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20th Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (known as Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation with hyphen from 1935 until 1985, stylized as 20th Century Fox or simply known as Fox or 20th Century Fox Pictures) is an American film studio currently owned by 21st Century Fox. It is one of the “Big Six” major American film studios and is located in the Century City area of Los Angeles, just west of Beverly Hills. The studio was owned by News Corporation from 1984 to 2013.
20th Century Fox is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Twentieth Century Pictures’ Joseph Schenck and Darryl F. Zanuck left United Artists (UA) over a stock dispute, and began merger talks with the management of financially struggling Fox Film, under president Sidney Kent. Spyros Skouras, then manager of the Fox West Coast Theaters, helped make it happen (and later became president of the new company). Aside from the theater chain and a first-rate studio lot, Zanuck and Schenck felt there was not much else to Fox, which had been reeling since the founder William Fox lost control of the company in 1930. The studio’s biggest star, Will Rogers, died in a plane crash weeks after the merger. Its leading female star, Janet Gaynor, was fading in popularity and promising leading men James Dunn and Spencer Tracy had been dropped because of heavy drinking.
At first, it was expected that the new company was originally to be called “Fox-20th Century”, even though 20th Century was the senior partner in the merger. However, 20th Century brought more to the bargaining table besides Schenck and Zanuck; it was more profitable than Fox and had considerably more talent. The new company, 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, began trading on May 31, 1935; the hyphen was dropped in 1985. Schenck became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, while Kent remained as President. Zanuck became Vice President in Charge of Production, replacing Fox’s longtime production chief Winfield Sheehan.
The company established a special training school. Lynn Bari, Patricia Farr and Anne Nagel were among 14 young women “launched on the trail of film stardom” on August 6, 1935, when they each received a six-month contract with 20th Century Fox after spending 18 months in the school. The contracts included a studio option for renewal for as long as seven years.
For many years, 20th Century Fox claimed to have been founded in 1915, the year Fox Film was founded. For instance, it marked 1945 as its 30th anniversary. However, in recent years it has claimed the 1935 merger as its founding, even though most film historians agree it was founded in 1915.
The company’s films retained the 20th Century Pictures searchlight logo on their opening credits as well as its opening fanfare, but with the name changed to 20th Century-Fox.
After the merger was completed, Zanuck quickly signed young actors who would carry Twentieth Century-Fox for years. Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Carmen Miranda, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney, Sonja Henie, and Betty Grable. Also on the Fox payroll he found two players who he built up into the studio’s leading assets, Alice Faye and seven-year-old Shirley Temple. Favoring popular biographies and musicals, Zanuck built Fox back to profitability. Thanks to record attendance during World War II, Fox overtook RKO and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Hollywood’s biggest studio) to become the third most profitable film studio. While Zanuck went off for eighteen months’ war service, junior partner William Goetz kept profits high by going for light entertainment. The studio’s—indeed the industry’s—biggest star was creamy blonde Betty Grable.
In 1942, Spyros Skouras succeeded Kent as president of the studio. Together with Zanuck, who returned in 1943, they intended to make Fox’s output more serious-minded. During the next few years, with pictures like The Razor’s Edge, Wilson, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Snake Pit, Boomerang, and Pinky, Zanuck established a reputation for provocative, adult films. Fox also specialized in adaptations of best-selling books such as Ben Ames Williams’ Leave Her to Heaven (1945), starring Gene Tierney, which was the highest-grossing Fox film of the 1940s. Fox also produced film versions of Broadway musicals, including the Rodgers and Hammerstein films, beginning with the musical version of State Fair, the only work that the famous team wrote especially for films, in 1945, and continuing years later with Carousel in 1956, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. They also made the 1958 film version of South Pacific. Fox released B pictures made by producers Edward L. Alperson from the mid-1940s and Robert L. Lippert (Regal and later Associated Pictures Inc.) in the mid-1950s.
After the war, and with the advent of television, audiences slowly drifted away. Twentieth Century-Fox held on to its theaters until a court-mandated “divorce”; they were spun off as Fox National Theaters in 1953. That year, with attendance at half the 1946 level, Twentieth Century-Fox gambled on an unproven gimmick. Noting that the two film sensations of 1952 had been Cinerama, which required three projectors to fill a giant curved screen, and “Natural Vision” 3D, which got its effects of depth by requiring the use of polarized glasses, Fox mortgaged its studio to buy rights to a French anamorphic projection system which gave a slight illusion of depth without glasses. President Spyros Skouras struck a deal with the inventor Henri Chrétien, leaving the other film studios empty-handed, and in 1953 introduced CinemaScope in the studio’s groundbreaking feature film The Robe.
The success of The Robe was large enough for Zanuck to announce in February 1953 that henceforth all Fox pictures would be made in CinemaScope. To convince theater owners to install this new process, Fox agreed to help pay conversion costs (about $25,000 per screen); and to ensure enough product, Fox gave access to CinemaScope to any rival studio choosing to use it. Seeing the box-office for the first two CinemaScope features, The Robe and How to Marry a Millionaire, Warner Bros., MGM, Universal Pictures (then known as Universal-International), Columbia Pictures and Disney quickly adopted the process. In 1956 Fox engaged Robert Lippert to establish a subsidiary company, Regal Pictures, later Associated Producers Incorporated to film B pictures in CinemaScope (but “branded” RegalScope).
CinemaScope brought a brief upturn in attendance, but by 1956 the numbers again began to slide. That year Darryl Zanuck announced his resignation as head of production. Zanuck moved to Paris, setting up as an independent producer, seldom being in the United States for many years.
Zanuck’s successor, producer Buddy Adler, died a year later. President Spyros Skouras brought in a series of production executives, but none had Zanuck’s success. By the early 1960s Fox was in trouble. A new version of Cleopatra had begun in 1959 with Joan Collins in the lead. As a publicity gimmick, producer Walter Wanger offered one million dollars to Elizabeth Taylor if she would star;[15] she accepted, and costs for Cleopatra began to escalate, aggravated by Richard Burton’s on-set romance with Taylor, the surrounding media frenzy, and Skouras’ selfish preferences and inexperienced micromanagement on the film’s production. Not even his showmanship made up for his considerable lack of filmmaking in speeding up production on Cleopatra.
Meanwhile, another remake—of the 1940 Cary Grant hit My Favorite Wife— was rushed into production in an attempt to turn over a quick profit to help keep Fox afloat. The romantic comedy entitled Something’s Got to Give paired Marilyn Monroe, Fox’s most bankable star of the 1950s, with Dean Martin, and director George Cukor. The troubled Monroe caused delays on a daily basis, and it quickly descended into a costly debacle. As Cleopatra’s budget passed the ten-million-dollar mark, settling somewhere around $40 million, Fox sold its back lot (now the site of Century City) to Alcoa in 1961 to raise cash. After several weeks of script rewrites on the Monroe picture and very little progress, mostly due to the director George Cukor’s slow and repetitive filming, in addition to Monroe’s chronic sinusitus, Marilyn Monroe was fired from Something’s Got to Give and two months later she was found dead. According to Fox files she was rehired within weeks for a two-picture deal totaling one million dollars, $500K to finish Something’s Got to Give, plus a bonus at completion, and $500K for What a Way to Go. Elizabeth Taylor’s disruptive[neutrality is disputed] reign on the Cleopatra set continued unchallenged from 1960 into 1962, though three Fox executives went to Rome in June 1962 to fire her.[citation needed] They learned that director Joseph L. Mankiewicz had filmed out of sequence and had only done interiors, so Fox was then forced to allow Taylor several more weeks of filming. In the meantime that summer of 1962, Fox released nearly all of its contract stars, including Jayne Mansfield.
With few pictures on the schedule, Skouras wanted to rush Zanuck’s big-budget war epic The Longest Day, a highly accurate account of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a huge international cast, into release as another source of quick cash. This offended Zanuck, still Fox’s largest shareholder, for whom The Longest Day was a labor of love that he had dearly wanted to produce for years. After it became clear that Something’s Got to Give would not be able to progress without Monroe in the lead (Martin had refused to work with anyone else), Skouras finally decided that something had to give and re-signed her. But days before filming was due to resume, she was found dead at her Los Angeles home and the picture resumed filming as Move Over, Darling, with Doris Day and James Garner in the leads. Released in 1963, the film was a hit. The unfinished scenes from Something’s Got to Give were shelved for nearly 40 years. Rather than being rushed into release as if it were a B-picture, The Longest Day was lovingly and carefully produced under Zanuck’s supervision. It was finally released at a length of three hours, and went on to be recognized as one of the great World War II films.
At the next board meeting, Zanuck spoke for eight hours, convincing directors that Skouras was mismanaging the company and that he was the only possible successor. Zanuck was installed as chairman, and then named his son Richard Zanuck as president. This new management group seized Cleopatra and rushed it to completion, shut down the studio, laid off the entire staff to save money, axed the long-running Movietone Newsreel and made a series of cheap, popular pictures that restored Fox as a major studio. The saving grace to the studio’s fortunes came from the tremendous success of The Sound of Music (1965), an expensive and handsomely produced film adaptation of the highly acclaimed Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, which became one of the all-time greatest box office hits and went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Director (Robert Wise) and Best Picture of the Year.
Fox also had two big science-fiction hits in the 1960s: Fantastic Voyage (which introduced Raquel Welch to film audiences) in 1966, and the original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, and Roddy McDowall, in 1968. Fantastic Voyage was the last film made in CinemaScope, which was ultimately replaced by Panavision lenses.
Zanuck stayed on as chairman until 1971, but there were several expensive flops in his last years, resulting in Fox posting losses from 1969 to 1971. Following his removal, and after an uncertain period, new management brought Fox back to health. Under president Gordon T. Stulberg and production head Alan Ladd, Jr., Fox films connected with modern audiences. Stulberg used the profits to acquire resort properties, soft-drink bottlers, Australian theaters, and other properties in an attempt to diversify enough to offset the boom-or-bust cycle of picture-making.
Foreshadowing a pattern of film production still yet to come, in late 1973 Twentieth Century-Fox joined forces with Warner Bros. to co-produce The Towering Inferno (1974), an all-star action blockbuster from producer Irwin Allen. Both studios found themselves owning the rights to books about burning skyscrapers. Allen insisted on a meeting with the heads of both studios and announced that as Fox was already in the lead with their property it would be career suicide to have competing movies. And so the first joint venture studio deal was struck. In hindsight whilst it may be common place now, back in the 1970s it was a risky, but revolutionary idea that paid off handsomely at both the domestic and international box offices around the world.
In 1977, Fox’s success reached new heights and produced the most profitable film made up to that time, Star Wars. Substantial financial gains were realized as a result of the film’s unprecedented success: from a low of $6 in June 1976, stock prices more than quadrupled to almost $27 after Star Wars’ release; 1976 revenues of $195 million rose to $301 million in 1977
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