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Music Corporation of America (1924)

MCA Inc.

Type :  

  Summary  

MCA, Inc. was an American talent agency. Initially starting in the music business, they would next become a dominant force in the film business, and later expanded into the television business. MCA published music, booked acts, ran a record company, represented film, television and radio stars, and eventually produced and sold television programs to the three major television networks.

  Biography  

 Early years
MCA was founded in 1924 by Jules Stein and William R. Goodheart, Jr. as Music Corporation of America, a music booking agency based in Chicago, Illinois. MCA helped pioneer modern practices of touring bands and name acts. Early on, MCA booked such prominent artists as King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton for clubs and speakeasies run by legendary notorious Chicago mobsters such as Al Capone and others.

Lew Wasserman joined MCA in 1936 at the age of 23 and rose through the ranks to MCA for more than four decades, with Sonny Werblin as his right-hand man. Wasserman helped create MCA's radio show Kay Kyser and His Kollege of Musical Knowledge, which debuted on NBC Radio that same year. Following that success, Stein installed Wasserman in New York City in 1937, but Wasserman convinced him that Hollywood was the best place for the company's growth.

The company was guided by a codification of Styne's pet policies known as "The Rules of The Road". The rules were passed down from the prohibition era, Chicago area MCA (referenced in "Citizen Cohn" and "The King and Queen of Hollywood" books.) to the LA area forties era movie actor rep firm. The rules were passed to the fifties generation of MCA talent agents including a. Jerold Perenchio who'd later own and head a number of businesses including the 1992 to 2007 version of Univision. Perenchio is well known for his version of the rules which vary from year to year and have some internal contradictions (AJP pointed out that while there is a "no neoptism" rule he's aware his son was on the board of directors at the time.)

In 1939, MCA's headquarters moved from Chicago to Beverly Hills, California, creating a movie division and beginning to acquire talent agencies and represent established actors such as James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, and Ronald Reagan, whom Wasserman became very close with personally. In later decades, Wasserman would become a guiding force in Reagan's political ambition by helping Reagan to win the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild , then election as Governor of California in 1966, and finally President of the United States in 1980.

By the end of the 1930s, MCA would become the largest talent agency in the world with over 700 clients which includes movie stars, recording artists, Broadway actors, radio stars, producers, and directors. Its aggressive acquisition of its clientele in all entertainment sectors earned MCA's nickname of The Octopus. This behavior led U.S. Department of Justice agents to investigate not only whether MCA was a monopoly breaking anti-trust laws, but also its suspected connections to underworld criminal activities. This investigation would continue for the next few decades.

 Revue Productions
In 1948, Jules Stein moved up as MCA's first chairman, giving Lew Wasserman charge of day-to-day operations of the company as President. That year, Stein and Wasserman decided to get into a new medium that was taking shape and changing the entertainment industry: television. Although studios would not touch this new medium, thinking television was just a fad and would fade away, MCA decided to embrace it. However, the company first needed to get a waiver from The Screen Actors Guild which ruled at the time that talent agencies such as MCA were prohibited from producing TV shows or films. Thanks to newly elected SAG president Ronald Reagan, MCA was granted a waiver to start producing TV shows.

After the waiver was granted, the company formed MCA Television Limited for Syndication, and in 1950 Revue Productions, once a live concert subsidiary that produced "Stage Door Canteen" live events for the USO during World War II, was re-formed as a MCA's television production company. By 1956, Revue became the top supplier of television for all broadcast networks, spanning three decades of television programs such as Armour Theater, General Electric Theater, Leave It to Beaver, Wagon Train, and many others. Prior to 1958, all Revue's shows were filmed at the old Republic Pictures studio lot in Studio City, California.

In 1957, MCA acquired Paramount Pictures' pre-1950 sound feature film library through a newly created MCA subsidiary, EMKA, Ltd.

In 1958, MCA bought the Universal Studios lot from Universal Pictures for $11 million and renamed it, as well as the actual television unit, Revue Studios. As part of the deal, MCA leased the studios back to Universal for $2 million a year, plus unlimited access to MCA's clients such as Stewart, Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock to make films for Universal.

Stein, who by this time was the sole owner of MCA, decided to take the company public by giving 51% of his ownership of MCA to his employees, which included a 20% stake for Wasserman. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and was incorporated as MCA Inc. on November 10, 1958.

 Takeover of Universal Pictures
In 1962, MCA entered a merger of equals with New York-based American Decca Records, with MCA as the surviving company. Decca at the time owned Coral Records and Brunswick Records, as well as a 89% controlling stake in Universal Pictures. MCA would assume full ownership of Universal upon the completion of the merger. Revue Studios was later renamed to Universal Television.

In order to acquire Universal, Wasserman was forced to dissolve MCA's talent agency—which represented most of the industry's biggest names—by Robert F. Kennedy's Department of Justice, as owning both the movie studio and a talent agency would violate antitrust laws. The agents quickly formed several dozen new firms, representing talent. Many of these are woven into the corporate fabric of today's talent management agencies. Jerry Perenchio's firm, UTM represented Liz Taylor and Mohamed Ali.

In 1966, MCA formed Uni Records in Hollywood, California, and in 1967, MCA bought New York-based Kapp Records. That same year MCA also acquired guitar maker Danelectro.

 Later years
In 1967, the MCA Records label was established outside North America to issue releases by MCA's labels. Decca, Kapp and Uni were merged into MCA Records at Universal City, California in 1971; the three labels maintained their identities for a short time but were soon retired in favor of the MCA label. The first MCA Records release in the US was former Uni artist Elton John's Crocodile Rock in 1972. In 1973, the final Decca pop label release was issued.

In 1973, Stein stepped down from the company he founded and Wasserman took over as chairman and chief executive officer, while Sidney Sheinberg was appointed president and chief operating officer of MCA. Other executives within MCA were Lawrence R. Barnett, who ran the agency's live acts division during its glory agency years in the 50's and 60's, and Ned Tanen, head of Universal Pictures. Tanen was behind Universal hits such as Animal House, John Hughes's Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

MCA issued soundtrack albums for most films released by Universal Pictures.

In 1975, the company entered the book publishing business with the acquisition of G. P. Putnam's Sons. In 1979, it acquired ABC Records along with its subsidiaries Paramount Records, Impulse Records, and Dot Records. ABC had acquired the Paramount and Dot labels when they purchased Gulf+Western's record labels.

The Chess Records catalog was acquired from the remnants of Sugarhill in 1985. Motown Records was bought in 1988 . GRP Records and Geffen Records were acquired in 1990. In the same year, MCA was purchased by the Japanese multinational conglomerate Matsushita Electric.

MCA also acquired other assets outside of the music industry. It became a shareholder in USA Network in 1981, eventually owning 50% of the network . In 1982, their publishing division, G. P. Putnam's Sons, bought Grosset & Dunlap from Filmways. It also bought a TV station in New York City, WWOR-TV (renamed from WOR-TV), in 1987, from RKO General, which was in the midst of a licensing scandal. It was forced to sell the station in 1991 by the Federal Communications Commission after Matsushita Electric's takeover of MCA because foreign companies could not own over 25% of a US TV station.

In 1995, Seagram Company Ltd. acquired 80% of MCA from Panasonic and the following year the new owners dropped the MCA name; the company became Universal Studios, Inc. and its music division, MCA Music Entertainment Group, was renamed Universal Music Group. MCA Records continued to live on as a label within the Universal Music Group. The following year, G. P. Putnam's Sons was sold to the Penguin Group.

In 1998, Seagram acquired PolyGram from Philips and merged it with its music holdings. When Seagram's drinks business was bought by France-based Pernod Ricard, its media holdings were sold to Vivendi which became Vivendi Universal.

In the spring of 2003, MCA Records was folded into Geffen Records. Its country music label, MCA Nashville Records is still in operation. MCA's classical music catalog is managed by Deutsche Grammophon.

MCA's non-music assets at the time of the company's renaming, including Universal Studios and the 50% interest in USA Networks, are now owned by NBC Universal , which was 80% owned by General Electric, and 20% owned by Vivendi. In 2009, a deal was struck in which GE would buy out Vivendi's interest, and sell a controlling 51% interest to Comcast afterwards. The sale was completed on January 28, 2011 with General Electric owning 49% of the newly formed NBCUniversal.

The landmark Paul Williams-designed Beverly Hills property that MCA once occupied is now the headquarters for Paradigm Talent Agency. Conference rooms inside the building are named after Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman in honor of the legendary occupants.

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