Just like Carl Laemmle, another distributor was inspired by the easy money that came with creating movie theatres all over the USA. His name was William Fox. Having been an immigrant from Hungary, Fox lived a hard life, from selling stove blackings door to door, to selling clothes in a shop. Eventually, he saved up enough money to invest in his own business and bought a penny arcade in Brooklyn.
He didn’t stop there. Living in America at the height of the moving pictures hype, Fox saw the potential in exhibiting films, just like Carl Laemmle, and so he fitted a small theatre above his arcade, hoping that after they watched the film, they’d be tempted to play the machines. At first, hardly anyone was interested. His establishment was small and didn’t really appeal to the people that passed by.
However, after consulting a colleague, whom he’d worked with before, he realised he needed something to draw in the crowd. So with the help of a “ballyhoo”, who would attract customers into the building, his synergised business soon became a hit, and was bombarded by audiences all over the city. After five years from the opening of his business, Fox earned approximately $250,000 compared to the $1,600 he used to set it up. Thus the current form of cinema was born. Installing a theatre behind an arcade was the small push Fox needed, to get people to watch his films.
The Rise and Fall
With the success his first theatre raked in, he started buying up more all over New York, and by setting up his own distribution company, the Greater New York Film Exchange, Fox began distributing films all over the city, until one day the Trust (MPPC) came to see him. As they did with Carl Laemmle, they wanted to buy out his business. Of course, like any business man worth his salt, he refused, but in doing so, the Trust took away his licence, after outrageously showing his films in a brothel.
With no other option, Fox agreed to sell, and the Trust returned his licence to him, but Fox was clever, and with his licence back in his hands, he revoked his agreement. As expected, the Trust wasn’t happy with that, and so once more revoked his licence. Seeing as both organisations were at an impasse, Fox turned to the government and sought a federal suit against the Trust, which came into effect in 1912 and was essentially the end for the MPPC.
After the Trust
Having been entrapped in endless legal battles, the MPPC soon lost touch with its audiences and despite trying to gain European help and other means to reel in its own audiences back, the company failed, leaving room for newer, more creative minds to pave the way, and just as Laemmle had, Fox expanded his business into the relatively uninhabited territory of film production.
His first short feature Life’s Shop Window was a success, and after moving from the small studio on Staten Island, to the main island of New York (after which he named his company Fox Film Corporation), Fox saw an increase of star personalities working for him. With his wife and a man by the name of Winfield Sheehan assisting him, Fox saw his production business expand so much that he also moved to California.
The crowning jewel for his company, for the better part of the 1910s, was Theda Bara and during her time at Fox, she was directed by a man named Gordon Edwards (the grandfather of Blake Edwards) up until 1919. Needless to say, with Fox at the helm, the company would remain the giant it was all the way through the 1920s, and with being one of the first production companies to experiment with sound, the Fox Film Corporation could not do any better.
The 1930s and the Great Accident
In the later years of the 1920s, the company’s hold on the film production business was beginning to weaken, with more and more competitors vying for the top spot and with his accident in 1929, William Fox had to sell his shares in the company to a man named Harley Clarke. However, even with Fox gone, the company was not immune to the Great Depression of 1931 and forced into receivership. In the following years, the production slowly began picking itself up off the ground, and in 1935, after negotiations with Darryl Zanuck and Joseph Schenck merged the company with the small but successful 20
In the following years, the production slowly began picking itself up off the ground, and in 1935, after negotiations with Darryl Zanuck and Joseph Schenck merged the company with the small but successful 20th Century Pictures.
With the new setup, the company adopted the 20th Century title, creating what we know today as 20th Century Fox, and willing to please Zanuck and Schenck, the leader of Fox (at the time), Sidney Kent, even went as far as including the 20th Century logo and the fanfare music that went with it.
A New Hope
Over time, there were many changes to the company, new producers, new directors and company heads shaped the giant corporation 20th Century Fox is today, and with films such as Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), Mrs Doubtfire (1993) and X-Men (2000) it is highly unlikely 20th Century Fox will be under pressure any time soon. Its prestige and connections will most likely see the company into the future and beyond.
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