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Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood

Bernard F. Dick
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    FromDouble IndemnitytoThe Godfather, the stories behind some of the greatest films ever made pale beside the story of the studio that made them. In the golden age of Hollywood, Paramount was one of the Big Five studios. Gulf + Western's 1966 takeover of the studio signaled the end of one era and heralded the arrival of a new way of doing business in Hollywood. Bernard Dick reconstructs the battle that culminated in the reduction of the studio to a mere corporate commodity. He then traces Paramount's devolution from free-standing studio to subsidiary -- first of Gulf + Western, then Paramount Communications, and currently Viacom-CBS.

    Dick portrays the new Paramount as a paradigm of today's Hollywood, where the only real art is the art of the deal. Former merchandising executives find themselves in charge of production, on the assumption that anyone who can sell a movie can make one. CEOs exit in disgrace from one studio only to emerge in triumph at another. Corporate raiders vie for power and control through the buying and selling of film libraries, studio property, television stations, book publishers, and more. The history of Paramount is filled with larger-than-life people, including Billy Wilder, Adolph Zukor, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and more.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5928-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Mountain Glory
    (pp. 1-43)

    It is a truism to call the American motion picture industry the creation of Central and Eastern European immigrants and their sons. For the most part, the statement is correct, but it fails to acknowledge the contributions of Nebraska-born Darryl F. Zanuck, the creative force behind Twentieth Century-Fox, and the quartet that founded United Artists: Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks, who hailed, respectively, from England, Canada, Kentucky, and Colorado. It might be more accurate to call Hollywood the creation of former glove cutters, store managers, fish peddlers, jewelers, junk dealers, furriers, vaudeville performers, arcade owners, and...

  5. 2 Mountain Gloom
    (pp. 44-84)

    When George Weltner joined Paramount in 1922, a little more than a month after graduating from Columbia University, he probably never expected to spend his entire career there.¹ Growing up in Chicago, he had witnessed the nickelodeon era and the rise of the movie palace but never thought he would be part of an industry that produced the kind of entertainment he had enjoyed in his youth. At twenty-one, Weltner considered himself an engineer, not a potential film executive, much less a filmmaker. With a B.S. in chemical engineering, Weltner had no dearth of job offers upon graduation. If he...

  6. 3 Barbarians at the Spanish Gate
    (pp. 85-108)

    Of the eight studios that dominated the movie business during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Universal was the first to lose its independence and acquire a succession of parents, corporate and otherwise.¹ First, it was Decca Records in 1952. This was not as incongruous as it might seem; Decca, which had pioneered the original cast albums of Broadway musicals, could at least claim an affinity with Hollywood, given the number of Decca recording artists who had appeared in Universal releases during the 1940s (e.g., the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Martha Tilton, Deanna Durbin, Dick Haymes). Universal’s next parent was no outsider, either,...

  7. 4 Charlie’s Boys
    (pp. 109-125)

    The Paramount purchase only fed Bluhdorn’s megalomania. Not content with just being Gulf + Western board chairman, Bluhdorn also decided to assume the title of president of Paramount Pictures after George Wei trier’s retirement in July 1967. For Bluhdorn, “president” was merely an honorific; the actual moviemaking process meant little to him. He may not even have known what films Paramount had in the pipeline except the ones he had personally approved; his favorites were those with European settings (e.g., the 1970 releasesThe AdventurersandDarling Lilt) or “American dream” plots (the 1969PaintYour Wagon). Bluhdorn was poor at...

  8. Photo
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 The Italian Connection
    (pp. 126-148)

    In 1970, any Hollywood insider asked to name the studio most likely to make the movie version of Mario Puzo’s TheGodfather(1969) would have said “Paramount.”The Godfatherwas followed by the more impressive sequel,The Godfather Part II(1974). Then Paramount decided to make it a trilogy withThe Godfather Part III(1990). Although Paramount was not known for crime movies, it seems to have developed a special interest in the genre in the late 1960s afterThe Brotherhood(1969), which, although unsuccessful, was at least well-timed. After 1963, it was impossible to deny the Mafia s existence;...

  10. 6 The Diller Days
    (pp. 149-188)

    Bluhdorn was obsessed with finding a surrogate son. Eventually, he found one in Barry Diller. In the meantime, Bluhdorn had to settle for FrankYablans, who appealed to him for different reasons. There was no way Bluhdorn could wax paternalistic about Yablans. With Yablans, it was a question of background, not age. Yablans, who was born in 1935, was nine years younger than Bluhdorn; Bluhdorn was older than Robert Evans, who was born in 1930. Evans, however, inspired fatherly feelings in Bluhdorn, who was more influenced by appearance than age. Evans conformed to the surrogate son model more than did the...

  11. 7 Goodbye, Charlie
    (pp. 189-205)

    Bluhdorn’s death immediately aroused speculation about his successor. The corporate world, which equated Gulf + Western with metals, auto parts, tobacco, real estate, sugar, and beef (but not necessarily with Paramount Pictures), favored David Judelson or John H. Duncan over Martin Davis, the loyal retainer who had stood in the Great Man’s shadow, and was often ordered to leave the room when a conversation turned private. Yet Judelson and Duncan, despite their positions as Gulf + Western president and executive committee chairman, respectively, lacked Davis’s knowledge of the entertainment sector, which was exhibiting real growth, as opposed to sugar manufacturing...

  12. 8 Sumner at the Summit
    (pp. 206-241)

    On Monday morning, 18 March 1991, Frank Mancuso was about to leave for the studio when he received a call from Martin E. Davis, informing him that henceforth he would be reporting to Stanley Jaffe, whom Davis had just named president and COO of Paramount Communications. The call came a few hours before the press release. At least Mancuso was given advance notice, unlike Dawn Steel, who had learned about her firing fromVariety.Although Mancuso claimed he had been taken by surprise, he should have realized that Jaffe was rising not only in Davis s estimation but in the...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 242-244)

    In June 2000, Hollywood was shaken by the news that another studio had changed hands: Seagram, Universal’s parent, had been purchased for $30 billion by a French company called Vivendi. The knowledgeable probably shrugged and muttered, “So Seagram finally found a buyer,” recalling how Seagram had been trying to interest Sony and Disney into taking it over. Others reacted the way readers often do when hearing the name of the latest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature: “Vivendi who?” It had been quite different six months earlier when AOL made a bid for Time Warner; no one bothered to...

  14. End Titles
    (pp. 245-246)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-269)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)