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Hollywood on the Hudson

Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 592
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood on the Hudson
    Book Description:

    In Hollywood on the Hudson, Richard Koszarski rewrites an important part of the history of American cinema. During the 1920s and 1930s, film industry executives had centralized the mass production of feature pictures in a series of gigantic film factories scattered across Southern California, while maintaining New York as the economic and administrative center. But as Koszarski reveals, many writers, producers, and directors also continued to work here, especially if their independent vision was too big for the Hollywood production line.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4552-3
    Subjects: History, Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-1)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    At the beginning ofKing Kong(1933), perhaps the greatest New York film ever made in Hollywood, Robert Armstrong is prowling the streets of Manhattan, a director of documentaries in desperate need of “a pretty face” for his new jungle epic. It is the bottom of the Depression, and the streets of the city seem as threadbare as the inhabitants. The lineup at the local soup kitchen has nothing to offer, but Armstrong is in luck when he spots Fay Wray stealing an apple from Paul Porcasi’s fruit stand. It seems she is not just any unemployed New Yorker but...

  6. 1 New York Pioneer
    (pp. 15-23)

    In 1919 D. W. Griffith announced that he was leaving Los Angeles to once again take up production in New York. Asked later how long he would be gone, the man who had put Hollywood on the map answered hopefully, “Forever.”¹

    During a five-year stay on the West Coast, Griffith had transformed the art and industry of the motion picture with a spectacular series of films:The Birth of a Nation(1915),Intolerance(1916),Hearts of the World(1918), andBroken Blossoms(1919). But Los Angeles, which had served as a convenient winter quarters for Griffith ever since he first...

  7. 2 Paramount on Long Island
    (pp. 25-57)

    Griffith’s return to New York may have received the most publicity, but as 1919 drew to a close, it seemed that the previous year’s entire western migration was being thrown into reverse. Goldwyn and Metro were also coming back, while Paramount, Selznick, and Fox announced plans to expand their existing facilities. Just a year before, industry observers had felt certain that Metro would never return to its old studio on West 61st Street. But now the company declared that it had left only under the pressure of patriotism, “compelled to curtail [its] activities to aid the government’s policy of restriction...

  8. 3 Freelance Filmmaking
    (pp. 59-99)

    As soon as stories about the closing of Paramount’s Astoria studio began to circulate, notices were prominently posted around the building telling the workers not even to think of relocating to the Hollywood studio: any jobs there were already taken.¹ Those notices, of course, were not directed at the stars, directors, or top studio executives then established in the East. The warning was intended for the studio’s hundreds of painters, carpenters, and electricians, the uncredited technical crews that had grown up with the industry since nickelodeon days. But with few other options, not many were inclined to sit back and...

  9. 4 Studio City
    (pp. 101-139)

    While most studios in New York and New Jersey were reinventing themselves to operate as rental facilities for a new kind of producer, a few of the “majors,” including Fox, Vitagraph, Metro, Hearst-Cosmopolitan, and First National, agreed with Paramount that what they really needed was a traditional brick-and-mortar studio of their own. The first of these to expand in New York after the war was Fox, which opened a large New York studio in 1920 with the intention of centralizing a sprawling East Coast operation that was spread all over New York and New Jersey. In addition to its main...

  10. 5 Edison’s Dream
    (pp. 141-177)

    When Thomas Edison notified the U.S. Patent Office in 1888 that he was working on a motion picture invention, he described it as “an instrument which does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear.” Edison had not been trying to invent silent movies; what he really wanted was to create a new audiovisual medium that combined music, motion photography, and projected-picture entertainment. “Thus, if one wished to hear and see the concert or the opera, it would only be necessary to sit down at home, look upon a screen and see the performance, reproduced exactly in every...

  11. 6 Paramount Speaks
    (pp. 179-227)

    B. P. Schulberg’s success at forcing Paramount to concentrate all its production activity on the West Coast proved remarkably brief. Only fourteen months after W. C. Fields, Gregory La Cava, William Le Baron, Walter Wanger, and the rest of Paramount’s eastern production unit had vacated the studio in Astoria, Adolph Zukor changed his mind. “We are reopening the Long Island studio and are equipping it for the production of sound pictures because certain types of stories can best be made here in the East on account of the availability of particular types of talent,” Zukor admitted, trying his best not...

  12. 7 Talkies for Everyone
    (pp. 229-263)

    By the end of World War I, Hollywood was firmly established as the center of American film production. It refined the industrial model created in New York and New Jersey and perfected the efficient “Hollywood studio system” that would dominate the business for decades. Studios did survive in the East, but the local “system” was already growing more diffuse. Some studios were still massive lots owned and operated by vertically integrated majors like Paramount and First National. A few powerful individuals, including D. W. Griffith and the Talmadge sisters, operated private studios dedicated to their films alone. And rental stages...

  13. 8 Independent Alternatives
    (pp. 265-307)

    Although nearly all the major American producers had long since committed to AT&T’s Western Electric sound system, RCA continued to battle for business along the margins. No one could predict the size of the educational and industrial market, which was still in play, and the production of independent features and shorts was another question mark. Much of this activity was still centered in New York, but with the collapse of Audio-Cinema, Western Electric stood to lose its primary East Coast rental facility. So no sooner had the sheriff chased Joe Coffmann from the old Edison studio in the Bronx than...

  14. 9 Cartoons in the City
    (pp. 309-333)

    In 1935, just as Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were making their hasty exit from the Astoria studio, readers ofThe Forumwere startled to hear the results of a national poll of America’s schoolchildren. Asked to name their favorite cartoon character, respondents (if only by a small margin) cited not Mickey Mouse, but Popeye the Sailor.¹

    Although Walt Disney and his mouse had monopolized the popular perception of screen animation ever sinceSteamboat Willie, the Disney studio still produced only a small fraction of the animated cartoons then made in America. There were many rivals on both coasts, all...

  15. 10 Film and Reality
    (pp. 335-371)

    Almost from the moment they were introduced, feature-length films held the central position in any discussion of “the movies.” Indeed, for critics and audiences alike, these extended narrative fictionswerethe movies, and every other format or genre was eventually relegated to the margins. Animated cartoons occupied one extreme, where time and space were imaginatively manipulated and the laws of gravity and narrative logic did not apply. At the opposite pole was a motley collection of newsreels, documentaries, travelogues, and industrial films that represented the “nonfiction” end of the business. East Coast filmmakers had dominated the cartoon market through the...

  16. 11 Multicultural Revival
    (pp. 373-387)

    Animation and nonfiction not only survived the meltdown of theatrical film production in the East, but prospered as never before. Short theatrical films would continue to be produced in significant numbers straight through 1941. What is more surprising is the way in which the ethnic and race film markets were able to bounce back from the debacle of 1932, not only improving in technical quality but also, in the case of the Yiddish film, entering what later historians would describe as a “golden age.”¹

    Although the exact circumstances of their production are unclear, Oscar Micheaux was able to putThe...

  17. 12 A Miniature Hollywood
    (pp. 389-407)

    If the local motion picture industry had had to depend on feature films alone, every studio in New York and New Jersey would have gone out of business for good by the mid-1930s. In one annual survey,Film Dailyasserted that “no feature productions were made in the East” during the 1936–1937 season, and the editors saw no hope of any being made in the foreseeable future.¹ Of course, they were not counting marginal genres like Yiddish pictures and race movies, but even these specialized markets were not strong enough to keep the local craft unions afloat on their...

  18. 13 Radio Visions
    (pp. 409-435)

    Even though most histories of broadcasting discuss New York’s central role in the postwar development of American television, it is important to understand that various broadcasters, manufacturers, and lone inventors had been refining the technology (and programming) of television there since 1927. Television, even in America, was not first demonstrated in New York, but the city quickly became the center of the nation’s sudden fascination with “distant electric vision.” In May 1931Radio Newslisted eleven “currently active” television stations in the United States, four of which were located in and around New York.¹ When Mayor Jimmy Walker formally opened...

  19. 14 Live from New York
    (pp. 437-465)

    C. Francis Jenkins had argued that mechanical television was worth pursuing, not in spite of its limitations, but because of them. The low entry barrier meant that anyone with skill and imagination could make a contribution and that the system would develop democratically, instead of adopting the hierarchic structure of most modern industries. Ultimately, television would belong to the people, not some patent-holding corporation. Jenkins would have been delighted to watch the evolution of the World Wide Web, which in a sense validated his concept of how a new technology might be shaped by its users. But this did not...

  20. 15 “We Have a City Here”
    (pp. 467-498)

    Electrical Research Products, Inc. had been organized to exploit AT&T’s non-telephone technologies, so its relationship with the motion picture industry would normally have been limited to the licensing and manufacture of its sound film apparatus. But by 1933 this mandate had been stretched to include the operation of two motion picture studios and the funding of independent producers through the Exhibitors Reliance Corporation. Approximately $4 million had been made available to producers in this manner by the end of 1935, most of it expended on films shot in the Astoria studio, including shorts from Educational Pictures,The Emperor Jones, and...

  21. NOTES
    (pp. 499-554)
    (pp. 555-570)
    (pp. 571-578)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 579-580)