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Death of the Moguls

Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood

Wheeler Winston Dixon
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Death of the Moguls
    Book Description:

    Death of the Mogulsis a detailed assessment of the last days of the "rulers of film." Wheeler Winston Dixon examines the careers of such moguls as Harry Cohn at Columbia, Louis B. Mayer at MGM, Jack L. Warner at Warner Brothers, Adolph Zukor at Paramount, and Herbert J. Yates at Republic in the dying days of their once-mighty empires. He asserts that the sheer force of personality and business acumen displayed by these moguls made the studios successful; their deaths or departures hastened the studios' collapse. Almost none had a plan for leadership succession; they simply couldn't imagine a world in which they didn't reign supreme.

    Covering 20th Century-Fox, Selznick International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Republic Pictures, Monogram Pictures and Columbia Pictures, Dixon briefly introduces the studios and their respective bosses in the late 1940s, just before the collapse, then chronicles the last productions from the studios and their eventual demise in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He details such game-changing factors as the de Havilland decision, which made actors free agents; the Consent Decree, which forced the studios to get rid of their theaters; how the moguls dealt with their collapsing empires in the television era; and the end of the conventional studio assembly line, where producers had rosters of directors, writers, and actors under their command.Complemented by rare, behind-the-scenes stills,Death of the Mogulsis a compelling narrative of the end of the studio system at each of the Hollywood majors as television, the de Havilland decision, and the Consent Decree forced studios to slash payrolls, make the shift to color, 3D, and CinemaScope in desperate last-ditch efforts to save their kingdoms. The aftermath for some was the final switch to television production and, in some cases, the distribution of independent film.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5378-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-11)

    Are you planning to visit Los Angeles in the near future? Then you should take a Hollywood studio tour. At Paramount, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, you get a two-hour walk-through confined mostly to the exterior of various soundstages, as well as a stop at Lucy Park, a small section of the studio lot that at one time belonged to Desilu Studios, which in turn bought out most of the old RKO Radio Studio facilities. You’ll probably also see some Foley artists plodding through reels of sound effects for forthcoming films and television shows; the famous “Blue Sky”...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Postwar Collapse
    (pp. 12-35)

    In 1946, the movies—as an industry—had their biggest year, reflecting Americans’ desire for escapism from the events just concluded. The war had been a long one, truly global and on a scale hitherto unimaginable, with more than sixty million deaths. The development of the atomic bomb and its use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had brought the war to a brutal end the year before; now, for the first time in history, humankind could destroy an entire city with the push of a button. With the end of the war in Europe came revelations of the German concentration camps,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 White Fang at Columbia
    (pp. 36-64)

    In the mid-1940s, Harry Cohn was sailing on his yacht, theJobella, with the distinguished film director Rouben Mamoulian, whose many credits includedQueen Christina(1933),Ninotchka(1939), andThe Mark of Zorro(1940), as his guest. Gradually, as the two men relaxed, the talk turned from business matters to uncharacteristic introspection—uncharacteristic, at least, for Cohn, who seldom let anyone see any weakness in his character. As the two men sipped drinks, Cohn suddenly demanded of Mamoulian, “You’re an intelligent man; will you answer me a question?” Startled by Cohn’s directness, Mamoulian agreed. “What happens to us after we...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Z for Zanuck
    (pp. 65-87)

    Darryl Zanuck always behaved as if he had been to the manner born, so to speak, but in fact his life began in a rundown hotel in Wahoo, Nebraska, in 1902. I know; I’ve seen the hotel. It’s a nondescript building in a nondescript town, in a state whose barren landscape is as unvaried as the surface of the moon. Wahoo is also the birthplace of composer Howard Hanson, Hall of Fame baseball player Sam Crawford, and Nobel Prize laureate and geneticist George Beadle, but of all these Darryl F. Zanuck had the humblest beginnings. His father was an alcoholic...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 4 Mayer’s MGM
    (pp. 88-112)

    Louis B. Mayer was one of the original founders of the film industry, and, like many of his compatriots, he came from humble origins. Born in Minsk, Russia, in 1885, Mayer was brought to New York by his parents while still a young boy. Mayer’s father was a laborer, a junk dealer, and anything else that (legitimately) paid the rent; the family soon moved to Canada, where Mayer Sr.’s junk business really took off, and soon Louis joined the family concern, fresh out of elementary school. After a while, Louis struck out on his own and returned to the United...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Zukor and Paramount
    (pp. 113-135)

    Adolph Zukor was arguably the first, and certainly the longest living, of the golden age studio titans. And like the others, he was crazy about the movies, both as a business and an art form, although he was far less of a public manipulator, preferring to work behind the scenes. Zukor got into the game early as an exhibitor, opening a penny arcade in 1903 in Manhattan and in 1904 a small theater (Gomery,Studio System26). By 1912, Zukor had moved into production, and in 1913, recognizing the rising power of the star system, Zukor signed Mary Pickford to...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Major Minors
    (pp. 136-167)

    In addition to what were known as the Big Five during the classical Hollywood studio era—MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and RKO Radio—there were the so-called “little three,” although the term can’t be fairly applied to these studios in retrospect, because they rapidly became as important as any of the Big Five—Universal, United Artists, and Columbia. There were also several “mini-majors” that operated in Hollywood during this period, most notably Samuel Goldwyn Studios and Selznick International on the “A” level, and Republic, Monogram, and Producers’ Releasing Corporation on the “B” level. In addition, although RKO...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Universal Goes Corporate
    (pp. 168-191)

    Universal was one of the earliest and most influential of the major Hollywood studios and remains so to this day. Founder Carl Laemmle came from the exhibition side of the business, and by 1909 he and a partner owned a profitable chain of film theaters as well as a distribution exchange, the Laemmle Film Service, the largest in the United States at the time. But Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company—the “Trust”—was set on controlling every aspect of the fledgling film industry and wiping out the competition.

    Edison wanted every film producer to pay him a fee for...

    (pp. 192-224)

    There were four Warner brothers: Harry, the eldest, and also the most serious; Albert, who took life as it came and never worried too much about anything; Sam, an extrovert who sadly died much too soon; and Jack, the most charismatic, ruthless, ambitious, and driven of the four and the one who became their ringleader, but, as his own son, Jack Warner Jr., noted, “a man driven by fear, ambition, and the quest for absolute power and control” (xi)—a quest that would eventually destroy the Warner family in a fraternal betrayal so sensational that even hardened observers of Hollywood...

  14. Works Cited and Consulted
    (pp. 225-230)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 231-248)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-250)