Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Paramount's 100th Anniversary Part Two
At one point in its history Paramount Pictures Inc. was the largest motion picture concern in the world. During the Golden Age of Hollywood it was still among the biggest of the major studios, surpassed perhaps only by MGM. Like the other major studios Paramount Pictures developed its own niche. MGM specialised in melodramas and lavish musicals. Warner Brothers was known for its gangster movies and swashbuckler films. Universal was known for its horror movies. Fox specialised in social dramas. RKO was known for both its musicals and literary adaptations. Paramount's particular niche would be comedy.
The Fatty Arbuckle scandal would hardly impede Paramount with regards to comedy. During the Twenties Paramount would release such comedies as Ruggles of Red Gap (1923), Are Parents People? (1925), and The Kid Brother (1927). The studio's association with comedy would be cemented in the late Twenties. It was in 1929 that Paramount released The Cocoanuts, the feature film debut of the Marx Brothers. From the late Twenties into the Thirties it would be Paramount who would distribute the Marx Brothers' movies, including their best known films: Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933). The studio would also benefit from the Lubitsch Touch, as many of director Ernst Lubitch's comedic musicals and outright comedies would be released through Paramount. Love Parade (1929), Monte Carlo (1930), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), One Hour with You (1932), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), Angel (1937), and Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) were all Paramount releases. Throughout the Thirties Paramount would also release a number of collegiate comedies: College Humour (1933), She Loves Me Not (1934), College Holiday (1935), College Swing (1938), College Confessions (1938), Million Dollar Legs (1939), and $1000 a Touchdown (1939). Mae West's classics, from Night After Night (1932) to Everyday's a Holiday (1937) were released through Paramount.
Hope & Crosby would not be Paramount's only famous comedy team. Starting with My Friend Irma in 1949, Paramount released movies starring Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis as well. All of the team's classics were Paramount films, including At War with the Army (1950), Scared Stiff (1953), and Artists & Models (1955). After the team broke Paramount continued to release movies starring Jerry Lewis. All of the comic's films were released through Paramount until Three on a Couch in 1965, including The Bellboy (1960), The Nutty Professor (1963), and The Disorderly Orderly (1965). In addition to Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis, Paramount would be home to some of the greatest comedic actors of all time, including Dorothy Lamour, Danny Kaye, Betty Hutton, and others.
The fact that both Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges called Paramount home not only shows that the studio produced some of the greatest comedies of all time, but that it was also a studio that showcased some of the greatest directors in the history of motion pictures. This was the case from the earliest days of the studio. One of the companies that became part of Paramount, the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, was co-founded by none other than Cecil B. DeMille. With but few exceptions Mr. DeMile's movies would be released either through the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company or Paramount Pictures. Cleopatra (1934), Union Pacific (1939), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and The Ten Commandments (1956) were all Paramount Productions. Cecil B. DeMille was one of the first directors to become a celebrity on his own and as a result he put in cameos in Paramount films, including Son of Paleface (1952) and most famously in Sunset Blvd. (1950).
Mitchell Leisen would work the majority of his career as a director at Paramount. Mitchell Leisen started his film career as a set and costume designer. He worked with Cecil B. DeMile on such films as Madam Satan (1930--released through MGM), The King of Kings (1927, released through Pathé Exchange), and Male and Female (1919). Mitchell Leisen directed his very first film at Paramount, Cradle Song, in 1933. He would direct all of his best known and arguably his very best movies at the studio, including Death Takes a Holiday (1934), Easy Living (1937), Midnight (1939), Frenchmen's Creek (1944), and Golden Earrings (1947).
While Paramount was the studio for great comedies and home to some of the greatest directors of all time, for a time it also released animated cartoons that rivalled and sometimes even surpassed those of Warner Brothers and Disney. It was in 1928 that Fleischer Studios, Inc., founded in 1921 by brothers Max and Dave Fleischer, signed a production and distribution deal with Paramount. While the Fleischer Brothers were already well established and respected animators in the Twenties, it was arguably during their years with Paramount that they released their best work. It was at Paramount that they introduced their best known creation, Betty Boop. Betty would be an incredible success from her introduction until the Production Code would force the Fleischers to tone down the raciness of her cartoons in 1934. Even thereafter she remained a popular character and continued to appear in animated shorts until 1939.
Fleischer Studios would produce some of the finest animated cartoons ever made. They would be nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Arguably, not only should they have been nominated more times, but they should have also won many times as well. Unfortunately, quality costs money, so that the Fleischers' cartoons were often expensive to produce. To make matters worse for Fleischer Studios, in 1938 the company borrowed money from Paramount to move to Miami, Florida both to take advantage of tax breaks and escape the reach of the unions. Producing two animated feature films would also place a strain Fleischer Studios' finances. Despite the continued popularity of their cartoons, Fleischer Studios continued to lose money and as a result they continued to request loans from Paramount. On 24 May 1941 Paramount Pictures Inc. finally called in the Fleischers' loans and as a result acquired Fleischer Studios. The Fleischer brothers both tendered their resignations.
Unfortunately, Famous Studios would never see either the quality or the success of Fleischer Studios. In 1956 the studio was downsized again and renamed Paramount Cartoon Studios. In 1960 Paramount sold many of their characters (Casper, Baby Huey, and so on) and the cartoons featuring them to Harvey Comics, who had published comic books featuring the characters for years. Paramount attempted to create new characters, such as The Cat and Honey Halfwitch, none of which saw much success. Paramount Cartoon Studios would eventually close up shop on 31 December 1967.
From its founding in 1912 Paramount had grown into what was at one point the biggest movie studio in the world. It owned a thriving theatre chain and released some of the most successful movies ever made. The studio became identified with comedies and released some of the best films in the genre. It was home to some of the greatest directors in the history of film. Through Fleischer Studios it produced some of the greatest animated films ever made. Paramount would also become the first studio to become involved in the medium of television. It would also increase its involvement in the new medium even as its own fate hung in the balance in the Fifties.