John P. Walsh is an art historian, writer and photographer. He has an M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and taught Modern Art History at Northwestern University.
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FEATURE image: Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893), READING ALOUD, 1884, oil on canvas, 42.24 x 81 in., Glasgow Art Gallery & Museum.
INTRO: Albert Joseph Moore was born in 1841 into a family of artists in North Yorkshire in England. Moore through his own advanced aesthetic experiments in the milieu of theoretical and practical advancements of mid-to-late 19th century modern art in England and France – such as a systematic analysis of nature, mathematical plotting, and principles for quintessential combinations of color, line and form – created art that was, in formal terms, in its conception and execution, on the cutting edge of abstraction that would continue to develop and blossom into early 20th century Cubism. Moore’s art gained the respect of other progressive artists (Moore was called “a painter’s painter”), patrons and collectors, if not always the critics and contemporaries who viewed Moore’s work as merely decorative. Moore was actively collected in his lifetime and exhibited regularly in major venues such as the Royal Academy. Unmarried and of a lifelong independent disposition, Moore died in 1893 at 52 years old, having just completed his last monumentally ambitious artwork (“The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons,” Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, posted below) a handful of days before. Several of Moore’s pictures are now in public collection throughout the UK, including the Tate and the British Museum in London.
Azaleas was a popular artwork by Albert Moore for its harmonies of color and the “Greek refinement” that the artist infused into his work. This bigger-than-life-size canvas called Azaleas was painted in 1867, exhibited in 1868 and demonstrates the artist’s ability to represent the human figure on a grand scale.
The 26-year-old artist had some architectural design experience in theory and practice and used this in his preparatory process. This artwork incorporated ideal geometry along with typical academic methods.
Moore’s process followed, first, making studies of the nude figure and draped figure. Moore next made a larger-than-life-sized full-scale nude figure cartoon which, at this stage, was informed by geometric abstraction of the figure in a setting guided by, or through, the milieu of the object in the artist’s hands.
The geometric quality guided the composition rather than was externally imposed by the artist. Moore’s “system of line arrangement” sought the directions of the prominent lines of the composition so to plot parallels of them throughout the drawing resulting in a statuesque yet corporeally vivacious figure.
Nature, specifically the landscape, ultimately served as the inspiration for the manifestation of line parallels and optical balance rather than the mathematically ideal. Moore’s geometric construct and its interplay determined every element of the composition – from the position and placement of the figure to the location of accessories, such as wall hangings, distribution of drapery folds, and architectural elements. The canvas’s shape and size also were ultimately determined by this idiosyncratic geometric arrangement.
Traces of Moore’s preparatory practice are in evidence in Azaleas’ full size nude cartoon with its vestiges of diagonal and horizontal lines through the midsection of the figure and near to her feet. Using these lines in the nude drawing it is apparent that Moore experimented with the placement of the figure’s head, the extended hand, and a raised heel which was ultimately hidden under opaque drapery. Moore used a live model for his figure.
The final nude cartoon was transferred to the canvas and this outline was built up with oil colors. A drapery cartoon was then transferred on top of the transferred, built-up nude figure cartoon. Using this method Moore rendered greater transparency of the fabric since the underlying nude cartoon showed through faintly. This painstaking preparation was masked by Moore’s fresh and free style of painting. For instance, the drape folds of the left shoulder are painted in long, fluent, and elegant strokes while the azaleas are rendered in energetic strokes. Moore’s objective was for the final painting to look like an impromptu and expressive sketch when, in fact, it was carefully planned and executed.
About painting Moore taught his students to think long about it but execute with quickness and determination. This technique aided in transforming oil painting into the manner of Graeco-Roman fresco in that Moore’s working method allowed for painting only what could be finished in a day.
Moore’s careful planning, rapid execution, and brush technique also suggested the influence of Japonisme. Asian influences in Azaleas included the carp bowl held in the women’s arm (an actual studio prop) and the geometric pattern in the azalea pot whose symmetry Moore saw as part of both Greek and Japanese art. To integrate and transition the predominantly yellow figure in the predominantly white background Moore used a device taken from Japanese art of painting flitting butterflies around the azalea bush. Moore also painted russet blossoms in the woman’s hair and bowl and on the floor that further unites the monumental composition.
Moore’s observation of Japanese prints also likely influenced the English artist’s color scheme in Azaleas. This is identifiable in its limited schematic of hues. The color placement, however, was also subject to the geometric practices in the whole composition.
When Azaleas was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1868 it was consigned to an out of the way place on the wall of its North Room. It was observed that Moore’s canvas looked more like a tapestry than an oil painting. In this way, Moore anticipated James McNeill Whistler’s comment about color in that it should appear “embroidered” on the canvas, in the same way a thread is embroidered on fabric. Whistler attributed this color quality to Japanese art in that those artists looked for repetition in color application and not contrast.
Architecture critics in 1868 noticed and especially admired Moore’s Azaleas. Its systematic repetitions and geometric construction were labeled the only “decorative” painting in the 1868 English exhibition. Art critics were less generous. Straining with opera glasses just to see the work they recognized its beauty and Moore’s talent but called its design and execution eccentric. Others turned up their critical nose to the new decorative work as “curious” and little more than a luxurious indulgence of art for art’s sake. Art critics were unhappy with the paintings’ colors as they found they lacked the requisite black that marked contemporary French art and, instead, opted for a quiet and delicate dreamscape.
English writer William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) declared Azaleas one of the most important English pictures of 1868 and decried those looking to judge it by way of actual historical pictures from Greek antiquity. With Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), Rossetti compared Moore’s artwork to another painting in the 1868 exhibition: “The Wife of Pygmalion, A Translation from the Greek” by the older George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). In that work Watts sought to create a painterly equivalent of classical sculpture. William Gladstone (1809-1898) wanted to purchase Watts’ picture after seeing it at the Academy in 1868. In a letter to Gladstone in May 1868 Watts informed Gladstone that it had been “claimed” but invited Gladstone to visit him in his studio to see the cast of the fragmentary Greek original from which the painting was derived.
Swinburne saw the poetry and musicality of Moore’s artwork .While most art critics snubbed the painting (and by extension the painter) for its art for art’s sake qualities, Swinburne praised them. Of Azaleas, Swinburne wrote: “The melody of color, the symphony of form is complete: one more beautiful thing is achieved, one more delight is born into the world; and its meaning is beauty; and its reason for being is to be.”
Sea-gulls was accepted for the 1871 Royal Academy exhibition. It was the third painting for Albert Moore to exhibit at the Royal Academy. Moore was absorbed in painting Sea-gulls, a major work, for British shipping magnate Frederic Leyland (1831-1892) and this work occupied him up to the Royal Academy Exhibition that spring.
Its creation by the 36-year-old Moore was not without headaches owing to controversy. Moore’s friend and admirer, American ex-patriate artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), had learned of Moore’s preliminary work on the painting through Leyland, a major art collector and the artists’ mutual friend.
Whistler expressed concern that Moore’s work perhaps overlapped adversely with some of Whistler’s own preliminary sketches for a painting. Whistler saw a pair of sketches Moore had sent to Leyland as potential commissions. Whistler felt that Moore’s sketch may have been influenced by seeing one of Whistler’s sketches. Whistler feared that if Moore’s painting was exhibited first, it would reflect badly on Whistler as an imitator when in fact the artwork Whistler was working on ante-dated Moore’s conceptions. This was a mortifying prospect for Whistler who prided himself on originality.
Whistler’s anxiety may have also stemmed from the fact that with Sea-gulls, Moore would fulfill his second commission for Leyland, while Whistler who introduced them had yet to complete a picture for Leyland that had been commissioned in 1867.
To ease Whistler’s fears, the American artist proposed that Moore accompany another mutual friend, architect William Nesfield (1835-1888), to Whistler’s studio in Chelsea to inspect his older original sketch that Moore had seen.
Nesfield, acting as mediator, concluded in September 1870 that the recent work of the two artists shared themes, but each maintained their own artistic originality. The crisis was averted and led to Moore exhibiting Sea-gulls.
During this crisis and shortly thereafter, Moore did not finish to his satisfaction his painting when it was time for its exhibition in April 1871. A major effort required to complete Sea-gulls had deeply undermined Moore’s health. After the exhibition the painting was returned to the artist, but he could not yet immediately set to work on it to completion. Months later it was finished and sold to Leyland.
In Sea-gulls Moore introduced obvious analogies between the liquid patterns of the sea and the rippling and splashing motion of the figure’s hair and drapery. Moore’s intention was to discern patterns inherent in nature. The drawings also suggest that he exaggerated the effect of air currents by employing the revolving fans that were simultaneously in use for Sea-gulls and another painting titled Shells.
Much of Moore’s work to complete the painting after the exhibition revolved around redressing the picture surface. Moore had been experimenting for some time with the surface quality of his paintings. In the early 1870s, Moore’s technique had developed to combine transparent and opaque fabrics that created unusual layering effects. Following the 1871 exhibition, Moore seemed to apply this technique in Sea-gulls that involved unusually thick paint layers.
Much later, during the winter of 1880, Sir Coutts Lindsay (1824-1913) – the British artist and watercolorist founded Grosvenor Gallery on Bond Street as an alternative exhibition space to the Royal Academy which became a venue for avant-garde artists, particularly those associated with art for art’s sake – mounted a show on the subject of artists’ working sketches. Moore contributed the preparatory studies for Sea-gulls to the show that included his sketches of hands, heads, drapery, plants and flowers, as well as the painting’s cartoon.
Although biographers of Whistler and Moore have attached no importance to their friendship, particularly after the September 1870 controversy over Sea-gulls which they claim ended it, the artists in fact remained on intimate terms unbroken until Moore’s death in 1893. In the later 1870s they again were thrust together in a contentious situation but this time on the same side of sorts. When Whistler became involved in libel proceedings against Ruskin in later 1878 Albert Moore was the only artist who the American ex-patriate artist could rely on to both publicly attend the proceedings and actually give evidence on Whistler’s behalf.
Reading Aloud was one of three large-format paintings Albert Moore completed in the 1880s. Completed in 1884, Moore had been working on Reading Aloud for years – at least since 1881. Moore had drawn a chalk sketch of the geometrically designed composition over which the artist would lay a piece of translucent glass. By painting directly on the glass, he could experiment with colors without redrawing the picture. He then could transfer the trial color experiment on glass (as well as a final drawing) onto tracing paper by which the final artwork was then made by pinning the tracing paper to the canvas. The artist then painted the composition directly to the canvas, section by section, working as he painted to unify color scheme and, as figural poses and other details are different in the final artwork than surviving preparatory materials, drawing. It was meticulous organizing and harmonizing creative work that helps to explain why Moore labored for years on the almost 7×4 foot oil on canvas.
While these three reclining figures are static their contrasting drapery folds whether they are swirls, zigzags or sweeping diagonals – with the sofa’s swags to unite them – enliven the picture. As classicism revivalists are noted for their mere realism and moralistic anecdote, Moore’s evocation of classicism, though containing allegorical qualities, belies a modernity by way of its abstract combination of line and form in the depiction of languid female figures in a neutral setting. The black-and-white owl vase that Moore included in the lower right corner of the painting had been absent from previous studies (originally it was a seated cat) and provides a narrative sign. It connotes the quality of wisdom as well as perhaps the goddess Athena with which the owl is associated so to apply it to the various states of the readers though the overall picture with its fascination with repose is more subtly mysterious than anecdotal. Yet the classicism/modernity enigma continues as the honey bee which Moore paints on the face of the owl vase was the symbol used by the picture’s purchaser, pig iron industrialist William Connal (1819-1898), for himself.
After his wife of 25 years Emelia Jessie (Campbell) Connal died in 1877, 56-year-old industrialist William Connal faced life alone at Solsgirth, his Scottish country manor. Connal turned his attention to the arts and, in addition to Moore, became an avid collector of contemporary art by such painters as Edward Burne Jones (1833-1898), Edward Poynter (1836-1919), Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908), Fernand Knopff (1858-1921) and Adolphe Monticelli (1824-1886) along with the Old Masters. Connal owned Symphony in Silver and Grey by American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) who greatly admired Moore. In 1883, Connal invited Moore to stay at Solsgirth House in Perthshire for a month allowing the artist to recuperate after a serious illness. It was during this stay that Connal commissioned Moore to paint his portrait that shows him wearing a honeybee brooch, the emblem that Connal used on his personal items (Connal’s portrait today is in York Art Gallery).
Moore’s pictorial methodology which he continued to develop over his artistic career is in evidence in Reading Aloud. Moore works out and unifies various and moving parts depicting a scene’s animating personality based in psychology with its physical forms that are mathematically contrived by way of lines and curves and, ultimately, color and texture, and whose impact on the viewer of the completed artwork is allowed to be emotional rather than cerebral. In Reading Aloud Moore constructed the image based on two pairs of diagonals that intersect into a pattern. Though the geometric system is visually subdued, it is evident in the figure on the right whose arms coincide with a set of diagonals. It is obvious also in the picture’s overall use of contrasting bold colors – the fabrics’ pinks and creams are integrated to, though angularly distinct from, the charcoal greys of the covered limbs and book cover. The edges of the book cover also coincide with some of the complex design of diagonal lines whose subliminal quality is an intrinsic expression of the psychic nature of the artwork. This angularity based on diagonals was a deliberate strategy for Moore when he painted the final artwork. There is also the horizontal lines component in the painting manifested in the outstretched arms of the crouching figure at left and the table and vase. Moore’s design strategies were innovative in 1884 startling contemporary viewers approaching to what Cubism would accomplish 25 years later. Critics when viewing Reading Aloud, being neither particularly understanding nor sympathetic to Moore’s methods or intentions, praised the picture’s overall gracefulness but impugned his drawing skills and identified the painting as mostly static decoration. Yet the static figures form part of a complex array of abstract and naturalistic patterns that fill every inch of canvas. Reading Aloud is a testament to the artist’s ability to translate such natural phenomena into a stylized form. Most prominent among them is a fabric effect found in other of Moore’s paintings of the period, in which white lace is layered over cloth of a darker color. Reading aloud was exhibited at the Royal Academy where, starting in 1883, Moore chose to exhibit annually.
The Loves of the Winds and the Summer was English artist Albert Moore’s final and largest artwork of his career. It is 6 feet tall and 7 feet wide and is the jewel in the crown of the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery near Manchester, England. It is the result of Moore’s study of the psychology of his subject matter, that of love. Love begins to manifest formally for Moore by the expression of soft bodily postures, changing and harmonious curves, and piercing gazes expressed in deep coral colors. The male figure of the Wind is flanked by the spurned female figure of Summer to the left and the embraced female figure of Autumn to the right. Moore was so enveloped in his amorous themes that while working on this picture he was writing poetry about what the human face was like when in love – and it is found in his picture. The Love of the Winds and the Seasons is Moore’s fullest expression of animating personality united to depicted physical forms that are first lines, curves and color, with the result being an emotional impact on the viewer who encounters the artwork. This exquisite artistic sensitivity by Moore is made more remarkable since the artist was dying in 1893. In the company of his young and attractive live models in his new capacious art studio, Moore worked day after day on this work. Moore had cancer (a tumor on his thigh) and had submitted to three operations to keep ahead of it. When his doctors told him they could operate no more, and that the cancer continued to spread throughout his body, Moore was resigned to his situation. He is reported to have said: “Well, there’s an end of it.” In the limited time left to him Moore intended to finish his painting of love, The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons. The artist did not want to lose any time. His legs had swollen to twice their size and had to be drained. In acute pain he worked around the clock for the next six months. His friends thought the intense work as well as the cancer was killing Moore but as the painting progressed to completion, they observed that the artist’s personal tranquility and happiness became apparent. The project was monumental – numerous preparatory studies, drapery studies, full scale and life-sized cartoons (i.e., 4’ 9” tall by 1’4” wide for Autumn) , nude studies – all technically meticulous and versatile- and that underwent the artist’s elaborate and idiosyncratic geometric platting system that he began in the late 1870s. Moore was the consummate auteur that slightly older American ex-patriate painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1904) most admired in England. Moore conceived his paintings from start to finish – and The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons was at once its pinnacle and completion. Moore, as Whistler aspired to be, was sole master of his work. In 1893 Moore now expanded this mathematical process to amalgamate his diagonals with horizontals so that his creative process could not suffer the critique that Ruskin hurled at Whistler of “ask(ing) 200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” The painting was a commission for the Australian mine-owner George McCulloch (1848-1907). Moore’s calculations included various adjustments of the models’ natural poses to submit to the mathematical formulas on the canvas. This formal submission of subjects to linear construction extended to each detail in the entire composition, such as the flowers for which also study drawings were made. Within these design rigidities, the preparatory drawings of the live models and subjects were transferred to the artwork with little idealization though slight but important adjustments were made, such as to Summer’s hairstyle. Knowing his own time was short, Moore made his cartoons in color so that his transfer to the canvas was as efficient as possible as he painted the final artwork. Critics have observed that despite the intense planning and preparation, the final artwork is executed unevenly – parts are meticulous and vigorous, mostly in the foreground, while others in the background are loose and crude. To what degree this is the artist’s intention or the result of his declining health, is a matter for speculation. During the artistic process the terminally ill artist isolated himself mostly. His handful of visitors remarked that the artist was cheerful, cracked jokes, told funny stories, and smoked his pipe. These select parties knew, however, that their social calls were in the context of final good-byes. In those last days and months of Moore’s life, the artist’s mind, by evidence of the art from his past that he referenced in 1893, stretched back to an earlier career which shared long-held important aspects with The Loves of the Winds and the Summer. For his last artwork. Albert Moore glossed the picture’s narrative in verses he wrote to accompany it:
Lo! fickle Zephyr chaseth wayward Spring,
It is a merry race;
Flowers laugh to birds that sing,
Yet frequent tears shall cloud her comely face.
The South Wind shall with blushing Autumn mate,
Contented with her lot;
Summer sigheth – such her fate
She and her burning kisses are forgot.
Two lovers rough for shudd’ring Winter strive,
Beneath a shroud of snow;
Heaven haply shall contrive
Their violence she may not further know.
Through its figural and intellectual prism of ancient classical mythology, Moore worked in his career to update the complex equation of the natural world’s varying and transitory seasons to human life’s copious physical, emotional, and spiritual expressions and contradictions. With their immersion in Moore’s modern art, the painter achieved a graciously-contrived visual dramatic interplay of nature and humanity, ancient and present-day, whose quest is eternal in time and space.
Albert Joseph Moore passed away in the middle of the night on September 25, 1893. He died 9 days after finishing his last painting, The Loves of the Winds and the Summer. Moore was 52 years old.
FEATURE Image: Yellow Submarine was a British cartoon feature film in 1968 starring comic strip figures of the Beatles in a colorful and surrealistic musical adventure featuring Beatles hits. Though it was a box office flop in the U.K., it was wildly successful in the U.S. The film title and concept were based on the Lennon-McCartney song of the same name and the screenplay was by Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Erich Segal (who did Love Story in 1970) and Lee Monoff. In the kingdom of Pepperland that is being attacked by the Blue Meanies, Fred, the conductor of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, escapes in a yellow submarine. He surfaces in Liverpool where he meets the Beatles and they set off together in the yellow submarine through the Seas of Time, Monsters and Holes to restore music and color to Pepperland. With 11 Beatles’ tunes and eye-popping animation in a host of styles, the De Luxe Color film from United Artists and King Features Syndicate epitomized the pop music culture of the late 1960’s. PHOTO credit: “yellow submarine” by youngdoo is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Paradoxically, When I’m Sixty-Four about relationships as one grows older, is probably one of the first songs Paul McCartney ever wrote. He was 13 or 14 years old when he composed it sometime in late spring 1956 although, in the mid-1960’s, it fit into the current fashion of rock music looking back to emulate pre-war English pop music hall styles (i.e., New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” in 1966). In 1967 and credited to Lennon–McCartney, the song was released on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. When I’m Sixty-Four was also included in the Beatles’ 1968 animated film and pop phenomenon, Yellow Submarine that is a landmark of the genre.
When I’m Sixty-Four, while seemingly just a cute and simple ditty, was the result of several recordings and mixing stages before it reached the album. It was recorded by the Beatles on December 6, 1966. Two days later, alone, McCartney dubbed his lead vocal onto a December 6 take. Two weeks later, the Beatles dubbed backing vocals and the sound of bells. A new mix of the song was then created by producer (and later Sir) George Martin (1926-2016). The next day, 3 session musicians overdubbed the clarinets which added a fuller and fatter focal point for the song. The magic of mixing carried forward until the end of the year when 24-year-old McCartney suggested speeding up the track, which raised the key, in an attempt to make him sound “younger” and enliven the tune. Released during the Summer of Love in 1967, this was at the height of the LSD influence around music culture so that some viewed the song’s lyric “digging the weeds” as another possible dope allusion.
The animated film, Yellow Submarine, released in the U.S. in November 1968, had already caused a stir in London that July. With its 11 Beatles’ tunes, solid script, and direction by Canadian animation producer George Dunning (1920-1979), the United Artists’ and King Features Syndicate’s production was an almost effortlessly surreal animation and music experience. The film, originally intended for a juvenile audience, was attracting instead full-grown Flower Children which shocked its marketeers who now wanted to cancel, and, ultimately, delayed, its general release. Yet, unlike in Britain where the film was a box office failure – as the UK’s homegrown pop entertainments often were (even the Beatles wanted nothing much to do with the animated film project) – it was an immediate success at its release Stateside in November 1968.
In the U.S. there were more tickets sold for Yellow Submarine that year than any other film except The Sound Of Music. Though U.S. critics were unimpressed with Yellow Submarine, the film’s core audience of American teenagers and twenty-somethings bought tickets to see it over and over again and escaped for a time some of the late 1960’s turmoil of war, riots, assassinations as well as 1968’s divisive, razor-close presidential election. Over 55 years after its initial release, Yellow Submarine remains one of cartoon history’s landmark entertainments.
SOURCES: Revolution in the Head The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, Third Edition, Ian MacDonald, Chicago Review Press, 2007, pp. 220-221.
Can’t Buy Me Love, The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould, New York: Harmony Books, 2007, pp. 484-486 and 505-507.
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986, p. 243.
FEATURE image: Douglas Fairbanks, c. 1918. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Collection Library of Congress. No known restrictions on publication. Public Domain.
By John P. Walsh.
Born in Denver in 1883, Douglas Fairbanks’ mother had been married three times before she had him, the younger of two brothers with his father, an East Coast publisher and lawyer, who had relocated his family to the West. Douglas’s father abandoned the family when he was 5 years old, and the brothers were raised by their mother in Denver. Douglas also had two older half brothers by way of his mother’s previous marriages. With Douglas’s father’s departure, his mother gave her youngest sons her first husband’s surname—Fairbanks.
Douglas Fairbanks started acting as a youth in summer stock at the historic Elitch Theatre in Denver so that by 1899 Fairbanks was touring with the acting troupe of English Shakespearean actor Frederick Warde (1851-1935). For two seasons Fairbanks was an actor and assistant stage manager with the group.1 Fairbanks moved to New York where he debuted on Broadway in Her Lord and Master in February 1902. The year before, from February 1901 to July 1901, Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959) of the legendary Barrymore acting family became a Broadway star in a new romantic comedy play, Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, at the Garrick Theatre in New York City. Barrymore’s production ran on Broadway for 168 performances in 1901 and made the 22-year-old actress a star. The turn of 20th century was a time when the theatre was king of the arts – and where, in the new century’s first decade, the nation’s celebrities were born to be made. Her Lord and Master by Martha Morton was first produced in New York, during the spring of 1902. The play, in which Douglas Fairbanks had his first role, met with success, and ran for 69 performances at the Manhattan Theatre (demolished) at 102 W. 33rd Street in New York City.2 The opening night cast for A Case of Frenzied Finance in April 1905 included Douglas Fairbanks playing Bennie Tucker at third-billing. The play, set in the Vanbillon Hotel, ran for less than a month at the Savoy Theatre at 112 W. 34th Street. That theatre opened in 1900 and closed in 1933 and was demolished in 1952.3
Fairbanks appeared in A Gentleman from Mississippi from September 1908 to September 1909. On September 22, 1908 (datelined September 21, 1908) The New York Times wrote a blurb regarding a preview that stated: “A Gentleman from Mississippi received its initial performance to-night at the New national Theatre. The play deals with Congressional riots and social life in the National capital. Thomas A. Wise, Douglas Fairbanks, Sue Van Duser, Harriet Worthington and Lola May were in the cast. Mr Wise [1865-1928] and Harrison Rhodes [1871-1929] are the authors of the play.”
A Gentleman from Mississippi ran for 407 performances moving to the Bijou Theatre in NYC.4 In July 1907, 24-year-old Douglas Fairbanks married wealthy Anna Beth Sully (1886-1967) of Rhode Island. The couple had one son who followed his father into the acting business—Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1909-2000).
It was in November 1912, on opening night of Hawthorne of the USA, a play by J.B. Fagan, that Fairbanks established his character type for stage and screen: the athletic all-American hero.6 With Fairbanks in the starring role as Anthony Hamilton Hawthorne, the play set in Oberon, the small capital of Borrovina, a small independent state somewhere in the mess of Southeastern Europe, ran for 72 performances at the Astor Theatre at 1537 Broadway (45th St.) in New York.7 It was made into a silent film in 1919 starring Wallace Reid (1891-1923) as the American hero.
In 1915 the Fairbanks moved to Los Angeles – Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had received a lucrative offer from the nascent film industry. It was a three-year contract for $104,000 per year (over $3 million in today’s dollars) to join Triangle films. Exorbitant sums were dangled, often over-ambitiously by producers, to coax legitimate theatre actors to work on the West Coast in film – and under sometimes multi-year contracts. The strategy usually worked but came at a high cost later to a company’s survival and the star’s future. Again, Ethel Barrymore who became a Broadway star in 1901 and national celebrity at 22 years old began to appear in major silent films starting in 1914. Her brothers John and Lionel were already making films and though absolutely devoted to the stage from her youth, Ethel made at least 14 films before returning to the stage full time in 1920. The trend to capitalize on the talents of the stage in film was already underway when Triangle company was formed in 1915 to do just that on a spectacular scale.
Harry Aitken (1877-1956) and his brother Roy Aitken (1882-1978) co-founded a film distribution business in Milwaukee in 1906. There had also been a relationship with a Chicago film distributor who established American Film Manufacturing Company production company in 1910. The Aitken brothers relocated to California in 1908 and in 1912, with others, formed the Mutual Film Corporation. One of Mutual’s many subsidiary production and auxiliary units was Keystone Studios, where 24-year-old Charlie Chaplin got his start in films in 1913 at $150 per week (Chaplin was making more than $20,000 a week 5 years later). In 1914 Harry Aitken went into partnership with D.W. Griffith (1875-1948) and, in 1914, founded Reliance-Majestic Studios at 4516 Sunset Boulevard which is today a strip mall.
Following the tremendous success of The Birth of Nation in 1915 with which Harry Aitken was involved so to reap some of its incredible profits, the Aitken brothers and various other companies, such as Reliance-Majestic Studio, departed from Mutual to form a conglomerate of Triangle Film Corporation. The company served as a distributor to other studios in California and Aitken’s plans included sweeping into the fold the best and the brightest of Broadway theatre – which included 32-year-old Douglas Fairbanks. A leading artistic objective for these Hollywood producers was to bring these stage actors’ greatest plays to the screen. Believed to be a worthwhile goal in 1915, before the end of the 1920’s such published plays and other literature while fine for the boudoir reader were problematic to simply translate to the silver screen. The movement towards self-censorship had developed in reaction to the fear the industry would be regulated or outright banned by states. In 1915 there were fewer worries about this as such theatrical artistic fare was expected to attract a better educated movie-goer as well as the Wall Street big-money-type investors who invested in Broadway plays. In one fell swoop Aitken contracted over 60 actors and actresses including Billy Burke (1884-1970), recently married to Florenz Ziegfeld; soon-to-be Western star Dustin Farnum (1874-1929); Shakespearean actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) who played Macbeth in D.W. Griffith’s lost 1916 film of the same name; and, “Casey At the Bat” DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935).
The debut feature from Triangle starred Douglas Fairbanks in The Lamb, a film based on a 1913 stage play that was expanded to have Western cinematic elements. It premiered with two more features on September 23, 1915 at The Knickerbocker Hotel in Fairbanks’ old stomping ground of New York City. Triangle had in-house three master directors – D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Thomas Ince. D.W. Griffith had a hand in The Lamb, though its directing and screenplay credits went to 27-year-old W. Christy Cabanne (1888-1950). The Lamb was a hit with audiences, and critics praised Fairbanks’ performance marked by his celebrated physicality.8 The film had a nationwide release that November 1915. Although not yet a movie star, Fairbanks saw his weekly salary doubled. By His Picture in the Papers, a 1916 silent comedy film for Triangle that provided stunts for Fairbanks to wrap his athleticism around, Fairbanks became a popular screen idol. Fairbanks made 13 films for Triangle and when his contract expired, Harry Aitken was paying him $10,000 per week.9 Yet, excepting Douglas Fairbanks, Aitken had over bought his stable of stage stars in relation to their poor return so that in 1916 Triangle was known in the industry to be on the verge of collapse.
Douglas Fairbanks, Triangle’s star, was convinced by Paramount Pictures’ co-founder Adolph Zukor (1873-1976), believed to be “the business brains of the motion picture industry,”10 to become the independent producer of his own films. This became reality at the end of 1916 with the creation of the Douglas Fairbanks Picture Corporation. Zukor had already worked to do something similar for Mary Pickford’s films.
As Fairbanks had been lured away by a better offer, so the actor hired his team at Triangle for his own company. Director John Emerson (1874-1956) and screenwriter Anita Loos (1888-1981) – to be husband and wife in 1919 – had successfully collaborated on Fairbanks’ movie hits at Triangle and even D.W. Griffith valued the pair as among the best film editors in the business after working on Intolerance in 1916. Emerson had directed important films at Triangle in 1916 featuring Douglas Fairbanks including His Picture in the Papers, The Americano, and The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. These Emerson-directed films were followed in 1917 by In Again, Out Again, Wild and Woolly, Down to Earth, and Reaching for the Moon, all for Douglas Fairbanks Productions. In 1918 Fairbanks made 5 more romantic comedies and one melodrama called Arizona, a film now lost. Despite a film receiving perhaps a mixed review from critics or being subject to local censorship, Douglas Fairbanks’ films proved box office gold due to his star power. In 1918 and moving into 1919 Fairbanks had become a millionaire, screen idol and soon to be co-founder of his own movie studio, United Artists.
1. Goessel, Tracey. The First King of Hollywood; The Life of Douglas Fairbanks. Chicago Review Press, 2016.
8. Lombardi, Frederic (2013). Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. McFarland. pp. 53–54.
9. United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009. p. 143.
10. Quoted in the May 1922 issue of Movie Picture Classic, p. 26.
11. A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1976, pp. 124; 127 and The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of The Movies, Arthur Knight, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1978, p 107.
12. Chaplin: His Life and Art, David Robinson, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985, p. 267.
A Short History of The Movies, Gerald Mast, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Indianapolis, 1977.
David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985.
Hollywood: The Pioneers. Kevin Brownlow and John Kobal, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc. A Borzoi Book,1979.
History of the American Cinema, Volume 5, 1930-1939, Charles Harpole, General Editor, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
The Hollywood Story, Joel W. Finler, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988.
The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of The Movies, Arthur Knight, New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1978
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986.
United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
FEATURE image: Charles (Charlie) Chaplin (1889-1977), 1918, A Dog’s Life, First National. Public Domain.
Twenty-four-year-old Charlie Chaplin was “discovered” in 1913 when he was touring Stateside in an English pantomime, acrobat and clown show troupe. Chaplin signed up to work for $150 a week in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Comedies. It was a definite pay raise at about triple what he was making in vaudeville and music halls. It opened his eyes to movies’ possibilities for popularity and money making. Chaplin made 35 motion pictures in the first year. The norm of one- and two-reels was a perfect foil for Chaplin’s trademark character – “the Tramp” – and he became an overnight sensation among film-hungry audiences.
Though Sennett wanted to keep his surprising new star, Chaplin was lured away by Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago for $1,250 a week and the option to direct his own pictures. Whereas Chaplin was making 5 and 6 figures with Essanay, the company was making 7 figures with the artist. Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay and exerted a high level of control of these films before he left for Mutual Film Corporation in early 1916.
Chaplin’s new salary was $670,000 a year or $10,000 a week (equal to a staggering $300,000 plus per week in 2023 dollars) – plus bonuses that amounted to what had about been his collective total salary over two years at Essenay. By 1916 Charlie Chaplin had become the nation and world’s favorite comedian and a very marketable cultural phenomenon. In 1916 Chaplin made 12 films for Mutual which were all comic masterpieces- The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M., The Count, The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen and The Rink. In 1917 Chaplin made 4 more films. By the beginning of 1918 twenty-something Chaplin had become a world-renown film artist comic/auteur who found entrée to meeting with other international celebrity cultural artists.
Chaplin was a trouper who churned out the work and Mutual looked to keep Chaplin on for another series of profitable films. They presented a generous offer of $20,000 per week which is about $600,000 per week today. The studio would pick up Chaplin’s production costs as well. But, Charlie Chaplin, wanting to keep fresh as well as share in the profits of his pictures, signed with First National. Their deal included matching Mutual’s per week salary requirements as well as a signing bonus of $15,000. Though Chaplin had to pay his production costs with First National, he received the aforesaid profit-sharing for his next 8 pictures. At this point Chaplin was an independent producer with financing and artistic control over his own pictures as well as a 50% share in its box office. One next logical step would be to increase profit margin.
Chaplin’s first picture release for First National was A Dog’s Life. It was a three-reeler (33 minutes) featuring the Tramp that was released in April 1918 and for which Chaplin was its producer, writer, director, and star.
David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company,1985.
Tino Balio, “Stars in Business: The Founding of United Artists” in The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
FEATURE image: United Artists founders in 1919, (Left to right) Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), Mary Pickford (1892-1979). Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and D.W. Griffith (1875-1948).
By John P. Walsh
It is debated whose brainchild the United Artists Corporation (UA), founded in 1919, ultimately was. Was it Mary Pickford’s and Douglas Fairbanks’ theatrical lawyer and a later UA executive who advised them to found an artist-controlled movie company or UA’s first president, a former U.S Treasury Department official, who suggested Douglas Fairbanks start a distribution company for his films or was it a publicity man for one of the majors who suggested to UA’s first general manager to create a movie studio run by artists for artists – or, finally, was it, as Charlie Chaplin claimed, by way of his elder half-brother Sydney who had hired a pretty girl to spy on another studio’s imminent potential merger and whose culled information led directly to founding their own?1 Whatever or whoever was the conduit or original source, in 1919, four of Hollywood’s legendary film artists — actors Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), Fairbanks’ future wife, Mary Pickford (1892-1979), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), and “the Father of Film Technique” director D.W. Griffith (1887-1948)- formed United Artists, one of Hollywood’s name-brand film studios.
Distinct from other movie studios, UA was especially founded by artists for artists. From His Majesty, The American in 1919 starring Douglas Fairbanks that premiered in New York City at the newly-built Capitol through to The Underdoggs scheduled for 2024, a comedy starring Snoop Dog – and many hundreds of major motion pictures in between – United Artists’ impact on the entertainment industry and culture has been highly significant in that its range of film product envisioned and presaged the artist/ producer-driven film industry that is normal today. Yet United Artists was also more as it allowed independents to make their films free of heavy-handed interference from the higher ups which was often the case at the majors. Such freedom in the marketplace could be risky and United Artists’ survival through the decades is nothing other than extraordinary.
The following artist corporate manifesto was released to the press on February 5, 1919. Over 100 years later it remains prescient for many reasons including a warning about the use of technology in filmmaking (“machine-made entertainment”) and freedom of choice for the consumer in terms of viewership (“not force[ing] upon him program films he does not desire”) – A new combination of motion picture stars and producers was formed yesterday, and we, the undersigned, in furtherance of the artistic welfare of the moving picture industry, believing we can better serve the great and growing industry of picture productions, have decided to unite our work into one association, and at the finish of existing contracts, which are now rapidly drawing to a close, to release our combined productions through our own organization. This new organization, to embrace the very best actors and producers in the motion picture business, is headed by the following well-known stars: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith productions, all of whom have proved their ability to make productions of value both artistically and financially. We believe this is necessary to protect the exhibitor and the industry itself, thus enabling the exhibitor to book only pictures that he wishes to play and not force upon him (when he is booking films to please his audience) other program films which he does not desire, believing that as servants of the people we can thus serve the people. We also think that this step is positively and absolutely necessary to protect the great motion picture public fromthreatening combinations and trusts that would force upon them mediocreproductions and machine-made entertainment.2
In a short 30 years, by the early 1950’s, with the demise of the studio system and the rise of broadcast television, UA would bring this visionary independent investor and producer driven film product to the world as the business template for how all films in and outside of Hollywood would be made. In 1919, United Artists was originally conceived as a prestige studio that distributed some of the industry’s best larger budget pictures. By the 1940’s it had evolved to add less expensive film products that met audience demands and kept the studio’s distribution networks humming. As capital and power tends towards concentration in a capitalist economy, the notion for a nimble, relatively low overhead movie-making patron facilitating production planning and distribution of films by independent producers proved a vital idea whose relevancy renewed itself through the years.3
In contrast to the major studios, such as MGM, Paramount, Fox, RKO, and Warner Bros., which had production, distribution and exhibition arms, United Artists focused solely on distribution. Unlike the majors, United Artists had no star stable, no studio facilities to speak of, no directors, no technicians, no chain of theaters, no house style, but, functioned as a distribution outlet for independently-made productions. In that way, UA was responsible for all phases of an independent production company’s film releases. This included the layers of market testing desired, the planning (including some financing) and booking of production releases, sundry marketing, and settlement matters following release. Distribution duties ranged from pre-production to marketing assistance as well as a bird’s-eye evaluation during production. Post-production distribution of motion pictures to the country 23,000 theatres in the 1930’s was an umbrella term for what was really a chain of complex business actions starting at the beginning of a film project to its being shown flickering on a local screen.
In the beginning: the 1920’s.
Throughout the silent era’s heyday and ultimate demise—the 1920’s—UA was clearly distributing films of its four founders which was a large reason for the company’s genesis. This soon included bankable silent film stars, such as Gloria Swanson (1889-1983). Lillian Gish (1893-1993), Buster Keaton (1895-1966) and Norma Talmadge (1894-1957). UA had no shortage of money-making hits in the roaring ‘20’s. There were melodramas such as Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) to his Way Down East (1921) and comedies starring Mary Pickford, including Pollyanna (1920) and Little Annie Rooney (1925). Douglas Fairbanks starred in UA crowd-pleasers in roles that in the 1930’s sound era was played by Errol Flynn, such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1923) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924).
Gloria Swanson, born in Chicago, was, at 26 years old, considered the most bankable silent film star of the time. In a successful career in film since 1918, she signed with United Artists in 1925 with UA chairman of the board Joseph Schenck who was brought in the year before. It was a six-picture distribution deal, and her production company was advanced financial loans through United Artists’ own Art Cinema Corporation subsidiary. Swanson also agreed to invest in UA by buying $100,000 of preferred stock. These financial terms proved difficult for Swanson to repay later and required the services of financier Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) who reconfigured her business portfolio to meet her obligations and produced one of her films.4 Meanwhile, her UA debut, The Love of Sunya, basically broke even. Swanson made two other UA films that were critical and financial successes –Sadie Thompson in 1927 with director Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) and The Trespasser, one of Swanson’s few sound films. The latter was directed by Edmund Goulding (1891-1959) and produced by Kennedy in 1929. For both of these films, Gloria Swanson received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.
As its founders first looked to protect their public image and screen product, United Artists opened its doors to an array of outside suppliers expanding their business operations. In 1929 UA produced 18 pictures – a company record – and, in the next few years, was expanding to distribute films of Samuel Goldwyn, Howard Hughes, Joseph Schenck, Walt Disney, Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, and Walter Wanger, among others. With the onset of talkies in 1927 and the Great Depression in 1929 the new pressures on the movie studios were enormous. While having built their reputation on silent film stars and watching their film output dwindle 25% in the early 1930’s, UA benefited from the management of Joseph Schenck (1876-1961) who facilitated the release of several popular money-making features by Samuel Goldwyn (Palmy Days), Howard Hughes (The Front Page – nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights) and Alexander Korda (The Private Life of Henry VIII).5
In 1926, Joseph Schenck in a visionary move, set up the United Artists Theatre Circuit which selectively acquired certain first-run theatres in major markets to show their pictures. This also had the effect of the majors working more accomodatingly with an astute competitor and showed UA pictures in their venues. Yet, since United Artists, as part of its nimble, skeletal organization, did not have a portfolio of theatres like MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, and RKO – collectively, these majors owned about 15% of the country’s total number – meant that when times were bad, such as in the Great Depression, UA was not impacted as negatively by the sudden decline in movie attendance or dipping real estate values. Moreover, UA’s low operating overhead included a smaller staff that resulted in less lay-offs in hard times. Under Joseph Schenck, UA started in the 1930’s to invest money in future productions with profit-sharing in addition to simply loaning money to producers to be paid back with interest in post-production (Gloria Swanson’s deal). After Joseph Schenck partnered with Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), formerly of Warner Bros., to form Twentieth Century Pictures in 1933, they produced most of UA’s films in 1933 and 1934. When Schenck left United Artists in 1935 after being rejected for partnership6 he merged with Fox Films to form Twentieth Century-Fox and became its chairman. The situation placed United Artists in a difficult position of having to replace their leading producer. The leadership issue was, arguably, not be addressed by UA until Krim and Benjamin in the 1950’s. After-Schenck’s departure, notable filmmakers slowly fled UA, though this was also the natural condition of the movie business, especially among the independent-minded, to find greener pastures. Disney exited in 1936 and Goldwyn in 1940, both moving to RKO, and William Wanger moved in 1941 to Universal Pictures. Not until in the post-war period did Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin look to recruit vibrant new leadership for UA following the demise of the studio system in the late 1940’s and the rise of television at the same time – and would swiftly result in their own departures from the company.
Meantime, in 1935 David O. Selznick (1902-1965) joined UA and released his pictures – in 1936, Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Garden of Allah; in 1937, A Star is Born, The Prisoner of Zenda, and Nothing Sacred; in 1938, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Young at Heart; and, in 1939, Made For Each Other and Intermezzo, starring Ingrid Bergman who Selznick introduced to American film audiences. These films were jewels for UA and made a fortune for the studio. Selznick International Pictures’ Gone With The Wind should have been released through UA but part of the condition of MGM lending Clark Gable to the project was that the film would be distributed by Gable’s home movie studio. In the 1940’s Selznick released Rebecca (1940), Since You Went Away (1944), I’ll Be Seeing You (1945) and Spellbound (1945) through UA.
Other notable films from the 1930s released by UA included Walter Wanger’s Trade Winds (1938), John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), and Samuel Goldwyn’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Before Goldwyn’s departure in 1940 under circumstances not unlike Joseph Schneck in 1935 – a star producer wanting to buy in or buy out UA- he left to form his own movie enterprise after 50 critically acclaimed and money-making films in 14 years for United Artists.
The War Years.
Seeking diversion, news information, and community camaraderie, America continued to go to the movies in record numbers before and during World War II (1939-1945). In 1938 there were 80 million tickets sold every week.7 The U.S. population in 1940 was about 130 million people and in pre-Pearl Harbor 1941 about 55 million of them (about 40% ) attended the movies each week. 8 In three years, by 1944, weekly attendance numbers nearly doubled to 100 million people – or about 75% of the U.S. population.9 By comparison, starting in the early 1970’s and through to today, the trend is very different. About 10% of the population may attend the movies each week at movie theatres. The early 1940’s was booming times for the movie industry whose contemporaneous films often extolled democracy’s virtues as well as a sentimental Homefront along with providing the outright escapist fare such as Westerns, comedies and musicals. Despite this prosperity UA’s film product was mostly undistinguished in this period and their income fell slightly from the end of the pre-war period.10 After the war, movie attendance levels dropped as people returned to start families, and go back to school and work. In response, the movie industry released less product – and the decline spiraled so that by the end of the decade of the 1940’s UA was in debt and ripe for a takeover.
Notably, at the end of the decade, beyond film noir with, as Michael F. Keaney points out, “its thematic criminal content” and “Emphasis on obsession, desperation, alienation, and paranoia” that is noted for its “dark visual style,“11 United Artists’ releases contributed to the new willingness after the war and ushering in of the Atomic Age to present serious social issues in films such as Home of The Brave (1949) exploring issues of race bigotry. Produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Mark Robson, and written by Carl Foreman Kramer and others would continue to explore these social issues in the future.
The Post War Era: 1950’s to 1970’s. Krim and Benjamin.
In 1951, Arthur B. Krim (1910-1994) and Robert Benjamin (1909-1979), lawyers and producers, were given leadership at UA and, based on their immediate success, soon acquired the movie studio. The duo unabashedly practiced the capital-producer-driven model for making movies which has since defined the film industry business model. United Artists’ visionary low overhead approach from its inception proved prescient for film production outside the once all-encompassing major studio system. Continuance of a skeletal staff which caused independent producers, notably Samuel Goldwyn, to flee from its sometime sloppy operations and no studio space – such could be leased from Pickford and Chaplin – became the de facto method to critical and box office success. 12 When Krim and Benjamin took over United Artists, stockholders gave them three years to make a profit. They did it in six months.13 United Artists devised a strategy based on financing and distribution of independent production that quickly and sustainably transformed the company into an industry leader. The revamped 1950’s United Artists worked with producer Sam Spiegel (1901-1985) and director John Huston (1906-1987) to have two upfront hits – The African Queen in 1951 and Moulin Rouge in 1952. This was followed up by High Noon in 1952 which was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won four. United Artists was soon working closely with Stanley Kramer, Otto Preminger, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions (actor Burt Lancaster’s production company) and other free-agent actors and others wanting to produce and direct. UA’s innovative and successful business model made the movie studio run by artists for artists the envy of the film industry so that, by the 1960’s, the majors were imitating them.
Surviving Founders Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin Sell.
By 1956 both Chaplin and Pickford had divested their shares to Krim and Benjamin who came from Eagle-Lion Films. United Artists then made a motion picture, Marty in 1955, that won four Oscars, including Best Picture. In 1957, a social drama, 12 Angry Men, was Oscar-nominated multiple times. There was also The Bachelor Party, an Oscar-nominated follow-up to Marty, in 1957 and Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones in 1958. UA also released some of the era’s great comedies, including Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot in 1959 and The Apartment in 1960 which won the Best Picture Oscar. In the 1960’s Wilder did some of his best work with United Artists including, all of them box office hits, One, Two, Three in 1961, Irma La Douce in 1963, Kiss Me, Stupid in 1964 and The Fortune Cookie in 1966.
In 1957 Krim and Benjamin did something the founding owners didn’t do and if they had the studio’s history, likely starting in the mid-1930’s, would be very different: they took UA public. Before the 1950’s was finished, United Artists was the envy of the Hollywood motion picture industry, very profitably producing films, television shows, and records.14 Arthur Krim and Robert Banjamin remained with UA until 1978 when, with others, they created Orion Pictures. From 1978 to 1992, Krim attempted to mirror UA’s success with a company that, since 1997, is a subsidiary of MGM.
In 1961, United Artists released West Side Story which won a record 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Producer-Director Stanley Kramer with whom United Artists first started working in 1958, released Judgement At Nuremburg in 1961 and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World which, in its homage to slapstick, featured a Who’s Who ensemble cast of stage and screen comedians and became a box office smash.
It was also in 1963 that United Artists backed the first film in the James Bond 007 franchise – Dr. No. Starting in 1964, they also backed The Pink Panther films directed by Blake Edwards and Bud Yorkin. Starting in 1964, Clint Eastwood was well on his way to becoming a star by way of his UA-backed spaghetti westerns. These and other films looked to satisfy the younger movie-going demographic that increasingly desired depictions of sex and violence at the cinema.
In 1964 and 1965 United Artists got on board to introduce the Beatles to U.S. film audiences with A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Both films were phenomenal money makers. In 1965 UA had the means to finance, at $20 million, the most expensive film ever made up to that time: George Stevens’ production of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Starring Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ with an ensemble cast of actor favorites, the film was critically acclaimed and received five Academy Award nominations in 1965. However, the film recouped most though not all of its historic initial investment.
LATER DEVELOPMENTS and the end of an era.
United Artists was ascendant in the 1960’s. It won 5 best Picture Oscars in the decade – more than any other single movie studio, a remarkable accomplishment. In addition to The Apartment in 1960 and West Side Story in 1961, there was Tom Jones directed by Tony Richardson in 1963, In the Heat of the Night in 1967, and Midnight Cowboy in 1969. United Artists was working with an array of directors such as Norman Jewison (In The Heat of the Night in 1967 and The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven in 1960), Robert Wise and Blake Edwards.15 In the 1960’s this diverse array of directors and actors and their films from United Artists found their audience although, as production exploded with independent projects, not every movie made its mark.16 Purchased in 1967 by Transamerica Corp. based on its film and television success, Krim and Benjamin were pushed aside for new management as UA continued to manufacture film hits such as The Graduate (Best Picture nominee) and In The Heat of the Night (Best Actor and Best Picture winner). In 1968 UA’s income reached $250 million with a $20 million in profit. Yet, in 1970, the studio lost $35 million. Krim and Benjamin were restored while staff and overhead expenses drastically cut.17
The decade of the 1960’s saw a precipitous decline in movie attendance. What began in 1960 with 44 million Americans, or 25% of the population, going to cinema each week was 15 million in 1970 – or less than 10%. Most of these numbers were concentrated in a few films while the rest languished. The movie studios’ search for the surefire blockbuster intensified. One or two misses could – and did – sink a studio’s fortunes. Though UA was no longer the Oscar leader, the 1970’s was a mostly remarkable decade for United Artists. It made hits such as Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and the James Bond series with Roger Moore and had three Best Picture films in a row – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rocky (1976) and Annie Hall (1977).19 Significantly, in 1977 and 1979, respectively, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford both passed away – and, with them, some of the last vestiges of old Hollywood.
In 1978, following Chaplin’s death, Krim and Benjamin left UA to form Orion Pictures, looking to make it a worthy heir to what United Artists had been. Their exit evolved with clashes with Transamerica since the insurance giant took over the movie studio in 1967. In 1973, as United Artists took over U.S. sales and distribution of MGM films and its music publishing business, in 1981 Transamerica sold United Artists and its film library to Tracinda Corp. Since Tracinda Corp. owned MGM, these two iconic film studio brands merged to become MGM/UA Entertainment Company with a host of subsidiaries.20
Mid-1970’s – Three Best Picture Oscars in a Row.
The end of the 1970s was profitable for UA. Though Krim and Benjamin were gone, UA was headed by Andy Albeck, Krim’s longtime assistant and the studio’s investments were reaping themselves handsomely at the box office – Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), Bond installment Moonraker (1979) and Rocky II were all hits, Although Westerns had fallen out of favor, in 1978 UA fronted almost $8 million for Heaven’s Gate. Starting in the 1960’s the film market was gearing to younger audiences. This trend intensified so that in the late 1970s and early 1980s most films were targeted to teenagers.21 Heaven’s Gate became way over budget and then opened to devastatingly reviews. Albeck saw the train wreck that was coming. The film was released then pulled and re-released after severe editing but was a box office bomb, Albeck resigned and UA, despite its money-making releases, including For Your Eyes Only (1981), Rocky III (1982) and Yentl (1983) was sold to MGM and became MGM/UA Entertainment Corp.
Late 20th century to today.
By 1983, MGM started selling UA assets such as its New York City headquarters as part of the consolidation process while in terms of film and television production the two jointly-owned studios under Kirk Kerlorian’s Tracinda Corp. were put in direct competition with one another. In March 1985 both studios went under one studio head, Alan Ladd, Jr.22 In March 1986,Ted Turner bought MGM/UA and renamed it MGM Entertainment Co. selling back the United Artists’ assets (about one third of the deal) to Tracinda Corp. Though it shared the same or similar assets, it was, from a transactional viewpoint, the end of the original United Artists and start of a new company.23
Later in 1986 Turner sold back MGM’s production and distribution assets to United Artists, retaining ownership of film libraries. United Artists was renamed MGM/UA Communications Company.24 In the 1990s United Artists (MGM/UA) traded hands from and back to Tracinda Corp and in the 2000s MGM folded UA into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures though certain distributorship, branding, and copyrights could bear the United Artists name. In 2005, Comcast, Sony and partner banks bought United Artists and, its parent, MGM, and folded those operations into Sony. The era of mega-consolidation was well underway.25 In 2006, in a return to its roots as an artists’ film studio, actor Tom Cruise, producer Paula Wagner and MGM Studios created United Artists Entertainment LLC. In 2011 it was revealed that MGM bought United Artists whose brand name remains though the last films made under the United Artists banner was in 2009. 26
Since the 1980’s until today, certain UA films have been geared to mature audiences -such as, François Truffaut’s The Last Metro (1981), Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), Walter Hill’s Wild Bill (1995) and other less successful ventures. But, starting with War Games (1983), the majority of feature films released in the last 40 years are geared to the youth market demographic.
1. Bergan, Ronald, The United Artists Story, Crown, 1986, p. 8.
14. Mayer, Arthur L., “UA at 40,” Variety, June 24, 1959, p. 42; Balio, Tino (March 2, 2009). United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry (1st ed.). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 226–227.
23. Balio, Tino (March 2, 2009). United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 343.
24. Gendel, Morgan (June 7, 1986). “Turner Sells The Studio, Holds on to the Dream”. Los Angeles Times – retrieved August 8, 2023; “Turner, United Artists Close Deal”. Orlando Sentinel. United Press International. August 27, 1986 – retrieved August 8, 2023.
25. Leming, Mike Jr; Busch, Anita (September 22, 2014). “MGM Buys 55% Of Roma Downey And Mark Burnett’s Empire; Relaunches United Artists”. Deadline Hollywood; “United Artists restructuring by MGM”. CNNMoney. June 7, 1999.
26. Fritz, Ben, “MGM regains full control of United Artists”. Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2012.
A Short History of The Movies, Gerald Mast, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. Indianapolis, 1977.
Film Noir Guide, Michael F. Keaney, McFarland & Co., Inc. Jefferson North Carolina, 2003.
History of the American Cinema, Volume 5, 1930-1939, Charles Harpole, General Editor, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
Hollywood The Glamour Years (1919-1941), Robin Langley Sommer, Gallery Books: New York, 1987.
License To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films, James Chapman, 2009.
My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin, Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn and London, 2012 (originally published in 1964).
The American Film Industry, ed. Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
The United Artists Story, Ronald Bergan, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1986.
United Artists, Volume 1, 1919–1950: The Company Built by the Stars, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009
United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, Tino Balio, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.
You’re Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot, Mike Medavoy and Josh Young, New York: Pocket Books, 2002.
FEATURE image: The shrine of Saint Swithun (or Swithin) in Winchester Cathedral in England, The official name of the old minster or mynster ( from monasterium) is the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Swithun. Since July 15, 971 the shrine at the grave of St. Swithun has been inside Winchester Cathedral. “St Swithun’s Shrine” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
St. Swithun (c.800-c.863) is a name from Old English which means “Strong Bear Cub.” Swithun was a late 9th century bishop of the royal city of Winchester in England. Only a few important facts are known in history about Swithun – one is that he became Winchester’s 18th bishop in 852. Prior to that, Swithun was apparently a secular clerk with a reputation for virtue and learning. In addition to the few remaining historical facts, there are important surviving artifacts as well as a treasury of lore associated with this medieval figure living in the days of the Saxons and Angles, Vikings and Jutes in southern England.
Swithun, who was attached to the West Saxon Court, was responsible for educating Æthelwulf (“Noble Wolf”), the king’s son, who became the father of Alfred the Great (c. 848-899). King Alfred had a reputation for learning and for being a gracious, level-headed king in a raucous time. Swithun is credited for some of the royal court’s civilized culture which encouraged education, improved the legal system, reformed the military structure, and added to the ordinary people’s overall quality of life. These improvements helped make Swithun beloved in his lifetime.
Wessex under Alfred’s leadership was the only one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to survive the Danish attacks (the Vikings and Jutes) of the 9th century. Significantly, England in the 10th century was unified under Æthelwulf’s and Alfred’s line.
Miracle of Broken Egg Shells.
Bishop Swithun was a builder as well as one of the original contributors to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of Old English annals. Humble miracles were attributed to Swithun in his lifetime and after his death. One of the most charming and which is memorialized in the modern shrine marker is the “miracle of broken eggshells.” On St. Swithun’s bridge in Winchester – a bridge has crossed the River Itchen into the city of Winchester since around 500 A.D. – a woman rushing to market encountered the saint, dropping her basketful of eggs and breaking them all in the process. After the saint stooped down to pick them up, he returned the eggs to the woman fully restored.
When Swithun died in 862 or 863, the charismatic personality was buried per his request in the cathedral churchyard. Swithun wanted passers-by to be able to walk over his grave and for the rain to fall upon it. Over 100 years later, on July 15, 971, the remains of St, Swithun, who was regarded as the patron saint of the city of Winchester, were moved to inside the old minster to a magnificent shrine on the high altar.
There is a tale that when Saint Swithun’s remains were moved from the simple grave outside to a resplendent one inside the cathedral, he was so discombobulated by it that it rained torrents on that day of July 15, 971 as a result – and for the next 40 days. It is not precisely known, however, how Swithun became directly associated with the stormy weather. “If on St. Swithun’s day it really pours, You’re better off to stay indoors” was one English ditty. It is the case that a few earlier saints in France had similar meteorological tales that were told about them.
‘St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain For forty days it will remain; St Swithun’s day if thou be fair For forty days ’twill rain na mair.’
One of the positive outcomes to this summer deluge is that St. Swithun became patron saint of apples as these begin to appear in glorious abundance in the late summer and early fall.
Jane Austen on her deathbed in Winchester writes her last poem about St. Swithun and is herself buried in the cathedral.
Three days before her death on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, 41-year-old novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) wrote a short poem, her last, about Winchester, rainy weather, and St Swithun’s Day. From the poem it is evident that Jane Austen, who had sought medical help for her health in Winchester beginning in May 1817, knew she was dying when she wrote her witty, playful verse. Austen wrote the poem at 8, College Street, just steps from the Cathedral. Austen was 16 miles from Chawton, her home, also in (East) Hampshire, when she died. Following her death, Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral less than a week after she wrote the poem.
“When Winchester races first took their beginning It is said the good people forgot their old Saint Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.
The races however were fixed and determined The company came and the Weather was charming The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined And nobody saw any future alarming.–
But when the old Saint was informed of these doings He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins And then he addressed them all standing aloof.
‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved When once we are buried you think we are dead But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o’er July Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry The curse upon Venta is July in showers–“
FEATURE image: Joan Miró, Joan Miró’s Chicago (sometimes Miss Chicago), steel reinforced-concrete, colored ceramics, 1967, Brunswick Building Plaza, 69 W. Washington Street, Chicago. This artwork is Miró’s only monumental sculpture. Text & artwork photograph by author.
Joan Miró (1893-1983) is a Catalan who is a major dadaist artist “Dada” is a nonsense word but its artistic movement that started around 1915 in Zürich, Switzerland, has brought into existence many famous artworks by a range of artists. As World War I raged on in Europe between 1914 and 1918, young artists and intellectuals reacted with art, performance, and poetry that was radically experimental, dissident and anarchic. These artists countered the horrors of the war and capitalist culture by moving past a degradation of art to contributing to an anti-art under the banner of “dada.” These ideas and ideals of dada quickly spread to the art capitals of Paris and New York – and beyond.
Joan Miró’s Chicago is the artist’s first monumental sculpture in the world.
Joan Miró’s Chicago is in this dada milieu as it sits in the Brunswick Building Plaza, directly across Washington Street from another Spanish artist’s 50-foot-tall Cor-Ten steel sculpture from the same time (1967): Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Miró’s sculpture expresses the neck, bustline, and slim and wasp-waisted hips of a woman’s torso with outstretched arms and a simplified head. She is made of steel-reinforced concrete with brightly colored ceramics that are added to the scooped-out hem of her skirt. Like other of Miró’s sculptures of female figures from the 1950s, the shape of the skirt is that of an overturned broad-lipped cup or chalice. The bronze, crown-like headdress is like the dadaist found objects that populated Miró’s artwork whether paintings, sculptures, ceramics and more throughout his career. Joan Miró’s Chicago possesses qualities evocative of primitive fertility or earth goddesses similar to those found in the ancient Mediterranean world.
One of Dada’s major sculptural forms to emerge and which was masterly accomplished by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), was the “readymade” which used familiar mass-produced objects (i.e., ceramic urinals, household tools, etc.) for high art pieces. The dada expression of the readymade increasingly asked the viewer to take seriously these consumer items and found objects as high art on an equal platform with lofty traditional productions of a monied arts establishment.
Dadaists experimented boldly with new media such as collage (Jean Arp, 1886-1966), airbrushed photography (Man Ray, 1890-1976) and nonsensical poetry (Hugo Ball, 1886-1927). These art forms freely combined as well as crossed over its categories, i.e., nonsensical poetry interpreted in performance art.
Miró’s art does not accept the world as it is.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s Miró worked with material such as paper, string and even toothbrushes and, sometime later, natural objects such as rocks and fruits to make loose, playlike assemblies, many of which due to fragility or destruction, did not survive. Miró did not transform or repurpose these found objects – bells, jars, vases – but by leaving them alone saw they retained what the artist called their own “magical powers.” Miró’s more permanent artworks – paintings, ceramics, plaster or bronze sculptures, etc. – possess the same randomness as his looser assemblies which is the artist’s intended reflection of nature’s promiscuous progeny. The artist turns his back on established art principles and pursues his own independence which, following intuition unto slow resolve, improbably marries diverse objects of recognizable forms making for an assembly of more than one class or nature. They are of a realm not always of this world.
Though Miró completed a maquette of the sculpture in 1967 (called Project for a Monument for Barcelona), its production into a 40-foot sculpture – the artist’s only monumental sculpture – was delayed until 1979. The hundreds of thousands of dollars for the production and installation of Joan Miró’s Chicago was provided by a private-public partnership in Chicago.
A Guide to Chicago Public Sculpture, Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1983, pp. 73-74.
FEATURE image: 946 N. Sheridan Road, Waukegan, Illinois 1876. A fuller description of this house whose appearance is almost out of a 19th century novel is found in the post below. All text & photographs by author.
Waukegan, Illinois, is an historic community on Lake Michigan about 40 miles north of downtown Chicago. It is one of the oldest settlements in Illinois. The site of the city was visited by French explorers Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) and Père Jacques Marquette, S.J. (1637-1675) in 1673 where Waukegan began as a French trading post and Potawatomie village.
Waukegan’s origins as “Little Fort.”
“Little Fort” was the first name for the environs of Waukegan. It started around 1700 as a log building overlooking the Waukegan River on its southwestern shore as it drained into Lake Michigan. This point marked the portage from the Lake to the Des Plaines River as it traveled west. The state of Illinois was established in 1818. Over the next quarter century, the Illinois volunteer army fought local native American tribes and forced them to sign treaties and migrate west of the Mississippi. The Potawatomie left Waukegan by 1829 as they ceded their land in this area and throughout northeastern Illinois to the U.S. Government. The 1830s brought vast changes to the area with opportunities for development. In addition to the land transfer, the building of the Erie Canal in 1830 brought boatloads of settlers from New England and New York State into the Illinois and the Midwest region.
Along with other communities which developed on Chicago portage routes, the history of Waukegan’s founding and development shares a similar time frame as well as personalities and activities. In 1835 Thomas Jenkins was the first settler at “Little Fort.” Jenkins was followed in quick succession by other enterprising and hard-working New Englanders who settled much of northern Illinois in the 1830s which was the edge of the Western wilderness. Like Marquette and Jolliet in the 17th century, these newcomers recognized the potential monumental impact that access to Lake Michigan had for transport of goods in and out of the region and what that commercial activity and subsequent settlement would have on the surrounding real estate. As more people arrived, the creation of a village emerged. The area was platted and streets designated, and in a contested election in 1841, “Little Fort,” became the governmental center for a recently formed Lake County.
Little Fort Becomes Waukegan.
Between 1844 and 1846 the town’s population multiplied from 150 to 750 persons. In 1849 the community changed its name from “Little Fort” to Waukegan. By 1859, when the town was incorporated as a city, Waukegan boasted a population of 2,500 people. Chicago, by comparison, had a population of 112,172 denizens in the 1860 census. Waukegan is an English alliteration that closely approximated the word for “fort” or “trading post” in the Algonquin language. In the 2020 census Waukegan reported a population of 89,321 people.
Growing population in the port city. Coming of the railroad.
Waukegan had a natural deep harbor and was a port city. This feature attracted merchants and farmers who could readily ship their goods, produce, and grain from Lake and McHenry County businesses and farms to Chicago –- and, from that point, to the Midwest and the world. Waukegan soon became one of the busiest ports on the lake. When the railroad came to Waukegan in 1855 (today’s Chicago and North Western Railway), it stimulated interest in Waukegan as a manufacturing town that included ship and wagon building, flour milling, sheep raising, pork packing, beer brewing and dairy farming (Hawthorne-Melody Farms). The railroads made it feasible for the establishment of larger industries which appeared in Waukegan at the end of the 19th century such as U.S. Sugar Refinery, Washburn and Moen Wire Mill (U.S. Steel Corporation), U.S. Starch Works, and Thomas Brass and Iron Works, among others. This mercantile and agricultural activity generated sufficient wealth for its citizens to build big houses along Waukegan’s main streets. These residences expressed the current tastes in residential styles from Greek revival and Italianate styles to the Victorian and Prairie School.
1890-1930: Population boom fueled by immigration.
Between 1890 and 1930 Waukegan experienced a population boom fueled by European immigrants and, in the 1920’s, Black Americans during the Great Migration. Waukegan thrived though by the end of the 20th century, the city suffered from an exodus of its population to farther west suburbs. This was accompanied by a shuttering of industries as management sought cheaper labor in other countries. At the same time, Waukegan was welcoming a new influx of immigrants from Latin America.
A few of Waukegan’s most famous residents in history include comedian Jack Benny (1894-1974), science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), World War II combat photographer under Colonel Darryl F. Zanuck (Twentieth Century Fox) Albert Klein, the aforementioned fine artist Kate Cory and NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns Otto Graham (1921-2003).
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs on Wheels and on Foot, Ira J. Bach, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1981, pp. 97-111.