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United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950

The Company Built by the Stars

Tino Balio

Publication Year: 2009

United Artists was a unique motion picture company in the history of Hollywood. Founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and director D.W. Griffith—four of the greatest names of the silent era—United Artists functioned as a distribution company for independent producers. In this lively and detailed history of United Artists from 1919 through 1951, film scholar Tino Balio chronicles the company’s struggle for survival, its rise to prominence as the Tiffany of the industry, and its near extinction in the 1940s.
    This edition is updated with a new introduction by Balio that places in relief UA’s operations for those readers who may be unfamiliar with film industry practices and adds new perspective to the company’s place within Hollywood.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xvi

In April of 1968, I met with Arnold Picker at United Artists headquarters in New York. He was then executive vice president of VA, and I wished to discuss with him an invitation from the Wisconsin Center for Theatre Research to establish a collection of corporate records documenting the history of the company. The Center is an archive...

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Introduction: (Dis)united Artists

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pp. xvii-xxix

Founded in 1919, United Artists was a unique Hollywood company. Throughout its history, it functioned exclusively as a distribution company for independent producers. It never operated a studio nor owned theaters. United Artists was unique for another reason: it was founded by four of the greatest stars of the silent era—Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith. In writing...

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1. Artists in Business: 1919

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pp. 3-29

It is January, 1919. A convention of the First National Exhibitors Circuit is meeting at the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles. On the mezzanine floor, in Parlor A, the seven members of the executive board are in session. Below them, in the lobby, the atmosphere among the sages, kibitzers, and gossipers is fraught with excitement. Rumors,...

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2. Starts and Fits: 1919-1924

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pp. 30-51

Abrams geared the company to release one picture a month; each of the four owners was to contribute three a year. The weekly overhead of $25,000 necessitated such a schedule. But at the outset, VA faced a production shortage. Chaplin had five pictures to go at First National and each seemed to take longer to make than the one...

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3. Joe Schenck's Reorganization: 1925-1931

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pp. 52-74

Joseph Schenck, producer and entrepreneur, was known throughout the industry for his business acumen, fair play, and generosity. His rise to prominence had been swift. He began by working in an amusement park with his brother Nicholas in the Washington Heights section of New York City. In 1910, they joined the fledgling Marcus Loew Theatrical Enterprises, Joe as head of film and vaudeville...

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4. Adjusting to Talkies: 1928-1932

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pp. 75-94

Sound technology created an enormous upheaval in the motion picture industry.1 When American Telephone and Telegraph salesmen first made the rounds of the major producers they found no takers for their new equipment. Prudent studio heads were not about to tamper with the existing order. Business was flourishing. Producers...

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5. Depression and Monopoly: 1932-1934

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pp. 95-109

The dwindling output of United Artists' stockholders coincided with the worst part of the Depression. From a 1929 high of seventeen releases, its roster by 1932 dropped to thirteen pictures, one of which was the German-made Congress Dances, acquired out of desperation from UFA to get through the summer months. Not only did quantity decline...

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6. Schenck's Last Years: 1932-1935

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pp. 110-126

Despite Joseph Schenck's enormous capabilities in managing United Artists, despite the fact that his innovations were responsible, time and again, for extricating the company from product crises and financial crises, he could not salvage the careers of the individual producers, nor could he, in the end, resolve the split between the producing and nonproducing stockholders, a split which eventually forced...

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7. Without a Leader: 1934-1936

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pp. 127-141

Zanuck's brashness may have nettled the stockholders, but it was the suspicion of a power grab on Schenck's part that caused the Twentieth Century stock controversy. F. M. Guedalla summed up conditions after a long conversation with Douglas...

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8. The Goldwyn Battles: 1936-1941

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pp. 142-160

In one of his first public statements Giannini said, The greatest need of the motion picture industry at the present time is peace with itself—a peace which will wipe out personal enmities and personal animosities and permit cooperation which will enable the industry to progress as a whole. . . . It is unfortunate to see that personal differences should...

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9. Facing the War: 1941

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pp. 161-185

Although the fight with Sam Goldwyn rivaled, in entertainment value, any films that United Artists had in release, thoughtful observers of the industry were not amused. Variety, for example,

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10. Worsening Strains Within: 1942-1944

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pp. 186-201

Loss of Korda The vulnerability of United Artists during the Selznick negotiations gave Alexander Korda a wonderful opportunity for self-aggrandizement. When Selznick finally consented to come into the company, Korda went to his partners and said that if they wanted his vote for Selznick, United Artists would have to drop the $400,000 lien on his...

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11. Coming Apart at the Seams: 1944-1948

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pp. 202-229

From World War lI on, the fortunes of United Artists steadily declined. One by one all of the attributes that had made it synonymous with quality motion pictures fell away. At best, UA's movies in this period lacked distinction; too often they lacked merit altogether or were in questionable taste. The financial state of the company became more and more precarious. Producers decamped. Product became...

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12. The End and the Beginning of UA: 1949-

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pp. 230-241

Something had to be done—and quickly—to solve the predicament of the United Artists Corporation. A four-member committee of the board was asked to bring in recommendations for the owners to consider. At a stockholders' meeting early in 1949, it set out these options: (1) that the stockholders appoint an underwriter to sell treasury stock...

Appendix 1: Releases: 1919-1950

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pp. 245-259

Appendix 2: Producers

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pp. 260-279

Appendix 3: The Walt Disney Cartoons

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pp. 280-282

Appendix 4: Income History

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pp. 283

Appendix 5: Record of Dividend Payments

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pp. 284-286

Appendix 6: Capital Stock Purchased by the Company

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pp. 287

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The UA Collection: A Descriptive Inventory

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pp. 289-291

The United Artists Collection of the Center for Film and Theater Research is housed in the manuscripts library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison. The collection is divided into eight sections, each dealing with a major function or aspect of the corporation. The sections, in turn, are divided into record series, each...


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pp. 293-303


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pp. 305-323

E-ISBN-13: 9780299230036
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299230043

Publication Year: 2009