February 5th, 2019

carole lombard 02
  • vp19

Happy 100th, United Artists!

That's Carole Lombard in a late 1941 publicity pose, away from the set of what would be her final film, "To Be Or Not To Be." The dark comedy from Ernst Lubitsch enabled Lombard to complete the "circuit" of the era's eight major Hollywood studios -- and the last of these celebrates its centennial today.

Charles Chaplin signs the agreement founding United Artists Corporation on Feb. 5, 1919, alongside Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. This quartet of Hollywood titans (western star William S. Hart was to have joined them, but declined; Griffith bowed out in 1924) decided to join forces in order for film actors and directors to directly control their output, rather than be at the whims of studio moguls. This philosophy made UA different from its industry rivals, but also gave it less of a distinct identity as well.

Here are the four founders, this time with Chaplin in his legendary "tramp" outfit:

By the mid-1920s, UA was off to a slow start, as output was relatively low. Veteran producer Joseph Schenck became president, in part because his wife, Norma Talmadge, was a top-tier star, as was her younger sister Constance. Here are the sisters (Norma at left, Constance at right) flanking newlyweds Natalie Talmadge and Buster Keaton when they married on May 31, 1927. (Keaton also signed to make films for the firm.)

In the 1930s, UA shifted its role from releasing movies to distributing them, with the former Pickford-Fairbanks lot on Formosa Avenue serving as its rental facility for independent producers such as Alexander Korda (producer of "To Be Or Not To Be") and Samuel Goldwyn.

With television fueling a decline in theater attendance, Chaplin and Pickford sold their shares in United Artists in the 1950s. The now-diversified company developed relationships with the likes of Billy Wilder (it distributed "The Apartment," the 1960 winner for Best Picture)...

...and followed that up in 1961 with the Oscar-winning smash "West Side Story."

The studio also thrived with the James Bond franchise and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." In the '70s, UA took three straight Best Picture honors: "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (1975), "Rocky" (1976) and "Annie Hall" (1977).

That's when disaster struck. In 1980, the studio agreed to make "Heaven's Gate" from director Michael Cimino, which had numerous cost overruns and lost $44 million.

The following year, UA was bought by Kirk Kerkorian's MGM, whose product UA had distributed in the 1970s.

Ted Turner bought MGM/UA in 1985, soon decided to sell everything but its film library (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/438472.html), selling the rest back to Kerkorian in 1986. In recent decades, both MGM and UA have periodically resurfaced, but for the most part, both are dormant as active filmmaking entities.

For more on United Artists, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Artists.
  • Current Mood
    nostalgic nostalgic