Executive. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 7 May 1870. Education: Left school at age six to sell newspapers. Family: Married Caroline, 1894; twin sons: David and Arthur. Career: Worked as a salesman and a furrier; formed People's Vaudeville Company to produce variety shows in New York City and environs,
1904; founded Loew's Theatrical Enterprises, New York City, 1910, which is reorganized as Loew's, Inc., 1919; acquired Metro Pictures Corporation, Hollywood, 1919; opened 3500-seat flagship Loew's State Theater in Times Square, New York City, 1921; acquired Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Productions, 1924, which are merged with Metro to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); retired, 1926. Died: In Long Island, New York, 5 September 1927.
On LOEW: books—
Irwin, Will, The House that Shadows Built: The Story of Adolph Zukor and His Circle, Garden City, New York, 1928.
Crowther, Bosley, The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire, New York, 1957.
Sobel, Robert, The Entrepreneurs: Explorations within the American Business Tradition, New York, 1974.
Gomery, Douglas, The Hollywood Studio System, New York, 1986.
Gabler, Neal, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, New York, 1988.
Schatz, Thomas, The Genius of the System, New York, 1988.
Hay, Peter, with Woolsey Ackerman, MGM-When the Lion Roars, Atlanta, 1991.
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Executive Marcus Loew was the founder of Loew's, Inc., a huge entertainment company which grew from a New York City theater circuit presenting vaudeville and early moving pictures into one of Hollywood's most successful integrated film corporations. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the grandest of studios during Hollywood's Golden Age, was in reality only the production arm of this powerful firm. Like all vintage Hollywood businesses, Loew's, Inc. was an oligopoly which produced, distributed, and exhibited movies during what is now known as Hollywood's studio era, a period running roughly from the silent era of the 1920s through the 1950s.
Like the other major film corporations of the era, Loew's was also a bi-coastal enterprise in which the Hollywood production (or "creative") branch was carefully monitored and financially controlled by the New York/east coast executive branch. As the president of Loew's, Inc., Marcus Loew himself was never actively involved in the making of motion pictures, but instead hired and supervised film creators from the company's corporate offices in New York City. At the same time, he built up a nationwide chain of theaters which were as essential a part of this interlocking system as the studio production unit. Loew never lived in Hollywood, preferring instead to reside in his palatial mansion by the sea in Glen Cove, Long Island.
Loew was born to emigrant parents on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1870. His father was a Viennese waiter, and his mother a German widow. Like many future moguls, Loew had an impoverished childhood, and quit school to work while still a young child. After a variety of unsuccessful pursuits, primarily in the garment industry, Loew developed a relationship with another future mogul, Adolph Zukor, whom he had met during an unsuccessful stint in the fur trade. Zukor, a Jewish emigrant from a small village in Hungary, would later build Paramount Pictures, and it was through him that Marcus Loew first became involved in the entertainment business, investing in several Zukor ventures, including several lucrative penny arcades in New York City.
With an actor friend, David Warfield, Loew formed his own People's Vaudeville Company in 1904. People's first venture was a Manhattan amusement arcade, and within months they opened four more in New York City, with a fifth in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Cincinnati, Loew witnessed an early exhibition of moving pictures, and was impressed by the audiences it attracted. He installed a 110-seat theater above his Penny Hippodrome in Cincinnati, which opened to huge crowds. Loew soon converted all of his arcades into theaters which offered affordable variety shows of vaudeville and early moving pictures. Gradually expanding his business in New York and environs, Loew was finally established in the entertainment industry.
By 1910 Loew's theatrical empire had expanded along the east coast, and Loew's Consolidated Entertainment was incorporated with one of Loew's early managers, Nicholas Schenck, as secretary-treasurer. With World War I, the focus of the American entertainment business shifted from vaudeville to movies. Loew's Consolidated was still geared only for motion picutre exhibition, and Loew only gradually realized that like the other integrated majors (such as Famous Players-Lassky and First National), he needed to expand into the production and distribution of films. In 1919 Loew purchased Metro Pictures Corporation, which had been formed in 1915 to produce and market the films of five small Hollywood production companies. The acquisition motivated the birth of the new and reorganized Loew's, Inc., which moved Loew into the motion picture business in earnest. In 1921 Metro's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starring Rudolph Valentino, became a huge hit.
In 1924 Loew's further expanded his Hollywood empire by acquiring the foundering Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Productions. This key deal included the large Goldwyn studios in Culver City, and a supervisory production team which included Mayer himself and the 24-year-old Hollywood production wonderboy, Irving G. Thalberg. Thus a new and major Loew's subsidiary, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), was created on May 17, 1924. With Goldwyn Pictures had come a small chain of theaters, including another Times Square property, the Capitol, but the prime incentive was the Goldwyn production facility itself. The Culver City studio had been built around 1915 as Triangle Pictures by pioneering film-maker Thomas Ince and included 45 acres of self-contained production facilities. As MGM this complex of soundstages and backlots would expand throughout the next two decades into one of the greatest and most lavish production units of the studio era.
But Loew would not live to see the great organization he created expand to its full potential. Loew died in 1927, a year after the release of the second of his company's hits, the silent version of Ben Hur, and two years after MGM's first major production, King Vidor's The Big Parade, had grossed over $5 million. Loew was the first of the pioneering moguls to pass away, and one of the most respected and well-loved in this early phase of the industry. He left behind an estate estimated at over $30 million.
Loew's, Inc., and MGM persisted as major players in the history of American film after Loew's death. Nicholas Schenck succeeded Loew as president of the company from 1927 to 1955. A short-lived merger instigated by William Fox created Fox-Loew's from 1928 until 1930, but the largest entertainment conglomerate up to that point in history was soon broken up by early government anti-trust action. In Hollywood, Mayer and Thalberg honed MGM into the most financially and artistically successful studio of the Great Depression, while Schenck and Mayer continued to supervise production into the 1950s. Loew's son, Arthur, supervised the company's extensive overseas expansion, and acted as president for one year in 1955 after Schenck's retirement. After the monopolistic production/exhibition system was finally disbanded by government trust-busting in the late 1940s and most of Loew's theaters were razed, MGM like the other troubled Hollywood studios survived into the 1960s with varying degrees of success. In 1969 Loew's sold off its famous Culver City MGM backlots, and the artifacts of Loew's most famous creation went on the auction block. What remains of the original MGM studio is now Sony Pictures, and Loew's west coast flagship theater, Loew's State, still stands on Broadway in the historic but now sadly decaying old downtown of Los Angeles.
One of the pioneers in the motion picture industry, Marcus Loew (1870-1927) fashioned one of the nation's largest theater chains and then went on to found the young industry's premier studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The American motion picture industry was created by an intriguing group of East European Jewish immigrants and children of immigrants—Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Jesse Lasky, and the Warner brothers. Marcus Loew, born on Manhattan's East Side in 1870, was one of these. His father was a waiter and there were four other children, so at the age of six Marcus left school to work as a newspaper boy.
Other jobs followed, mostly in sales, and for a while young Marcus worked as a furrier. But he always had an ambition to own property, to become a landlord, while at the same time he was fascinated by the theater. In 1904, at the age of 34, Loew combined his ambitions and interests by renting a storefront where he opened a nickelodean, the forerunner of today's motion picture theater.
The industry was new, and the public was intrigued by the new means of entertainment. Encouraged by his success, Loew opened additional nickelodeans, most of them in old buildings where rents were low. He then tried to upgrade his operations, seeking middle class locations and offering vaudeville, which was live entertainment, to go along with the films.
Attempting to control costs, in 1910 Loew and his associates organized Loew's Theatrical Enterprises, into which went the nickelodeans and a new venture, People's Vaudeville. He then expanded out of New York, and within two years Loew's Theatrical was one of the largest chains in the nation.
In those days exhibitors like Loew obtained films from booking offices, which in turn purchased them from studios. From the beginning some of the distributors thought in terms of producing their own films to show in their theaters, in this way saving costs and operating more efficiently. Adolph Zukor had organized Famous Players, which was united with a chain of theaters, and others were following his lead. Loew watched this with interest, and in 1919 he formed Loew's Inc., which included his theaters, vaudeville operations, and booking offices. Then he sought to create a film studio.
Loew became interested in Metro Pictures Corporation, which was directed by a Pittsburgh exhibitor, Richard Rowland, and whose secretary was Louis B. Mayer, who owned a string of theaters and soon became involved with production as well. Due to disagreements Mayer left, and Metro soon declined badly, to the point where Rowland was willing to sell it to Loew, which he did.
What Loew had in mind was both clear and simple. Metro would produce films which would be distributed by Loew to his more than 100 theaters. There was only one problem with this plan: Loew didn't know anything about production and had little interest in learning that part of the business. And with the departure of Mayer there was no one left who had the requisite skills.
Casting about for help, Loew came upon Goldwyn Pictures, which had been organized by Sam Goldfish and the Selwyn brothers (Goldfish later changed his own name to that of the studio). Goldwyn had a large studio in Culver City, California, a good reputation, and even some theaters—including New York's Capitol, a quality house which Loew admired. Frank Godsol, who owned Goldwyn, wanted to sell and leave the business.
Having been disappointed with Metro, Loew investigated Goldwyn carefully and learned that it too lacked a strong production team. Refusing to purchase the firm until he could find a leader, Loew approached Mayer, who in the meanwhile had become an important independent producer. Mayer was interested in coming into the combination with the understanding he would be granted a free hand in production, a condition which Loew was more than willing to accept. So it was that in 1924 Goldwyn was purchased by Loew and then merged into Metro to form Metro-Goldwyn Pictures. Immediately after Mayer was brought in it became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M-G-M).
Loew, a strong family man who was ailing, had no desire to travel to California to monitor production, which in any case was Mayer's province. He remained in New York, content to take care of the theaters, which he understood far better than the artistry of motion pictures. The Loew's chain continued to grow, while M-G-M produced some of the finest films of the late silent era, among them Ben Hur, He Who Gets Slapped, and The Big Parade. The studio had contracts with such stars as Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton, and Greta Garbo. Loew's revenues, which had been $43 million in 1924, rose to $80 million in 1927.
By then Loew's health had deteriorated to the point that he had to retire. A modest and much-beloved person, he was invited to Harvard in 1926. Loew was dazzled. He told the students, "I cannot begin to tell you how much it impresses me, coming to a great college such as this to deliver a lecture when I have never even seen the inside of one before." In this he was typical of the group which founded the century's most glamorous industry.
Marcus Loew died in 1927 at the age of 57, having created one of the industry's great enterprises alone and having gathered a fortune of some $30 million. After his death humorist Will Rogers remarked of Loew, "He would have been successful in a legitimate business." This was meant as a reflection of the tinsel nature of motion pictures. To Loew, however, the movies were business, and he one of its most important pioneers.
There is no biography of Marcus Loew. The most complete treatment of his life can be found in Robert Sobel, The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Business Tradition (1974). Material on Loew can also be found in Bosley Crowther, The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire (1957); Will Irwin, The House That Shadows Built: The Story of Adolph Zukor and His Circle (1928); and Fred Balshofer and Arthur Miller, One Reel a Week (1967). Loew wrote an essay on theater management, which can be found in Joseph Kennedy, editor, The Story of the Films (1927). □
LOEW, MARCUS (1870–1927), U.S. motion picture executive. Born in New York, Loew rose to a powerful position in the American film industry. He began his career in motion pictures by setting up penny arcades in New York City. Loew expanded these electric vaudeville machine parlors to other major U.S. cities and upped the penny ante equipment to nickelodeons, which showed films for five cents. He also began to purchase theaters and convert them into vaudeville-film houses. The idea of combining vaudeville with films proved so lucrative that in 1921 he opened the Loew's State Theater on Broadway with a seating capacity of 3,200. In 1919 he bought Metro Pictures, Inc., and in 1924 acquired Goldwyn Pictures. To eliminate the cost of renting films, Loew came up with the idea of producing films for use in his own theaters. With the appointment of Louis B. Mayer as vice president of the film company, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (mgm) film studio was formed, with Loew's Inc. gaining controlling interest. By 1927 Loew had a chain of 144 deluxe theaters across the country, including several in Canada. At his death, Loew was president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studios of Hollywood and of Loew's Inc., one of the largest cinema chains in the United States.
D. Naylor, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (1981); B. Crowther, The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire (1957).
[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]