ParamountPARAMOUNT AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIO SYSTEM
THE WAR BOOM, THE PARAMOUNT DECREE, AND THE EARLY TELEVISION ERA
PARAMOUNT IN THE NEW HOLLYWOOD: BLOCKBUSTER FRANCHISES AND GLOBAL CONGLOMERATES
Paramount Pictures stands as the consummate Hollywood studio, a veritable paradigm for the industry at each stage of its development, from its founding in the early twentieth century as an integrated production-distribution company to its twenty-first century status as a key subdivision within Viacom's vast global media empire. During the classical Hollywood era, Paramount built the world's largest theater chain to become the dominant vertically integrated studio, while cultivating stables of contract talent and an amalgam of trademark star-genre formulas rivaled only by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The studio's dominance was so pronounced, in fact, that it was the prime target of the US Justice Department's antitrust campaign—the epochal "Paramount case," which resulted in the postwar disintegration of the studio system and the end of Hollywood's classical studio era. Paramount struggled through the postwar era and was the first studio to succumb to the conglomerate wave of the late 1960s, when it was bought by Gulf + Western. This marked a shift in Paramount's focus toward television series production, although its film division soon regained its footing with a succession of huge hits like Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972).
Paramount eventually returned to movie industry prominence on the combined strength of successful film franchises—the Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and Beverly Hills Cop films, for example—along with a steady output of hit TV series. These have been the dominant elements of the studio's "house style" in the New Hollywood era, which also has seen Paramount undergo significant—and symptomatic—structural changes. During the 1980s, Gulf + Western steadily siphoned off its non-media holdings and transformed itself into Paramount Communications. Then, in the 1990s, as Hollywood underwent a second epochal conglomerate wave, Paramount was acquired by the global media giant Viacom. Any semblance of a distinct house style steadily faded after the Viacom purchase, as Paramount became simply one of many media divisions in a media empire that included Blockbuster, MTV, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, and eventually (crucially) CBS—along with literally scores of other media and entertainment units. Paramount Pictures remains a key holding and vitally important "brand" within the Viacom empire, of course, although the Paramount of the new millennium is a far cry from the film conglomerate cobbled together by Adolph Zukor (1873–1976) nearly a century earlier.
Paramount Pictures was created in 1916 through the merger of two prominent film production companies, the Famous Players Film Company and the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and a nationwide film distributor, Paramount. Famous Players was created in 1912 by Adolph Zukor, a Hungarian immigrant who started in the penny arcade and nickelodeon business in New York in the early 1900s. Based in New York City, Famous Players enjoyed early success producing and distributing multi-reel ("feature-length") films and developing a star-driven market strategy, and soon the fledgling company was competing with the likes of Fox and Universal. Meanwhile, three young filmmaking entrepreneurs, Jesse Lasky (1880–1958), Samuel Goldfish (1882–1974) (later Goldwyn), and Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959), launched a production company in Hollywood in 1913 and scored a major hit in 1914 with their first feature production, The Squaw Man. That same year, as the movies were rapidly becoming a major entertainment enterprise, W. W. Hodkinson (1881–1971) formed a nationwide distribution company, Paramount Pictures, to release the films produced by Famous Players, Lasky, and others.
JOSEF VON STERNBERG
b. Jonas Sternberg, Vienna, Austria, 29 May 1894, d. 22 December 1969
Born in Vienna, raised and educated in both Austria and the United States, Josef von Sternberg was one of several contract directors who brought a distinctly European inflection to Paramount's house style. In Sternberg's case the accent was notably Germanic. He fashioned a unique Hollywood expressionism, with its play of light and shadow, sensuous images and exotic production design, sexual symbology and frank eroticism. Sternberg's best films—all made for Paramount between 1930 and 1935—often were set in foreign locales and were populated by cynical, dissolute outcasts; they generally were weak on plot but remarkably strong on style and characterization. And they all starred Marlene Dietrich, whose rapid rise in Hollywood coincided with Sternberg's, and whose screen persona was perhaps the most essential component of his inimitable style.
Sternberg learned filmmaking in various departments during the silent era, and added the "von" to his name once he started directing. He signed with Paramount in 1926 and scored an early hit with Underworld (1927), a seminal Hollywood gangster saga scripted by Sternberg's frequent collaborator Jules Furthman. In 1929 a career-defining (and life-altering) assignment took Sternberg to Germany to direct a Paramount-Ufa coproduction, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930), Ufa's first sound film. The film was tailored for German star Emil Jannings, but he was utterly eclipsed by Dietrich, whom Sternberg discovered singing in a cabaret and cast as the wanton temptress, Lola Lola.
The film was a sensation in Europe, and by the time it was released in the United States, Dietrich had been signed by Paramount and had finished her first Hollywood picture, Morocco (1930). Thus began a stunning five-year, six-picture run of Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations that included Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). Each was a technical tour-deforce and a bold, sensual love story, although the crucial romance involved Sternberg's camera (which he often operated himself) and Dietrich's extraordinary screen presence. Sternberg enjoyed complete authority over these films, assembling a production unit at Paramount whose key figures were Furthman, costume designer Travis Banton, art director Hans Dreier, and cinematographers Lee Garmes and Lucien Ballard. Sternberg's only non-Dietrich film during this stretch was the 1931 adaptation of Drieser's An American Tragedy, which he wrote, produced, and directed.
The Deitrich films marked both the sustained peak but also the culmination of Sternberg's career. He left Paramount in 1935, never to return—and never to work again with Dietrich or recapture the success they had enjoyed at Paramount. His subsequent films seemed empty and self-indulgent without Dietrich, and his headstrong arrogance made it increasingly difficult to find work.
Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930), Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
Baxter, John. The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg. New York: A. S. Barnes; London: Zwemmer, 1971.
——. Just Watch! Sternberg, Paramount, and America. London: British Film Institute, 1993.
Prawer, S. S. The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel). London: British Film Institute, 2002.
Sternberg, Josef von. Fun in a Chinese Laundry. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1965.
Studlar, Gaylyn. In the Realm of Pleasure: Von Sternberg, Dietrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Zukor quickly recognized the advantages of an integrated production-distribution setup, and he moved with the kind of savvy, ruthless aggression that made him the prototypical Hollywood "mogul." By 1915 Zukor already had begun integrating the star system with the practice of "block booking," using the films of Mary
Pickford (1892–1979) and other top stars to leverage the sale of an entire production slate, and he began to see the logic of a bicoastal production operation wed to a nation-wide distribution machine. In 1916 Zukor engineered the merger of Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount, and within a few months he forced Goldfish and Hodkinson out, assuming complete control as president of the sprawling enterprise (with Lasky as vice president in charge of production and DeMille as "director general," the studio's top contract filmmaker).
Paramount's subsequent success was truly staggering. Zukor signed top stars like Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939), William S. Hart (1864–1946), and Fatty Arbuckle (1887–1933), and brought other production companies into the Paramount fold as well, increasing the company's output to over a hundred feature films per annum. Although scarcely a centralized studio, given its far-flung production operations, and not yet a vertically integrated company, Paramount was eminently successful as a producer-distributor—so successful, in fact, that other companies like Fox and First National developed their own vertically integrated production-distribution-exhibition setups simply to compete. These counter-moves induced Zukor to move more forcefully into film exhibition, an effort that began in earnest in 1919 and culminated in the 1925 acquisition of the nation's top exhibitor, the Chicago-based Balaban and Katz theater chain, giving Paramount 1,200 theaters. The success of its massive operation enabled Paramount to acquire an enviable stable of stars—notably Gloria Swanson (1897–1983), Rudolph Valentino (1895–1926), Clara Bow (1905–1965), Mae Murray (1889–1965), Pola Negri (1894–1987), and John Barrymore (1882–1942)—and to maintain its dominance through the height of the silent era, when the studio produced scores of top hits, ranging from Valentino vehicles like The Sheik (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922) to western epics like The Covered Wagon (1923) and DeMille spectacles The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927).
After the Balaban and Katz merger, Zukor and Lasky developed a more coherent production operation based primarily on the West Coast. In 1926 Paramount moved into a larger and better equipped Hollywood facility that became its production headquarters, with B. P. Schulberg (1892–1957) installed as head of production (under Lasky). This setup proved eminently successful, enabling Paramount to begin functioning as a centralized studio and to cultivate a more coherent, recognizable house style. While centralized production and capable studio management were crucial, the emergence of Paramount's house style in the late 1920s and early 1930s was the company's extraordinary talent pool—a pool that deepened considerably during the Lasky-Schulberg regime, as two distinct waves of new contract talent signed on in the late 1920s. The first came as the new studio regime coalesced, and included directors Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969), Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987), and Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947) (all signed in 1927), and top stars like Harold Lloyd (1893–1971), Gary Cooper (1901–1961), Claudette Colbert (1903–1996), Frederic March (1897–1975), and Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972). The second wave came with Paramount's rapid conversion to sound, when the studio recruited talent from vaudeville, radio, and the stage—notably W. C. Fields (1880–1946), the Marx Brothers (Chico [1887–1961], Harpo [1888–1964], Groucho [1890–1977], and Zeppo [1901–1979]), Bing Crosby (1903–1977), George Burns (1896–1996) and Gracie Allen (1895–1964), and the inimitable Mae West (1893–1980).
Paramount rode the talkie boom to unprecedented heights, reaping industry-record profits of $18.4 million in 1930 (and out-earning all of the other majors), only to suffer financial collapse a year later under the weight of oversized budgets, the costly conversion to sound, and the massive debt service associated with its huge theater chain. After net losses of $21 million in 1932—another industry record—Paramount declared bankruptcy in
early 1933. The financial turmoil led to a massive executive shake-up in which Zukor was stripped of power (but retained as board chairman), while Lasky, Schulberg, and other top executives including Schulberg's second-in-command, David Selznick, either left or were fired. Theater czar Sam Katz was installed as chief executive by the Chicago and New York financiers who guided the studio out of bankruptcy, and he was succeeded in 1936 by his former partner Barney Balaban (1887–1971), who would successfully guide the company for some three decades. The Balaban regime returned the studio to stability, although Paramount had managed to remain productive and relatively successful during its three-year recovery from financial collapse.
The Paramount house style that took shape in the late 1920s and early sound era continued to develop more or less unabated throughout the 1930s, despite the studio's financial and administrative tumult, which involved a succession of production bosses, including Lubitsch for a brief period in the mid-1930s. Like the other majors, Paramount's house style was geared to a range of stargenre formulas; but the studio was unique in that these generally were handled not by unit producers but by specific directors who were granted considerable creative autonomy and control—as with von Sternberg's highly stylized Dietrich melodramas (Morocco, 1930; Shanghai Express, 1932; Blonde Venus, 1932; The Scarlet Empress, 1934; The Devil Is a Woman, 1935), for instance, and Lubitsch's distinctive musical operettas with Jeanette MacDonald (The Love Parade, 1929; Monte Carlo, 1930; One Hour With You, 1932; The Merry Widow, 1934). While the key elements in these star-genre units were director and star, other filmmakers were crucial as well: writer Jules Furthman (1888–1966) and cinematographer Lee Garmes (1898–1978) on the Dietrich films, for example, and the production design by Hans Dreier (1885–1966) on all of the films directed by both Lubitsch and von Sternberg during this period.
Another important element of the studio's emergent house style was its markedly "European" dimension, which was a function of Paramount's market strategy and talent resources. Zukor had expanded international operations throughout the 1920s, setting up a worldwide distribution system and investing in production and distribution systems overseas, particularly on the Continent. Paramount owned considerable stock in Germany's Ufa studios, where it actively coproduced pictures and cultivated talent that might be "imported" to Hollywood. Lubitsch, Dietrich, and Dreier were German recruits, and Mamoulian was trained in Russia. Von Sternberg was born in Vienna and raised in the United States, but the German influence was quite genuine; in fact, he had discovered Dietrich while directing Ufa's first sound film, Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), a Paramount coproduction that became a huge international hit in 1930.
Paramount's European dimension was countered in the 1930s by two significant generic (and stylistic) trends. One involved the studio's heavy investment in comedy during the early sound era, best typified perhaps by its run of Marx Brothers romps: The Cocoanuts (1929), Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933). W. C. Fields, Burns and Allen, Jack Oakie (1903–1978), and Mae West all contributed to this trend, whose roots ran deeply into American vaudeville, as did a number of contract directors like Leo McCarey (1898–1969) (Duck Soup; Belle of the Nineties, 1935; Ruggles of Red Gap, 1935) and, later in the decade, the vastly underrated Mitchell Leisen (1898–1972) (Hands Across the Table, 1935; The Big Broadcast of 1937, 1936; Easy Living, 1937; Midnight, 1939). The second crucial Paramount trend was its signature DeMille epics, which actually were on hiatus from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, when the studio's most distinctive house director left for independent status and a brief stint with MGM. DeMille returned in 1932 to produce and direct a succession of historical spectacles, concentrating on biblical and ancient epics earlier in the decade (The Sign of the Cross, 1932; Cleopatra, 1934; The Crusades, 1935) before shifting to epic Americana (The Plainsman, 1937; The Buccaneer, 1938; Union Pacific, 1939).
DeMille's shift to American subjects in the late 1930s was directly related to changes and uncertainties in the international marketplace, particularly the political turmoil and the threat of war in Europe. Anticipating the loss of the Continental market and determined to contain costs, the ever pragmatic Balaban ordered Y. Frank Freeman, the studio production chief hired in 1938 from one of Paramount's theater subsidiaries, to severely cut production expenses, including high-paid talent as well as film budgets, and to shift the studio's emphasis away from more lavish and exotic productions in favor of lighter fare designed for the domestic market. This proved to be an ideal adjustment to the wartime social and economic conditions that transformed the industry in the 1940s and returned Paramount to a position of unchallenged supremacy.
The US "war economy" (full employment, round-the-clock factory operations in major cities, severe restrictions on travel and entertainment) helped induce a complete reversal in Paramount's fortunes. A decade earlier, its massive theater chain concentrated in major markets (where the mortgages were heaviest) had financially strapped the company; now its chain generated enormous revenues and profits, enabling the studio to cut back production and concentrate increasingly on the booming first-run market. Between 1940 and 1945, Paramount's feature film output fell from 48 releases to 23, while its revenues rose from $96 million to $158.2 million, and its profits surged from $6.3 million to a record $15.4 million. The war boom continued into 1946, Hollywood's best year ever, when Paramount's profits reached a staggering $39.2 million on only 22 releases—accounting for fully one-third of the Hollywood studios' profits ($119 million) in that all-time record year.
Paramount's enormous prosperity during the war era was fueled by its films, of course, which enjoyed critical as well as commercial success despite the radical changes in its house style and the departure of so many top stars and directors. Balaban's cost-cutting campaign and shift away from Paramount's long-standing emphasis on the European market (and style) led to the departure in the late 1930s of contract stars Dietrich, Colbert, Cooper, March, Carole Lombard (1908–1942), and Mae West, and directors von Sternberg, Lubitsch, and Mamoulian. Bing Crosby and Barbara Stanwyck (1907–1990) remained, as did director Mitchell Leisen, all of whom accommodated Paramount's changing production and market strategies. DeMille stayed on as well, although his epic bent was sorely limited by war-related budgetary and material constraints. Paramount's vacated star stable was quickly filled with a new crop of stars, notably Ray Milland (1905–1986), Bob Hope (1903–2003), Dorothy Lamour (1914–1996), Fred MacMurray (1908–1991), Paulette Goddard (1910–1990), Veronica Lake (1919–1973), and Alan Ladd (1913–1964). Several important new directors emerged as well, most notably Preston Sturges (1898–1959) and Billy Wilder (1906–2002), both of whom rose from the studio's ranks to become two of the foremost "hyphenate" writer-directors in Hollywood.
Sturges quickly established himself as a master of dark comedy, offbeat romance, and acerbic dialogue, and as one of the most prolific filmmakers in the A-film ranks as well, turning out eight pictures in four years for Paramount, including several of the very best Hollywood films of the war era: The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Wilder, meanwhile, started somewhat slower before delivering some of the era's most powerful dramas, including Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945). Leisen continued to turn out quality romantic comedies and melodramas at a prodigious rate (12 pictures from 1940 to 1945), while DeMille managed only two lackluster pictures during the same period. Much of the studio's success came with films that teamed particular stars—the pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in two noir thrillers, This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key (both 1942), for instance, and the teaming of Crosby, Hope, and Lamour in the hugely successful run of "road pictures" (Road to Singapore, 1940; Road to Zanzibar, 1941; Road to Morocco, 1942; et al.). Crosby and Hope enjoyed tremendous success during the war in a wide range of films, with Crosby in particular emerging as a true cultural phenomenon, considering his concurrent success in the radio and recording industries. His most successful film for Paramount, and its biggest wartime hit, was as a crooning priest in Going My Way (1944), a quasi-independent project produced, directed, and written by free-lancer Leo McCarey.
b. Frank James Cooper, Helena, Montana, 7 May 1901, d. 13 May 1961
A consummate American screen hero of Hollywood's classical era and the archetypal "strong silent type," Gary Cooper spent roughly the first half of his career at Paramount, where he paid his dues as a studio contract star and, in the course of the 1930s, rose to top stardom. Cooper enjoyed sufficient clout by the late 1930s to demand a nonexclusive contract with Paramount, and within a few years he was essentially a freelance star. Thus many of Cooper's most memorable roles, including his Oscar® -winning performances in Sergeant York (1941) and High Noon (1952), were done elsewhere. But during the early years at Paramount, Cooper did some of his best work and steadily refined his distinctive screen persona: the tall, laconic, hesitant but steadfast hero whose diffident honesty and physical beauty masked an undercurrent of anxiety and self-doubt. He established a remarkable acting range as well, handling comedy, romantic drama, and action-adventure roles with equal assurance.
Cooper broke into films as an extra in silent westerns—due largely to his genuine skills as a horseman. He soon signed with Paramount and appeared in some twenty supporting roles before starring in his breakthrough hit, The Virginian (1929), his first talkie, in which he famously intoned, "When you say that—smile." The picture clinched his early stardom and led to a succession of similar roles in 1930 and 1931, until the western was downgraded to B-movie status. Cooper did star in one of the Depression era's few "A" westerns, The Plainsman, a 1936 biopic of Wild Bill Hickok and his first film for Cecil B. DeMille, and he helped facilitate the resurgence of the western in 1940 with another DeMille epic, North West Mounted Police, and The Westerner, one of many films Cooper did for independent producer Sam Goldwyn.
During the western genre's decade-long hiatus, Cooper played action-adventure roles for Paramount in films like The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), The General Died at Dawn (1936), and Beau Geste (1939). Cooper also proved to be a serviceable romantic costar in films like A Farewell to Arms (1932) and Peter Ibbetson (1935). But the real surprise was his emergence as a top comedy star in films like Design for Living (1933) and Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), both directed by Ernst Lubitsch; on loan to Columbia in the Capra-directed Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); and on loan to RKO in the Hawks-directed Ball of Fire (1941). By 1941 Cooper was a freelance star, and although he stayed busy throughout the 1940s and 1950s, remaining one of Hollywood's top box office stars, his only subsequent work for Paramount was in the Goldwyn-produced For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and in DeMille's The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944) and Unconquered (1947).
The Virginian (1929), Design for Living (1933), The Plainsman (1936), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The General Died at Dawn (1936), Beau Geste (1939), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), High Noon (1952)
Kaminsky, Stuart. Coop: The Life and Legend of Gary Cooper. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Gary Cooper: American Hero. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2001.
Paramount's tremendous success continued into the early postwar era, although it became evident as the Justice Department revived its antitrust campaign against the studios that its glory days were numbered. In May 1948 the Supreme Court issued its momentous Paramount decree, which cited Paramount Pictures as the first defendant because the company's domination and manipulation of the movie marketplace had been most pronounced. Unlike several of the other Big Five integrated majors (i.e., MGM, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros., and RKO, which also owned theater chains), Paramount readily complied with the Court's demand to divorce its theater chains, splitting in late 1949 into two corporate entities, Paramount Pictures and United Paramount Theaters (UPT). Besides dis-integrating the company, the Paramount decree also dashed Balaban's plans to exploit the emergent television medium. Paramount had been actively pursuing
television broadcasting for over a decade in various ways, notably its purchase of television stations in Chicago and Los Angeles, and its investment in video pioneer DuMont, which involved video projection in theaters as well as delivery of Paramount films to the home. The antitrust ruling enabled the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prohibit the studios from active participation in the burgeoning TV industry, however, so Paramount Pictures sold off its television and video interests while UPT became a major investor inthe ABC television network.
Hollywood's general postwar decline was especially pronounced for Paramount, whose profits fell from over $22 million in 1948 to just $3 million in 1949. The studio survived through a two-pronged strategy of "bigger" films and independent productions. DeMille effectively initiated the postwar blockbuster trend with Samson and Delilah, released in late 1949 just weeks before the Paramount-UPT split, and he sustained it with The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956), which earned an astounding $34.2 million. Meanwhile, the studio realized major hits via financing-and-distribution deals with independent producer-directors like George Stevens (1904–1975) (A Place in the Sun, 1951; Shane, 1953) and Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) (Rear Window, 1954; To Catch a Thief, 1955; The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956). Paramount was the last of the majors to acquiesce to network television, opening its vault to TV syndication in 1958 and moving tentatively into telefilm series production. The studio faded badly in the early 1960s due to a succession of costly flops and the ongoing erosion of the movie-going audience. This led to Balaban's removal and the 1966 purchase of Paramount by Gulf + Western—the first of several studio buyouts by huge nonmedia conglomerates in the late 1960s, and a crucial step in the transition from the Old Hollywood to the New.
The Gulf + Western buyout relegated Balaban to an emeritus role (along with Zukor), as the irrepressible Gulf + Western founder Charles Bludhorn took command of the company. The early Bludhorn era saw an increase in television series production, accelerated by the 1969 acquisition of Desilu, and the unexpected installation of Robert Evans (b. 1930) as head of motion picture production. Both proved to be good moves. The television division generated new hit series (The Brady Bunch, 1969; Happy Days, 1974, et al.), while the Desilu acquisition gave Paramount several established series like Mission: Impossible (1966–1973) and particularly Star Trek (1966–1969) which, upon cancellation as network series, became hugely successful in syndication during the burgeoning cable era—and later, of course, spawned successful movie franchises. Evans, meanwhile, immediately emerged as one of the chief architects of an "American New Wave"—an auteur-driven cinema geared increasingly to the era's youth and counter cultures. Paramount's output under Evans included Rosemary's Baby (1968), Goodbye Columbus (1969), Love Story (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Chinatown (1974). Evans left for independent production in the mid-1970s, but Paramount's success continued—indeed, accelerated—under Barry Diller and Michael Eisner. The studio continued to mine the youth market with films like Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978), and enjoyed critical as well as commercial success with films like Heaven Can Wait (1978), Ordinary People (1980), Reds (1981), and Terms of Endearment (1983).
Paramount also pursued mainstream audiences with calculated blockbuster fare and a big-screen "franchise" strategy—that is, movie series generated by high-cost, megahits like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Beverly Hills Cop (1984). Raiders, produced by George Lucas (b. 1944) and directed by Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), launched the highly successful "Indiana Jones" films in a partnership with Lucasfilm Limited, as well as a TV series coproduced by Lucasfilm, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, and Paramount. The studio coproduced the Beverly Hills Cop films with a company owned by star Eddie Murphy (b. 1961), whose long-term relationship with Paramount generated many other box-office hits (48 Hours, 1982; Trading Places, 1983; Coming to America, 1988). The Star Trek series was in a class by itself as an entertainment franchise. Its lineage includes ten feature films, four subsequent liveaction TV and cable series, an animated series, and a literally incalculable number of media tie-ins and licensed products—including an entire book division at Simon & Schuster, a Paramount (now Viacom) subsidiary.
Bludhorn's death in 1983 brought Martin S. Davis in as chief executive officer of Gulf + Western, and a year later Frank Mancuso took over the studio (as Diller left for Fox and Eisner for Disney). Paramount continued to surge, reclaiming its top spot among Hollywood studios, fueled primarily by its hit-spawning movie franchises, along with hit TV series like Family Ties (1982–1989) and Cheers (1982–1993), and a run of box-office surprises including Top Gun (1986), Crocodile Dundee (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), and Ghost (1990). Meanwhile, Gulf + Western steadily "downsized" to focus on media and entertainment, and in 1989 the parent company's title was officially changed to Paramount Communications. The same year, Paramount attempted a hostile takeover of Time Inc., but the publishing giant opted to merge with Warner Communications. So Paramount continued to look for a suitable partner as a media mergers-and-acquisitions wave swelled in the early 1990s, eventually submitting to a $10 billion buyout (initiated in 1993 and consummated in 1994) by Viacom, a global conglomerate controlled by Sumner Redstone. Viacom had been expanding at a truly incredible rate since Redstone took over the media giant in 1987, and the process continued throughout the booming 1990s. Besides buying Paramount, Viacom also acquired Blockbuster Video in 1994, launched the UPN cable network in 1995, and closed out the decade with the $50 billion acquisition of CBS (formerly Westinghouse) in 1999. The purchase of CBS was a telling irony in modern media annals, in that Viacom was created in 1971 when the FCC had forced CBS to spin off its syndication division.
Paramount continued to produce top movie hits in the 1990s, including Mission: Impossible (1996) and its sequel (2000), and the phenomenally successful Forrest Gump (1994). But the hits were less frequent and many of its biggest hits were cofinanced and thus shared with other studios—most notably Titanic (1997) with Twentieth Century Fox and Saving Private Ryan (1998) with DreamWorks. The studio's success after the CBS merger has been even more sporadic, leading to considerable turnover in the executive ranks—with the sole exception of Redstone himself, who became board chairman and CEO in 1996 (at age 73) and has maintained power over the ever-expanding Viacom empire into the new millennium. The sheer size of this global media giant as of the early 2000s is staggering. It includes over a dozen film and television production companies (including Paramount Pictures and Paramount Television); the Paramount Film Library (over 2,500 titles); over a dozen broadcast and cable networks (including CBS, UPN, MTV, Showtime, the Comedy Channel), along with 40 owned-and-operated stations and some 300 affiliates; the world's number one video rental chain (Blockbuster, with over 8,500 stores); shared ownership of over 1,000 movie screens worldwide; a global distribution partnership with Universal (UIP); amusement parks in the United States and Canada; over a dozen publishing entities (including Simon & Schuster and Scribners); a radio operation (CBS Radio and Infinity) with 180 stations; a music publishing company that holds the copyright on over 100,000 song titles; the number one billboard advertising company in the United States and Europe (Outdoor Advertising), and so on.
While the Paramount "brand name" remains vital to Viacom's success, and the studio's movie products continue to drive the parent company's entertainment product lines, the studio is scarcely on par with the Paramount of old—even the Paramount of the 1970s and 1980s—given the structure, complexity, and general sprawl of the media conglomerate at large. Paramount is hardly able (or expected) to sustain an identifiable house style, which would require stable management and resources, including talent on both sides of the camera, and thus the only consistent "markers" of its style are the signature franchises. The sheer size of the media giant has become so great, in fact, that Redstone in early 2005 proposed it be split into two publicly traded companies: Viacom (which will include Paramount Pictures and the powerhouse MTV network) and CBS (which will include Paramount Television and the other television, cable, and home-video holdings). The Viacom board approved the split in June 2005, and the 82-year-old Redstone told the press, "The age of the conglomerate is over." While that claim is dubious, the split may signal a new chapter in the saga of Paramount Pictures.
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DeMille, Cecil B. Autobiography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959.
Eames, John Douglas. The Paramount Story. London: Octopus, 1985.
Finler, Joel W. The Hollywood Story. New York: Crown, 1988.
Halliwell, Leslie. Mountain of Dreams: The Golden Years at Paramount Pictures. New York: Stonehill, 1976.
Gomery, Douglas. "The Movies Become Big Business: Publix Theaters and the Chain Store Strategy." In The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures, edited by Gorham Kindem, 104–115. Carbondale: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
Zukor, Adolph, with Dale Kramer. The Public Is Never Wrong: The Autobiography of Adolph Zukor. New York: Putnam, 1953.
par·a·mount / ˈparəˌmount/ • adj. more important than anything else; supreme: the interests of the child are of paramount importance. ∎ having supreme power: a paramount chief. DERIVATIVES: par·a·mount·cy / -sē/ n. par·a·mount·ly adv.