shows, movies, books, videotapes, and licensing provided so much of the studio's profit that "it is not possible to spend any reasonable amount of time at Paramount and not be aware of presence"; filming for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine required up to nine of the largest of the studio's 36 sound stages.

In 1995, Viacom and Chris-Craft Industries' United Television launched United Paramount Network with Star Trek: Voyager as its flagship series, fulfilling Barry Diller's plan for a Paramount network from 25 years earlier. In 1999, Viacom bought out United Television's interests, and handed responsibility for the start-up network to the newly acquired CBS unit, which Viacom bought in 1999 – an ironic confluence of events as Paramount had once invested in CBS, and Viacom had once been the syndication arm of CBS as well.

In 2002, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros. formed the Digital Cinema Initiative. DCI was created "to establish and document voluntary specifications for an open architecture for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality control."

 2005–present: Paramount today
CBS Corporation/Viacom split
Reflecting in part the troubles of the broadcasting business, in 2005 Viacom wrote off over $28 billion from its radio acquisitions and, early that year, announced that it would split itself in two. The split was completed in January 2006.

Among the assets that went to the new CBS Corporation are the CBS television and radio networks, the Infinity radio-station chain , Paramount Television , UPN (which merged with Time Warner's The WB to become The CW), and the Showtime Networks pay TV unit which includes Showtime, The Movie Channel and Flix. CBS was also given control of Paramount Parks which it sold to Cedar Fair Entertainment Company in June 2006 for $1.24 billion.

Paramount Pictures is now lumped in with MTV, BET, and other highly profitable channels owned by the new Viacom.

With the announcement of the split of Viacom, Dolgen and Lansing were replaced by former television executives Brad Grey and Gail Berman. The decision was made to split Viacom into two companies, which in turn led to a dismantling of the Paramount Studio/Paramount TV infrastructure, with the current Paramount, consisting only of the movie studio, retaining only about one-quarter its former size under Dolgen and Lansing. The Paramount Television studio was made part of CBS in the split and the remaining businesses were sold off or parceled out to other operating groups. Paramount's home entertainment unit continues to distribute the Paramount TV library through CBS DVD, as both Viacom and CBS Corporation are controlled by Michael Redstone's National Amusements.

In 2009, CBS stopped using the Paramount name in its series and changed the name of the production arm to CBS Television Studios, eliminating the Paramount name from television, to distance itself from the latter. It is one of only 2 of the Big Six to have this fate .

Joint venture with DreamWorks
On December 11, 2005, The Paramount Motion Pictures Group announced that it had purchased DreamWorks SKG (which was co-founded by former Paramount executive Jeffrey Katzenberg) in a deal worth $1.6 billion. The announcement was made by Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, who noted that enhancing Paramount's pipeline of pictures is a "key strategic objective in restoring Paramount's stature as a leader in filmed entertainment." The agreement does not include DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the most profitable part of the company that went public the previous year.

Under the deal, Paramount is required to distribute the DreamWorks animated films for a small fee intended only to cover Paramount's out of pocket costs with no profit to the studio, including the Shrek franchise . The first film distributed under this deal is Over the Hedge.

The deal closed on February 6, 2006. This acquisition was seen at the time as a stopgap measure as Brad Grey had been unsuccessful in assembling sufficient films for production and distribution and the DreamWorks films would fill the gap.

On October 6, 2008, Paramount and DreamWorks announced the joint venture was ending and that DreamWorks would be seeking new distributors for its films.

UIP, Famous Music and Digital Entertainment
Grey also broke up the famous UIP international distribution company, the most successful international film distributor in history, after a 25-year partnership with Universal Studios and has started up a new international group. As a consequence Paramount fell from No.1 in the international markets to the lowest ranked major studio in 2006 but recovered in 2007 if the DreamWorks films, acquired by Paramount but still distributed internationally by Universal, are included in Paramount's market share. UIP still does business in smaller markets.

Grey also launched a Digital Entertainment division to take advantage of emerging digital distribution technologies. This led to Paramount becoming the second movie studio to sign a deal with Apple Inc. to sell its films through the iTunes store. They also signed an exclusive agreement with the failed HD DVD consortium and subsequently gave up the guarantees they had received and will now release in the Blu-ray format.

Also, in 2007, Paramount sold another one of its "heritage" units, Famous Music, to Sony/ATV Music Publishing (best known for publishing many songs by The Beatles, and for being co-owned by Michael Jackson), ending a nearly-eight decade run as a division of Paramount, being the studio's music publishing arm since the period when the entire company went by the name "Famous Players." An additional legacy unit, Famous Players Theaters was sold in 2006 to its competitor Cineplex Odeon Corporation. These theaters had been in the company since the days of silent movie. When the 1954 Paramount Consent Decree forced divestiture by the studios, it did not apply outside the US so Paramount kept its Canadian theater subsidiary.

Insurge Pictures
In March 2010, Paramount founded Insurge Pictures, an independent distributor of "micro budget" films. The distributor planned ten movies with budgets of $100,000 each.

Animation division
In July 2011, in the wake of critical and box office success of the animated feature, Rango, and the possible departure of DreamWorks Animation upon completion of their distribution contract in 2012, Paramount announced the formation of a new division, devoted to the creation of animated productions. The first films from this new animation studio is expected to be released sometime in 2014. In October 2011, Paramount named a former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, David Stainton, president of the Paramount Animation.

It marks Paramount's return to having its own animated division for the first time since 1967, when Paramount Cartoon Studios shut down .

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Paramount Pictures", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.