United Artists turns 90 next year – Four Stars’ Bright Idea Still Shines 90 Years On


According to Hollywood lore the earth all but trembled that day in the spring of 1919, when four of the most popular figures in American movies — the director D. W. Griffith and the actors Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford — gathered to create their own distribution company.

But for The New York Times, reporting on one of the initial public pronouncements of that company, United Artists Corporation, on May 18, 1919, the most exciting aspect of this new company was not its celebrity stockholders but the company’s stated intention to eliminate the practice of “block booking,” which forced theater owners to take an entire program of pictures in order to get the handful they really wanted. “Open booking so far has been adopted by only a few companies,” The Times reported, “so the announcement that the United Artists will adhere strictly to the policy of dealing with exhibitors ‘by the single picture only’ is considered as something of an event in the motion-picture industry.”

Something of an event indeed. United Artists will turn 90 next year, having survived countless transformations and takeovers since the company released its first feature, Fairbanks’s “His Majesty, the American.”

(New York Times)

Classic Movies, Film Business

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