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Columbia Pictures (1919)

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  Summary  

Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies in the world, a member of the so-called Big Six. It was one of the so-called Little Three among the eight major film studios of Hollywood's Golden Age.

The studio, founded in 1919 as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales by brothers Jack and Harry Cohn and Joe Brandt, released its first feature film in August 1922. It adopted the Columbia Pictures name in 1924 and went public two years later. The name is derived from "Columbia", a National Personification of the US, which is used as the company's logo.

In its early years a minor player in Hollywood, Columbia began to grow in the late 1920s, spurred by a successful association with director Frank Capra.

With Capra and others, Columbia became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. In the 1930s, Columbia's major contract stars were Jean Arthur and Cary Grant . In the 1940s, Rita Hayworth became the studio's premier star and propelled their fortunes into the late 1950s. Rosalind Russell, Glenn Ford, and William Holden also became major stars at the studio.

In 1982, the studio was purchased by Coca-Cola; that same year it launched TriStar Pictures as a joint venture with HBO and CBS. Five years later, Coca-Cola spun off Columbia, which merged with Tri-Star to create Columbia Pictures Entertainment. After a brief period of independence with Coca-Cola maintaining a financial interest, the combined studio was acquired by Sony in 1989.

  Biography  

 The early years

The predecessor of Columbia Pictures, CBC Film Sales Corporation, was founded in 1919 by Harry Cohn, his brother Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt.

Brandt was president of CBC Film Sales, handling sales, marketing and distribution from New York along with Jack Cohn, while Harry Cohn ran production in Hollywood. The studio's early productions were low-budget short subjects: "Screen Snapshots", the "Hall Room Boys" , and the Chaplin imitator Billy West. The start-up CBC leased space in a Poverty Row studio on Hollywood's famously low-rent Gower Street. Among Hollywood's elite, the studio's small-time reputation led some to joke that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage."

 Reorganization and new name
Brandt eventually tired of dealing with the Cohn brothers, and sold his one-third stake to Harry Cohn, who took over as president. In an effort to improve its image, the Cohn brothers renamed the company Columbia Pictures Corporation on January 10, 1924. Cohn remained head of production as well, thus concentrating enormous power in his hands. He would run Columbia for the next 34 years, the second-longest tenure of any studio chief, behind only Warner Bros.' Jack Warner. In an industry rife with nepotism, Columbia's was particularly notorious. Humorist Robert Benchley called it the Pine Tree Studio, "because it has so many Cohns."

Columbia's product line consisted mostly of moderately budgeted features and short subjects including comedies, sports films, various serials, and cartoons. Columbia gradually moved into the production of higher-budget fare, eventually joining the second tier of Hollywood studios along with United Artists and Universal. Like United Artists and Universal, Columbia was a horizontally integrated company that only controlled production and distribution.

Helping Columbia's climb was the arrival of an ambitious director, Frank Capra. Between 1927 and 1939, Capra constantly pushed Cohn for better material and bigger budgets. A string of hits he directed in the early 1930s solidified Columbia's status as a major studio. In particular, It Happened One Night, which nearly swept the 1934 Oscars, put Columbia on the map. Until then, Columbia's very existence had depended on theater owners willing to take its films, since it didn't own any theaters itself. Other Capra-directed hits followed, including the original version of Lost Horizon , with Ronald Colman, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , which made James Stewart a major star.

Columbia couldn't afford to keep a huge roster of contract stars, so they usually borrowed them from other studios. At MGM, Columbia was nicknamed "Siberia", as Louis B. Mayer would use the transfer to Columbia as a way to punish his less obedient signings. In the 1930s they signed Jean Arthur to a long-term contract, and after The Whole Town's Talking , Arthur became a major comedy star. Cary Grant signed a contract in 1937 and soon after it was altered to a non-exclusive contract shared with RKO.

 Short subjects
At Harry Cohn's insistence the studio signed The Three Stooges in 1934. Rejected by MGM (which kept straight-man Ted Healy but let the Stooges go), the Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia between 1934 and 1957. Columbia's short-subject department employed many famous comedians, including Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde, and Hugh Herbert. Almost 400 of Columbia's 529 two-reel comedies were released to television in the late 1950s; to date, only the Stooges and Keaton subjects have been released to home video.

In the early 1930s Columbia distributed Walt Disney's famous Mickey Mouse cartoons. In 1934 the studio established its own animation house, under the Screen Gems brand; Columbia's leading cartoon series were Krazy Kat, Scrappy, The Fox and the Crow, and Li'l Abner. In the late 1940s Columbia agreed to release animated shorts from United Productions of America; these new shorts were more sophisticated than Columbia's older cartoons, and many won critical praise and industry awards.

According to Bob Thomas's book King Cohn, studio chief Harry Cohn always placed a high priority on serials. Beginning in 1937 Columbia entered the lucrative serial market, and kept making these episodic adventures until 1956, after other studios had discontinued them. The most famous Columbia serials are based on comic-strip or radio characters: Mandrake the Magician, The Shadow, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, The Phantom, Batman, and Superman, among many others. Columbia also had separate units shooting Western B pictures.

Columbia also produced musical shorts, sports reels , and travelogues. Its "Screen Snapshots" series, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Hollywood stars, was a Columbia perennial; producer-director Ralph Staub kept this series going through 1958.

 1940s
In the 1940s, propelled in part by their film's surge in audiences during the war, the studio also benefited from the popularity of its biggest star, Rita Hayworth. Columbia maintained a long list of contractees well into the 1950s: Glenn Ford, Penny Singleton, William Holden, Judy Holliday, The Three Stooges, Ann Miller, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Doran, Jack Lemmon, Cleo Moore, Barbara Hale, Adele Jergens, Larry Parks, Arthur Lake, Lucille Ball, Kerwin Mathews, and Kim Novak.

Harry Cohn monitored the budgets of his films, and the studio got the maximum use out of costly sets, costumes, and props by reusing them in other films. Many of Columbia's low-budget "B" pictures and short subjects have an expensive look, thanks to Columbia's efficient recycling policy. Cohn was reluctant to spend lavish sums on even his most important pictures, and it wasn't until 1943 that he agreed to use three-strip Technicolor in a live-action feature. Columbia's first Technicolor feature was the western The Desperadoes, starring Randolph Scott and Glenn Ford. Cohn quickly used Technicolor again for Cover Girl, a Hayworth vehicle that instantly was a smash hit, released in 1944, and for the fanciful biography of Frederic Chopin, A Song to Remember, with Cornel Wilde, released in 1945. Another biopic, 1946's The Jolson Story with Larry Parks and Evelyn Keyes, was started in black-and-white, but when Cohn saw how well the project was proceeding, he scrapped the footage and insisted on filming in Technicolor.

In 1948, the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust decision forced Hollywood motion picture companies to divest themselves of the theatre chains that they owned. Since Columbia didn't own any theaters, it was now on equal terms with the largest studios, and soon replaced RKO on the list of "Big Five" studios.

Screen Gems
In 1946, Columbia dropped the Screen Gems brand from its cartoon line, but retained the Screen Gems name for various ancillary activities, including a 16 mm film-rental agency and a TV-commercial production company. In 1948, Columbia adopted the Screen Gems name for its television production subsidiary. Screen Gems became a major producer of situation comedies for TV, beginning with Father Knows Best. The Donna Reed Show, The Partridge Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Monkees followed. In 1960, company became a publicly traded company under the name Screen Gems, Inc. when Columbia spun off an 18% stake.

In 1957, after its parent company Columbia dropped UPA, Screen Gems entered a distribution deal with Hanna-Barbera Productions, which produced classic TV cartoon shows such as The Flintstones, Ruff and Reddy, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest, The Jetsons and others. Screen Gems would distribute until 1967, when Hanna-Barbera was sold to Taft Broadcasting.

 1950s
By 1950 Columbia had discontinued most of its popular series films Only Jungle Jim, launched by producer Sam Katzman in 1949, kept going through 1955. Katzman contributed greatly to Columbia's success by producing dozens of topical feature films, including crime dramas, science-fiction stories, and rock-'n'-roll musicals. Columbia kept making serials until 1956 and two-reel comedies until 1957, after other studios had discontinued them.

As the larger studios declined in the 1950s, Columbia's position improved. This was largely because it did not suffer from the massive loss of income that the other major studios suffered from the loss of their theaters . Columbia continued to produce 40-plus pictures a year, offering productions that often broke ground and kept audiences coming to theaters such as its adaptation of the controversial James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity , On the Waterfront and The Bridge on the River Kwai with William Holden and Alec Guinness. All three films won the Best Picture Oscar

Columbia also released the made-in-England Warwick Films by producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli as well as many films by producer Carl Foreman who resided in England. Columbia also distributed some films made by Hammer.

 After Harry Cohn's death

Shortly after closing their short subjects department, Columbia president Harry Cohn died of a heart attack in February 1958.

By the late 1960s, Columbia had an ambiguous identity, offering old-fashioned fare like A Man for All Seasons and Oliver! along with the more contemporary Easy Rider and The Monkees. After turning down releasing Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions James Bond films, Columbia hired Broccoli's former partner Irving Allen to produce the Matt Helm series with Dean Martin. Columbia also produced a James Bond spoof, Casino Royale , in conjunction with Charles K. Feldman, which held the adaptation rights for that novel.

In 1968, Columbia Pictures Corporation merged with its subsidiary Screen Gems and was renamed Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. Nearly bankrupt by the early 1970s, the studio was saved via a radical overhaul: the Gower Street Studios (now called "Sunset Gower Studios") were sold and a new management team was brought in. In 1972, Columbia and Warner Bros. formed a partnership called "The Burbank Studios" in which both companies shared the Warner studio lot in Burbank. While fiscal health was restored through a careful choice of star-driven vehicles, the studio's image was badly hurt by the David Begelman check-forging scandal. Begelman eventually resigned (later ending up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before committing suicide in 1995), and the studio's fortunes gradually recovered.

From 1971 until the end of 1987, Columbia's international distribution operations were a joint venture with Warner Bros., and in some countries, this joint venture also distributed films from other companies . Warners pulled out of the venture in 1988 to join up with Walt Disney Pictures.

On May 1, 1974, Columbia retired the Screen Gems name from television, renaming its television division Columbia Pictures Television. The name was suggested by David Gerber, who was then-president of Columbia's television division. The same year, Columbia Pictures acquired Rastar Pictures, which included Rastar Productions, Rastar Features, and Rastar Television. Ray Stark then founded Rastar Films, the reincarnation of Rastar Pictures and it was acquired by Columbia Pictures in February 1980. On February 19, 1979, Columbia Pictures Television acquired TOY Productions; the production arm founded by Bud Yorkin and writers Saul Turteltaub and Bernie Orestein in 1976.

 1980s: Coca-Cola, Tri-Star, and other acquisitions and ventures
In 1981, Columbia Pictures acquired 81% of The Walter Reade Organization, which owned 11 theaters. With a healthier balance-sheet Columbia was bought by Coca-Cola on June 22, 1982 for $750 million, after having considered buying the struggling Walt Disney Productions. Studio head Frank Price mixed big hits like Tootsie, The Karate Kid, The Big Chill, and Ghostbusters with many costly flops. To share the increasing cost of film production, Coke brought in two outside investors whose earlier efforts in Hollywood had come to nothing. In 1982, Columbia, Time Inc.'s HBO and CBS announced, as a joint venture, "Nova Pictures"; this enterprise was to be renamed Tri-Star Pictures.

On June 18, 1985, Columbia acquired Norman Lear and Jerry Perenchio's Embassy Pictures Corporation , mostly for its library of highly successful television series such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons for $485 million. The same year, Columbia Pictures acquired the remaining 19% of The Walter Reade Organization. On November 16, 1985, CBS dropped out of the Tri-Star venture.

Expanding its television franchise, on May 6, 1986, Columbia also bought Merv Griffin Enterprises, notable for successful shows: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Dance Fever, and The Merv Griffin Show, on May 6, 1986 for $250 million. Months later on August 28, 1986, the Columbia Pictures Television Group acquired Danny Arnold's Danny Arnold Productions, Inc. including the rights to the successful sitcom Barney Miller among other produced series such as Fish , A.E.S. Hudson Street , and Joe Bash , after Arnold dropped the Federal and state lawsuits against the television studio accusing them for antitrust violations, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty. The same year, Columbia recruited British producer David Puttnam to head the studio. He held the position for only one year. Also, Coca-Cola sold the Embassy Pictures division to Dino de Laurentiis, who later folded Embassy Pictures into Dino de Laurentiis Productions, Inc. and became De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. Coca-Cola also sold Embassy Home Entertainment to Nelson Entertainment.

In 1986, Tri-Star expanded into the television business with its new Tri-Star Television division. HBO was the last partner drop out of the Tri-Star venture in 1987. On June 26, 1987, Coca-Cola sold The Walter Reade Organization to Cineplex Odeon Corporation.

Columbia Pictures Entertainment era

The volatile film business made Coke shareholders nervous, and following the box-office failure, Ishtar, Coke spun-m off its entertainment holdings in 1987. The new stand-alone company became Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc. , with Coke owning 49% of the company. CPE brought Tri-Star fully into the fold in December 1987, creating Columbia/Tri-Star. Puttnam was succeeded by Dawn Steel, the first woman to run a Hollywood motion picture studio. Other small-scale, "boutique" entities were created: Nelson Entertainment, a joint venture with British and Canadian partners, Triumph Films, jointly owned with French studio Gaumont, and is now a low-budget label, and Castle Rock Entertainment. On February 8, 1988, Columbia/Embassy Television and Tri-Star Television were formed into the new Columbia Pictures Television and Embassy Communications was renamed to ELP Communications.

 The Sony years to present
The Columbia Pictures empire was sold on September 28, 1989 to electronics giant Sony for the amount of $3.4 billion, one of several Japanese firms then buying American properties. The sale netted Coca-Cola a handsome profit from its investment in the studio. Sony then hired two producers, Peter Guber and Jon Peters to serve as co-heads of production when Sony also acquired Guber-Peters Entertainment for $200 million on September 29, 1989. Guber and Peters had just signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros in 1989; to extricate them from this contract. Because Guber and Peters were still under contract to Warner Bros. since 1983, Steve Ross, Warner Bros.'s boss sued Sony for $1 billion. Sony completed CPE's acquisition on November 8 and the Guber-Peters acquisition was completed on the following day.

On December 1, 1989, Guber and Peters hired longtime lawyer of GPEC Alan J. Levine, to the post of president and COO of Columbia's newly formed company Filmed Entertainment Group . FEG consisted of Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, Triumph Releasing, Columbia Pictures Television, CPTD, Merv Griffin Enterprises, RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, Guber-Peters Entertainment Company, and ancillary and distribution companies.

1990s

In 1990, Sony ended up paying hundreds of millions of dollars, gave up a half-interest in its Columbia House Records Club mail-order business, and bought from Time Warner the former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in Culver City, which Warner Communications had acquired in its takeover of Lorimar-Telepictures in 1989, thus ending the Burbank Studios partnership. Initially renamed Columbia Studios, Sony spent $100 million to refurbish the rechristened Sony Pictures Studios. Guber and Peters set out to prove they were worth this fortune, but though there were to be some successes, there were also many costly flops. Peters was fired by his partner Guber in 1991, but Guber later resigned in 1994 to form Mandalay Entertainment the following year. The entire operation was reorganized and renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment on August 7, 1991, and at the same time, TriStar relaunched its television division in October. Publicly humiliated, Sony suffered an enormous loss on its investment in Columbia, taking a $2.7 billion write-off in 1994. John Calley took over as SPE president in November 1996, installing Amy Pascal as Columbia Pictures president and Chris Lee as president of production at TriStar. By the next spring, the studios were clearly rebounding, setting a record pace at the box office. In 1998, Columbia and TriStar merged to form the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group , though both studios still produce and distribute under their own names. Pascal retained her position as president of the newly united Columbia Pictures, while Lee became the combined studio's head of production.

In 1994, Columbia Pictures Television and TriStar Television were integrated into Columbia TriStar Television , including the rights to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! In 1994 as well, the television library expanded when Susan Stafford sold Barry & Enright Productions, which included the post-scandal Jack Barry Productions , to CTT. The company also purchased Stewart Tele Enterprises. In 1997, Columbia Pictures ranked as the highest grossing movie studio in the United States with a gross of $1.256 billion. In 1999, Sony Pictures Entertainment relaunched the Screen Gems brand as a horror and independent film distribution company and TriStar Television was folded into CTT. Two years later, CPT was folded into CTT as well.

In the 1990s, Columbia announced plans of a rival James Bond franchise, since they owned the rights of Casino Royale and were planning to make a third version of Thunderball with Kevin McClory. MGM and Danjaq, LLC, owners of the franchise, sued Sony Pictures in 1997, with the legal dispute ending two years later in an out-of-court settlement. Sony traded the Casino Royale rights for $10 million, and the Spider-Man filming rights. The superhero has since become Columbia's most successful franchise, with the first movie coming out in 2002 and having since since gained two sequels, with plans for two more. Ironically, between the releases of the first and second sequels, Sony Corporation led a consortium that purchased MGM – giving it distribution rights to the James Bond franchise.

2000s
In the 2000s, Sony broadened its release schedule by creating Sony Pictures Classics for arthouse fare, and by backing Revolution Studios, the production company headed by Joe Roth. On September 16, 2002, Columbia TriStar Television was renamed to Sony Pictures Television. Also in 2002, Columbia broke the record for biggest domestic theatrical gross, with a tally of $1.575 billion, coincidentally breaking its own record of $1.256 billion set in 1997, which was raised by such blockbusters as Spider-Man, Men in Black II and xXx. The studio was also the most lucrative of 2004, with over $1.338 billion dollars in the domestic box office with movies such as Spider-Man 2, 50 First Dates and The Grudge, and in 2006, Columbia, helped with such blockbusters as: The Da Vinci Code, The Pursuit of Happyness and Casino Royale, not only finished the year in first place, but it reached an all time record high sum of $1.711 billion, which was an all-time yearly record for any studio until Warner Bros. surpassed it in 2009.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Columbia Pictures", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.