A warning there is virtually nothing about
Hollywood composers in this book only one or two references to music
for the silent cinema.
Although the name Max Steiner appears in the index, reference to the
film music’ does not exist as stated on page 138 in a discussion about
production of Casablanca. What we do learn about Casablanca
is that its premiere at the Hollywood Theatre, timed for Thanksgiving
1942, was a smash hit. It played to 31,000 admissions in its first
theatre had a capacity of 1,500 and even standing room was sold out. It
at the theatre for 10 weeks and grossed $255,000 – both records.
the middle of February 1943, Casablanca had opened in 200
across the USA and by the end of 1943 had earned $3,700,000.’ [After Gone
with the Wind, Casablanca retains the record for the
popular film in America in terms of ticket sales.]
This sort of business information is at
heart of this book. Dull, boring reading? Not a bit of it!
It includes a mine
of information about the major (and minor) studios, their stars,
producers but more importantly it puts the studio system in its proper
perspective – i.e. – the Hollywood studios as just the factory
powerful businesses that also included vast chains of theatres (in the
the leading major studios) and global distribution networks.
Douglas Gomery divides his book into three
historical parts. The first is concerned with ‘The Rise of the Studio
1915-30’ and shows how these businesses were formed and consolidated –
this period the studios ranked thus:
RKO and the Minors: Universal, Columbia and United Artists.
The second part goes on to cover ‘The
Classic Studio Era 1931-51’ when the studios were at their apogee
hundreds of films every year before the threat of declining audiences
of urbanisation and competition from TV etc). Although the ranking was
virtually the same (except that Gomery couples Disney with its
and to the minors, and he adds the B-film factories like Republic and
for churning out westerns and serials etc]), this period also saw the
demise of RKO- Radio, destroyed by the mismanagement and regrettable
the reclusive Howard Hughes who considered the studio to be his play
The last section covers ‘The Modern
Hollywood Studio System’ and how the studios were taken over by big
including Rupert Murdoch (Twentieth Century Fox) and huge multi-media
conglomerates such as Time Warner AOL (Warner Bros) – these businesses
embracing major TV networks. The ranking now being:
Twentieth Century Fox
Columbia and Sony Pictures
There are also sections on the Hays Office
and the Academy and unions and agents and a fascinating glimpse on the
Lew Wasserman the Hollywood agent who took Universal into the major
studios and reinvented the studio system. It was Wasserman who bucked
studio trend and negotiated a deal whereby James Stewart would take a
the profits of Anthony Mann’s western, Winchester 73
a salary and it set a precedent that resounded through the studios.
Nitpickers will find a few literals along
the way but this is a fascinating and very valuable book putting the
factories in their proper business perspective.