Zukor, Adolph

views updated May 18 2018

ZUKOR, Adolph

Producer. Nationality: Hungarian-American. Born: Risce, Hungary, 7 January 1873; emigrated to the United States, 1889. Family: Married Lottie Kaufman. Career: Furrier in Chicago; 1903—opened a string of penny arcades with partner Marcus Loew; 1905—treasurer of extensive Loew's theatre chain; 1912—distributor of European productions; formed own production and distribution company, Famous Players; 1916—joined with the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company; president; the company renamed Paramount; 1936—replaced by Barney Balaban; remained as chairman of the board until his death. Award: Special Academy Award, 1948. Died: In Los Angeles, California, 10 June 1976.

Films as Producer/Executive Producer:


Queen Elizabeth (Desfontaines); The Count of Monte Cristo (Porter)


A Good Little Devil (Porter); The Man from Mexico; Charlie Fadden; The Prisoner of Zenda (Porter)


The Squaw Man (DeMille)


Peer Gynt (Apfel); Zaza (Ford); The Cheat (DeMille); Carmen (DeMille); Madame Butterfly (Olcott)


Miss George Washington (Dawley); Oliver Twist (Twist)


Seventeen; Great Expectations (Vignola); Tom Sawyer (Taylor); A Modern Musketeer (Dwan); The Bluebird (Tourneur); Barbary Sheep (Tourneur)


The Doll's House (Tourneur); Uncle Tom's Cabin (Dawley); Battling Jane (Clifton); Old Wives for New (DeMille); The Greatest Thing in Life (Griffith); Come on In


My Cousin (José); String Beans (Schertzinger); Pettigrew's Girl (Melford); The Knickerbocker Buckaroo (Parker); Valley of the Giants (Cruze); The Miracle Man (Tucker); 231/2 Hours Leave (King); The Admirable Crichton (Male and Female) (DeMille); The Misleading Widow (Robertson)


Remodelling Her Husband; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robertson); Humoresque (Borzage); Deception (Anna Boleyn) (Lubitsch); Miss Lulu Bett (W. De Mille); Broadway Jones Der Silberkoenig (The Silver King)


The Gilded Lily (Leonard); The Great Moment (Wood); The Affairs of Anatol (DeMille); Fool's Paradise (DeMille)


The Old Homestead (Cruze); The Sheik (Melford); Three Live Ghosts (Fitzmaurice); The Young Rajah (Rosen); Manslaughter (DeMille); Belladonna


The Covered Wagon (Cruze); Why Worry? (Taylor); Safety Last (Taylor)


Forbidden Paradise (Lubitsch); Peter Pan (Brenon); Monsieur Beaucaire (Olcott); Girl Shy (Newmeyer); Manhandled (Dwan); Wanderer of the Wasteland (Willat); Grass (Schoedsack); The Ten Commandments (DeMille); Hot Water (Newmeyer and Taylor); A Sainted Devil (Henabery)


Madame Sans-Gêne (Perret); The Freshman (Newmeyer); Cobra (Henabery)


Beau Geste (Brenon); The Kid Brother (Wilde); Aloma of the South Seas


For Heaven's Sake (Taylor); Underworld (von Sternberg)


The Last Command (von Sternberg); The Vanishing Race (Seitz); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (St. Clair); Speedy (Wilde); Way of All Flesh (Fleming); Chang (Cooper); Gentlemen of the Press (Webb); Beau Sabreur (Waters); The Patriot (Lubitsch)


College Days (Wood); The Wedding March (von Stroheim); Innocents of Paris (Wallace); Wings (Wellman); The Cocoanuts (Florey and Santley); The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (Lee); Legion of the Condemned (Wellman)


Welcome Danger (Bruckman); Love Parade (Lubitsch); The Mighty (Cromwell); The Four Feathers (Mendes); The Vagabond King (Berger); The Virginian (Fleming); The Big Pond (Henley); Monte Carlo (Lubitsch); Morocco (von Sternberg); Playboy of Paris (Berger)


The Royal Family of Broadway (Theatre Royal) (Cukor); Sarah and Son (Arzner); Feet First (Bruckman); The Texan (Cromwell); Dishonoured (von Sternberg); Fighting Caravans (Brower and Burton); City Streets (Mamoulian); Skippy (Taurog); Tarnished Lady (Cukor); Paramount on Parade (Arzner, Brower, Goulding, Heerman, Knopf, Lee, Lubitsch, Mendes, Schertzinger, Sutherland, and Tuttle); Anybody's Woman (Arzner); The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch); Grumpy (Cukor and Gardner)


Huckleberry Finn (Taurog); Secrets of a Secretary (Abbott); Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Wallace); Service for Ladies (Reserved for Ladies) (A. Korda); Once a Lady (McClintic); I Take This Woman (Gering and Vorkapitch); Ladies of the Big House (Gering); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian); Ladies' Man (Mendes); Devil and the Deep (Gering); Shanghai Express (von Sternberg); The Miracle Man (McLeod); Merrily We Go to Hell (Arzner); Dancers in the Dark (Burton); The Strange Case of Clara Dean (Gasnier and Marcin);


One Hour with You (Cukor and Lubitsch); Forgotten Commandments (Gasnier and Schoor); Sinners in the Sun (Hall); The Man from Yesterday (Viertel); Blonde Venus (von Sternberg); Horse Feathers (McLeod); The Night of June 13 (Roberts); Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian); Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch); Night after Night (Mayo); If I Had a Million (Lubitsch, Taurog, Roberts, McLeod, Cruze, Seiter and Humberstone); Madame Butterfly (Gering); Tonight Is Ours (Walker); She Done Him Wrong (Sherman); No Man of Her Own (Ruggles); The Sign of the Cross (DeMille); A Farewell to Arms (Vidor); Jennie Gerhardt (Gering); Alice in Wonderland (McLeod)


Song of Songs (Mamoulian); This Day and Age (DeMille); One Sunday Afternoon (Roberts); The Way to Love (Taurog); Three Cornered Moon (Nugent); I'm No Angel (Ruggles); Tillie and Gus (Martin); White Woman (Walker); Duck Soup (McCarey); Design for Living (Lubitsch); Six of a Kind (McCarey); Four Frightened People (DeMille); Search for Beauty (Kenton); Bolero (Ruggles); The Scarlet Empress (von Sternberg); Death Takes a Holiday (Leisen); Murder at the Vanities (Leisen); Cleopatra (DeMille)


Belle of the Nineties (McCarey); Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (Taurog); The Old-Fashioned Way (Beaudine); Crime without Passion (Hecht and MacArthur); Now and Forever (Hathaway); Limehouse Blues (East End Chant) (Hall); It's a Gift (McLeod); The Pursuit of Happiness (Hall); Behold My Wife (Leisen); Father Brown—Detective (Hamer); Here Is My Heart (Tuttle); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Hathaway); The Gilded Lily (Ruggles); The Milky Way (McCarey); Wings in the Dark (Flood); Rumba (Gering); Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey); Mississippi (Sutherland); Four Hours to Kill (Leisen); The Devil Is a Woman (von Sternberg); The Scoundrel (Hecht and MacArthur); Goin' to Town (Hall)


By ZUKOR: book—

The Public Is Never Wrong, 1953.

On ZUKOR: books—

Edmonds, I.D., and Raiko Mimura, Paramount Pictures and the People Who Made Them, New York, 1980.

Eames, John Douglas, The Paramount Story, London, 1985.

On ZUKOR: articles—

Motion Picture Herald, vol. 193, no. 1, 3 October 1953.

French, Philip, in The Movie Moguls, London, 1969.

Sight and Sound (London), vol. 42, no. 1, Winter 1972–73.

Obituary in Hollywood Reporter, vol. 241, no. 44, 11 June 1976.

Films in Review (New York), vol. 38, no. 10, October 1987.

Dyer MacCann, Richard, in The First Tycoons, London, 1987.

Gabler, Neal, in An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, New York, 1988.

Luft, H. G., "Hommage à Adolph Zukor," in Filmkunst, no. 128, 1990.

Stephens, C., "The Legacy of Adolph Zukor," in Variety's On Production (Los Angeles), no. 3, 1996.

* * *

By 1920 Hollywood had risen to define the cinema in the United States as well as throughout the world. Stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford were among the most famous people of their era. The American cinema dominated world filmmaking and distribution as no other popular cultural force had ever done. And no executive was more responsible for the creation of Hollywood than Adolph Zukor.

Hollywood commenced with the failure of the Motion Picture Patents Company Trust. A number of independent production companies rose to challenge the Trust, but quickly Adolph Zukor and his company, "Famous Players in Famous Plays," led the way by transforming basic business practices.

He differentiated his company's products. Gone were the days when film was sold by the foot; for Zukor each "photoplay" became a unique product, heavily advertised by emphasizing popular stories and then developing movie stars to act in them. Zukor had his studio develop a system by which to regularly and efficiently manufacture feature-length films. Soon this method became known as the Hollywood system of production.

This transformation began in 1912 when Zukor and his partners began to produce feature films including The Count of Monte Cristo starring James O'Neill, father of the famous playwright, The Prisoner of Zenda starring James Hackett, Queen Elizabeth starring Sarah Bernhardt, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles starring Minnie Maddern Fiske. These early stars were drawn from the stage, but soon Zukor realized that he would have to create his own stars. He reached the ultimate early on with Mary Pickford, a Canadian-born vaudeville performer. We can best see "Little Mary's" rise to fame through her salary ascendancy: $1000 a week in 1914, $2000 per week in 1915, $10,000 per week in 1916; and a million dollars a year in 1917. Zukor willingly anted up such fabulous amounts because he knew the vast audiences Pickford drew at the box office.

It was Adolph Zukor and his Famous Players' Company which taught the world how to fully exploit the features of Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Pauline Frederick, Blanche Sweet, and Norma and Constance Talmadge. He accomplished this through merger and acquisitions. In 1916 alone Zukor took over 12 smaller producers and formed Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Partner Jesse Lasky became his studio boss. By 1921 Zukor had turned Famous Players-Lasky into the largest film production company in the world.

Zukor learned how to squeeze theater owners because he alone could deliver the biggest stars in Hollywood. Zukor's principle means of exploitation became "block booking." That is if a theater owner wanted to show the films of Pickford, he or she had to take motion pictures with less well known, up-and-coming Famous Players-Lasky stars. In turn, Famous Players-Lasky used these guaranteed bookings to test and develop new stars.

Soon enough theater owners caught on, and formed their own "booking cooperatives." In turn Zukor reacted, and in 1919 began to purchase theaters. He could not finance such a large set of takeovers simply with cash on hand and so became the first movie company to approach Wall Street bankers. Famous Players-Lasky borrowed $10 million through Wall Street's Kuhn, Loeb and became the first motion picture company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Zukor, who had come to the United States penniless 30 years earlier, had hit the big time.

Nothing stopped him. By the mid-point of 1921 he owned 300 theaters. Four years later, he merged his theaters with Balaban & Katz, the most important and innovative theater chain in the United States, and renamed the enterprise Paramount, which up to then had been the name of his distribution arm. By 1931 Paramount's Publix theater circuit had become the largest in the world, double the size of its nearest competitor. Paramount Pictures produced many of the most popular films of the silent film era, from The Covered Wagon to The Ten Commandments, from Beau Geste to Wings. Zukor innovated a third major change in movie industry practice. It was not enough that the Hollywood companies simply control all the movie stars and studios. Their long-run economic security depended on the construction and maintenance of networks for national and international distribution. Once a feature film was made, the majority of its cost had been accumulated. It then cost relatively little to market it throughout the world. If somehow the producer could expand the territory to include greater and greater portions of the planet, the additional revenues overwhelmed any extra costs.

In 1914 Zukor began his assault on national distribution. W. W. Hodkinson had merged eleven regional distributors to create the Paramount distribution network. But Hodkinson had no steady supply of feature films, and thus sold out to Zukor. Quickly Zukor took over other national distributors and soon had a strangle hold on the marketplace for film distribution throughout the United States. Zukor then turned his attentions to world distribution. The First World War had curtailed distribution powers of rival European movie makers, and into that gap stepped Zukor. By the end of hostilities, he had Paramount distributing Famous Players-Lasky films around the world. During the 1920s, prior to the coming of sound, only the Soviet Union, with a Marxist government, Germany with its rise of nationalism and then fascism, and Japan, with a strong nationalist economy and film industry of its own, were able to keep Zukor and his films at bay.

It took something outside Zukor's control to do him in — the Great Depression. Business declined, theaters were sold, and Paramount teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. By 1936 Barney Balaban had replaced Zukor atop the Paramount chain of command, but for 40 more years Zukor offered the company he had created his wise counsel. He was still regularly going into the office until only a few years before his death at age 103.

—Douglas Gomery

Adolph Zukor

views updated May 29 2018

Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor (1873-1976) was known as the "father of the feature film in America." From running penny arcades to creating Paramount Pictures Corporation, Zukor had a hand in the development of every aspect of the film industry. He worked at Paramount every day until his 100th birthday, and held the title of chairman emeritus until his death at the age of 103.

Adolph Zukor was born in the rural village of Risce, Hungary on January 7, 1873. His parents ran a small store and grew crops. Zukor did not remember his father, who died when the boy was one year old and his brother Arthur was three. Their mother was the daughter of a rabbi. She remarried, but died when Zukor was eight. The two brothers went to live with an uncle. Zukor was an unexceptional student. At the age of 12, he was apprenticed to a store owner for whom he swept, ran errands, and did chores. He attended night school twice a week. Zukor got paid nothing for his work, but received clothes and shoes from an orphans' fund. Learning of America from letters sent by immigrants, Zukor decided that he wanted to travel there. In 1888, he asked the orphans' fund for the money to travel to America. He received enough for a steamship ticket and $40, which he sewed inside his vest.

In New York, Zukor found work as an apprentice in a fur shop for $4 a week. With other immigrant boys, he boxed, played baseball, and sang Hungarian songs. He also attended night school. Over the years he saved several thousand dollars. Around age 21, he returned to Hungary for a visit and saw some of Europe. He married Lottie Kaufman, also a Hungarian immigrant, in 1897. The couple had two children, Mildred and Eugene. Zukor started a fur business with his wife's uncle, Morris Kohn. The partners, with two other men, started a penny arcade, complete with peep machines, a shooting gallery, punching bags, stationary bicycles, and candy. The business did very well, bringing in $500 to $700 a day. Zukor decided to get out of the fur business and devote all his time to the arcade. He worked closely with Marcus Loew at this time, becoming treasurer of his company.

Zukor put in a motion picture theater on the floor above the arcade. Called the Crystal Hall, it had a glass staircase with water cascading inside it over colored lights. It cost five cents to see a movie. Zukor developed his own brand of "talking" pictures. He had actors stand behind the movie screen and say their lines in synchronization with the silent action on the screen, which they could see in reverse.

Film Finds an Audience

At this time, movies, or "flickers" as they were called, were very short, no more than about 12 minutes. People in the industry felt that American audiences would not want to see anything longer. Zukor disagreed. He felt that audiences would sit through a movie for an hour or more, if it had a good story. Zukor tested his theory by buying the rights to a three-reel European religious movie, Passion Play. Zukor described the audience's reaction in his autobiography: "The scene was one of the most remarkable I have ever witnessed. Many women viewed the picture with religious awe. Some fell to their knees. I was struck by the moral potentialities of the screen." The film had a good run and proved to Zukor that Americans would sit through longer pictures.

Zukor learned of a French producer, Louis Mercanton, who wanted to make a four-reel movie starring the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt, in her successful play Queen Elizabeth. Mercanton's project was being delayed for lack of funds. Zukor advanced Mercanton $40,000 to secure the North American rights to the movie. He was taking a great risk, but he wanted to see how American audiences reacted to a film of this length. On July 12, 1912, the movie premiered. Zukor noted, "To begin with, the audience had not been restless despite the hour and a half running time.… The performance was of historical importance because it went a long way toward breaking down the prejudice of theatrical people toward the screen."

While he had waited for the French film to be made, Zukor tried producing feature films in the U.S. His idea was to make movies of "Famous Players in Famous Plays." However, he had difficulty raising money for the venture. To do so, in 1912 he sold part of his stock in Loew's company and stepped down as treasurer. His other problem was finding stage actors who would appear in films. Zukor discussed the matter with Daniel Frohman, a theatrical producer, who seemed open to the idea of bringing stage actors to the screen. Zukor wrote, "Frohman made no commitments. But I have always placed that night as one of the most important in the history of motion pictures. Thereafter Frohman was a powerful advocate of the movies in the theatrical world." Frohman joined Zukor in business and helped set up the opening of Queen Elizabeth.

Famous Players Film Company

Zukor formed a partnership with Edwin S. Porter, a screen director who agreed to furnish his experience, talent, and prestige, but no money. With him, in their Manhattan studio, the Famous Players Film Company made America's first feature-length film. The Prisoner of Zenda, opened successfully in 1914.

Mary Pickford, a famous stage actress, began working for Zukor. She, her mother, and Zukor opened a film studio in California to take advantage of the sunny winters. "Why Hollywood? There was no particular reason. It was an undeveloped suburb of Los Angeles, mostly orange and lemon groves. The chief attraction was a rentable farmhouse suitable for dressing rooms, a small laboratory, and offices. We threw up a rude stage at what is now the corner of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards." Many movies were still made in the New York studio to be near the stage players, but Zukor spent much time in Hollywood.

In 1916, Famous Players merged with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company to form the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, with Samuel Goldwyn as chairman of the board, Cecil De Mille as director-general, Zukor as president, and Lasky as vice-president. In 1914, W.W. Hodkinson founded Paramount Pictures Corporation, whose purpose was to distribute films. When disagreements over policy arose, the stockholders chose Zukor to head the company, feeling that he was best equipped to guide features to success. Once in control, Zukor arranged for a loan of ten million dollars to improve and buy theaters, thus giving Paramount control over the creation, distribution, and exhibition of movies. In the 1920s, Famous Players-Lasky began releasing their films under the Paramount name.

Zukor built the modern film industry using the star system. Players with star potential were tried out in small parts. By studying audience reaction, box-office figures, and fan mail, the studio attempted to determine which player people wanted to see on the screen. If the audience liked a player, the studio would supply the right roles and publicity. Often the audience surprised the studio by favoring an actor not thought to be star material. Zukor noted that the idea of a producer "discovering" a star is "nonsense." "Stardom is a matter over which only audiences have any real control."

To keep an eye on things, Zukor made a habit of visiting movie sets every morning. This way he got to know the players and technicians. "Besides putting me closer to production, I hoped that such visits would make everybody feel that the business office was more than a place where we made contracts and counted the money. The fact was that we kept as close tabs on the human element as on box-office receipts. Also, I was secretly envious of those who had an intimate hand in production. … "

In 1928, the first all-talking movie was released. Paramount began using a sound system called Photophone for some of its films. Since it took a while for movie theaters to acquire and install sound systems, Paramount continued to make silent pictures, which were often made into talkies later. In the 1929 Film Daily Year Book, Zukor stated, "The year will be memorable for the proper development of the talking picture. The year will see the balance struck between talking pictures, sound pictures, and silent pictures. By no means is the silent picture gone or even diminished in importance. Yet there is no doubt that sound pictures have entered permanently to serve as a vital screen force.… There have always been subjects which could not be augmented in value and strength by the addition of sound and dialogue. Such subjects will always continue to be made in their natural form: -Silence."

Guided Paramount Through Hard Times

During the Depression, the company fell on hard times and many failed attempts were made to get rid of Zukor. In 1932, he restructured the company. Four years later, he became the chairman of the board. He retained that honorary title until his death. In 1948, Zukor received a special Academy Award for his services to the industry over a period of 40 years. He died in Los Angeles on June 10, 1976, at the age of 103.

Further Reading

Zukor, Adolph, with Dale Kramer, The Public is Never Wrong:The Autobiography of Adolph Zukor, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1953.

Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly, April 1995.

New York Times, July 10, 1987.

"Successful Soundtracks to Accompany Silent Films," Silent Soundtrack Success Stories,http://www.zzapp.org/freepark/sss.htm (March 9, 1999).

"Unequalled Distribution: Adolph Zukor," The Film 100,http://www.film100.com/cgi/direct.cgi?v.zuko (March 9, 1999). □

Zukor, Adolph

views updated May 08 2018


ZUKOR, ADOLPH (1873–1976), U.S. motion picture executive. Born in Ricse, Hungary, Zukor went to the U.S. in 1888. He worked in New York and Chicago in the fur business. At first Zukor was interested in motion pictures from the business point of view and opened movie houses. However, he soon foresaw the need for lengthy movies of good quality and turned to production. This idea proved successful when he imported Queen Elizabeth, starring Sarah Bernhardt. In 1912 he founded the Famous Players Company, which produced several classics such as The Prisoner of Zenda and The Count of Monte Cristo (1913). In 1917 he combined with other fledgling production companies to found Paramount Pictures, which became one of the largest movie companies in the world. Zukor was president and chairman of the board. He was also active in Jewish causes.

In 1949 he won an honorary Academy Award whose citation read: "Adolph Zukor, a man who has been called the father of the feature film in America, for his services to the industry over a period of forty years." For Zukor's 100th birthday, Paramount Pictures sold the candles on his birthday cake for $1,000 each, and then donated the proceeds to charity. Zukor lived to be 103. His autobiography, The Public Is Never Wrong, was published in 1954.

In 1994 Paramount Pictures Corporation merged with Viacom International, Inc. The merged companies own such corporations as the United Paramount Network (upn); the Columbia Broadcasting System (cbs) and all its subsidiaries; the Comedy Central network; Blockbuster, Inc; the Spelling Entertainment Corporation and its subsidiaries; Showtime Networks, Inc; the Video Hits 1 (vh1) network; Music Television (mtv) Networks; and the Nickelodeon network.


W. Irwin, The House That Shadows Built (1928).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]