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June 10: Adolph Zukor and Paramount Pictures

June 10, 2013

13684 - Adolph ZukorAdolph Zukor, a Hungarian-born fur merchant who pioneered the movie studio-star system and founded Paramount Pictures, died at 103 on this date in 1976. Zukor was already a successful furrier in Chicago when he invested in the nascent movie “peep-show” industry in 1903. (His fellow investor, Marcus Loew, went on to co-found Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.) Nine years later, Zukor offered the American public its first feature-length film, Queen Elizabeth, which featured Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. “The movie lasted only forty minutes,” according to Albin Krebs’ New York Times obituary, and it was “of incredibly poor quality, and the camera was not kind to the aging Miss Bernhardt, who had to hobble through her scenes on a wooden leg. But if Bernhardt was willing to make movies, the fashionable crowd apparently concluded, then movies had arrived.” By 1920, Zukor’s Famous Players company was producing sixty films a year and owned a chain of theaters; he was the first to “integrate” the movie industry this way, and worked to make sure the industry remained in the hands of “industrialists,” rather than filmmakers or theater owners. Zukor was said to be far less bombastic and nasty than some of his fellow studio moguls, but he nevertheless became known as the “Napoleon of Motion Pictures.” His autobiography, The Public Is Never Wrong, was published in 1953.

“I wanted to be a merchant when I was a boy. And that is what I am now and always have been--a merchant.” — Adolph Zukor