City of Dreams

City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures

BERNARD F. DICK
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jnhh
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  • Book Info
    City of Dreams
    Book Description:

    Horror films. Deanna Durbin musicals. Francis the talking mule. Ma and Pa Kettle. Ross Hunter weepies. Theme parks.ET.Apollo 13. These are only a few of the many faces of Universal Pictures.

    In February 1906 Carl Laemmle, German immigrant and former clothing store manager, opened his first nickelodeon in Chicago. He quickly moved from exhibition to distribution and to film production. A master of publicity and promotions, within ten years "Uncle Carl" had moved his entire operation to southern California, founded a city, and established Universal Pictures as one of the major Hollywood studios.

    In time Universal found its niche in horror films featuring Karloff and Lugosi, comedies starring Abbott and Costello and W.C. Fields, and low-budget musicals. But Carl Laemmle Jr. proved less adept than his father at empire building. Eventually he was forced out by financial difficulties, opening the way for a string of studio heads who entered and exited one after another. Thus the age of corporate Hollywood arrived at Universal Pictures earlier than at other studios.

    The Universal-International merger in 1946, Decca's stock takeover in the early 1950s, and MCA's buyout in 1962 all presaged today's Hollywood, where the art of the deal often eclipses the art of making movies. Stars and executives have come and gone, shaping and reshaping the studio's image, but through it all Universal's revolving globe logo has remained on movie screens around the world. And, unlike several other studios of Hollywood's golden age, Universal still makes movies today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5889-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 THE REVOLVING DOOR
    (pp. 1-9)

    InGrand Hotel(1932), Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) observes the guests who enter and exit through the revolving door. “People coming, people going, but nothing ever happens,” he remarks, cynically. Even the film’s credits, with their kaleidoscopic circles of light, suggest that Berlin’s finest hotel, a social microcosm in its own right, is subject to permutation. Dr. Otternschlag, however, is only an onlooker, a one-person Greek chorus commenting on the rhythm of arrival and departure but unable to participate in the drama unfolding around him—a drama of terminal illness, ill-starred romance, deception, death, and, finally, birth. Similarly, moviegoers, whose...

  5. 2 THE CREATION OF UNCLE CARL
    (pp. 10-32)

    This year 1906 found me in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to be exact, in a clothing store. “Thus begins Carl Laemmle’s memoir, commissioned by him in 1927, when he was sixty years old and the best known studio head in Hollywood.¹ The real story, however, does not start in 1906 but almost forty years earlier; not in Oshkosh, but in Laupheim, a village in Wurttemberg, Germany, where on 17 January 1867, Rebekka Laemmle, then thirty-six years old, gave birth to her tenth child, Carl. The Laemmles would have three more children, but the one who became internationally famous and won the affection...

  6. 3 THE CITY FOUNDER
    (pp. 33-41)

    The Lawrence coup was really a diversion; once the publicity ended, Carl still had to face the fact that IMP could not continue as it was. The competition was fierce; not only had the independents become a kind of revolving door—with stars, directors, and producers exiting one company and entering another—but they also had no qualms about raiding talent, even each other’s. When Baumann and Kessel formed Reliance in 1910, they enticed Henry Walthall, Marion Leonard, and Arthur Johnson away from Biograph and director Thomas Ince from IMP; when Henry Aitkin created Majestic, he also raided IMP, netting...

  7. 4 PEARLS OF WISDOM, JEWELS OF FILMS
    (pp. 42-57)

    Now that Universal City had been founded, Carl was more determined than ever to sell the Universal product to exhibitors, which he did by making theUniversal Weeklyan exhibitor’s dream. A typical issue included publicity material with spaces requiring only a film’s starting date and the theater’s name. Carl did not conceal theWeekly’spurpose; the 28 May 1921 issue acknowledged that Universal’s press sheets were designed for exhibitors who, lacking either the time or the aptitude for exploitation, were willing to accept the company’s “ready-made” advertising material. Apparently no one felt insulted by the suggestion that exploitation was...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 THE HOUSE OF LAEMMLE
    (pp. 58-72)

    While other studios, such as MGM, Warners, and Columbia, were organized according to a family model (in the case of Warners and Columbia, a model worthy of Charles Addams), Carl’s Universal came closest to representing a studio in its least dysfunctional state. Jack L. Warner truly hated his brother Harry, refusing even to attend his funeral; Harry Cohn persecuted his brother Jack (but did attend Jack’s funeral); Louis Mayer went from treating his son-in-law, producer William Goetz, as family to excoriating him for being a Democrat (and worse, supporting Adlai Stevenson) instead of emulating his Republican father-in-law.¹ Carl’s Universal, on...

  10. 6 THE LEGACY OF CARL JR.
    (pp. 73-94)

    If “Carl Laemmle Presents” could open a typical Universal film, Carl Jr. wanted his imprint, too. Now that directors were being acknowledged, why not producers? Such was Carl Jr.’s reasoning after reading the 7 July 1928Weekly,which called the director the “czar” or “boss” of a movie, extolled for its success or blamed for its failure. Among Universal’s czars were William Beaudine, Reeves “Breezy” Eason, Edward Sloman, Wesley Ruggles, Edward and Ernest Laemmle (naturally), Paul Leni, and William Wyler; only the last two were auteurs rather than czars. Some directors even received producer credit:The Foreign Legion(1928) was...

  11. 7 THE LAEMMLES’ LAST DECADE
    (pp. 95-105)

    On 25 November 1922, Universal underwent a name change, becoming Universal Pictures Corporation. Carl Sr. however, never thought of Universal as anything other than a company—unlike Harry Cohn, who, when the CBC Film Sales Company became Columbia Pictures Corporation, started thinking as a production chief and later as production chief/president. Through a combination of self-promotion and studio publicity, Carl acquired a reputation that no other movie executive had. It was important for him to wear as many hats as his now balding head could accommodate; since it never bothered him to express an opinion (knowing it could be revised),...

  12. 8 NEW FACES FOR THE FORTIES
    (pp. 106-134)

    In August 1936 Charles Rogers felt that at age forty-two he had achieved his goal: he was a production head, and not just for a year, as he had been at RKO. At Universal, he lasted slightly longer: two years. Carl Jr. had committed the studio to excellence as well the financial uncertainty it brings, but excellence was not something Rogers understood. At Paramount, he had produced the Jack Oakie comedies,Madison Square Garden(1932) andSitting Pretty(1935), mindless entertainment but fun. At Universal Rogers had inherited some of Carl Jr.’s projects, one of which,My Man Godfrey(1936),...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 UNIVERSAL-INTERNATIONAL AND A COAT OF SHELLAC
    (pp. 135-154)

    When William Goetz’s parents died in 1916, so did his hope of attending college.¹ Goetz was then thirteen, and upon finishing high school he followed his brother Ben into the movie business—not in anything so glamorous as production but in the processing lab at Consolidated Films, of which Ben was vice president. Exposure to the raw material of art convinced Goetz that film was not an ephemeral medium. But he was not satisfied merely to process films; he wanted to produce them.

    In 1924, Goetz, then twenty-one, landed a job as production manager for Corinne Griffith, who had just...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 10 IN THE EMBRACE OF THE OCTOPUS
    (pp. 155-182)

    Even before the Decca purchase, a series of transactions began that eventually led to Universal’s becoming the property of a new owner, so much bigger than Decca that it was able to absorb the record company as well as the studio.

    In 1946, Lew Wasserman succeeded Jules Stein as head of MCA (Music Corporation of America), the country’s biggest talent agency. One of MCA’s clients was James Stewart, whose agent was MCA vice president and second-in-command, Art Park, who “covers the lot,” as the contract memos stated—the lot being Universal, where Stewart had not made a picture sinceDestry...

  17. 11 BEHIND THE RISING SUN
    (pp. 183-202)

    When Sony spent $2 billion to acquire CBS Records in 1987, Hollywood did not sound an alarm. A record company is not a movie studio. “So Bruce Springsteen is now working for Sony” was the reaction. But the idea that an electronics giant, even one that was a household name in America, would buy a studio seemed the stuff of standup comedy. And so, shortly after Sony made its 25 September 1989 bid for Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Johnny Carson opened theTonightshow by saying “Good evening, fine people. Welcome to humble show. We were just bought by Sony.”¹

    The...

  18. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  19. 12 MCA ON THE ROCKS
    (pp. 203-222)

    On 5 March 1995, Edgar Bronfman Jr., then the forty-year old president and CEO of the Montreal-based Seagram Company (the distilled spirits and nonalcoholic beverage producer and distributor of such brands as Seagram’s Gin, Chivas Regal, Crown Royal, Absolut Vodka, Martell Cognac, Mumm, Tropicana, and Season’s Best), flew to Japan on a company jet with one goal in mind: to buy MCA from Matsushita.

    This was not the first time Seagram had expressed an interest in MCA. Two decades earlier, when MCA’s profits dipped, Seagram was reported to be a potential buyer; the same rumor resurfaced in 1981 right after...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 223-235)
  21. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 236-239)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 240-250)