The Little Three

1. Columbia: When MGM’s Louis B. Mayer wanted to punish his stars, he would transfer them to Columbia Pictures, or ‘Siberia’ as they called it. However, the studio started to thrive when they started working with director Frank Capra in the 30′s. With Capra and others, Columbia became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. In the 1930s, Columbia’s major contract stars were Jean Arthur and Cary Grant (who was shared with RKO Pictures). In the 1940s, Rita Hayworth became the studio’s premier star and propelled their fortunes into the late 1950s. Rosalind Russell, Glenn Ford, and William Holden also became major stars at the studio.


2. Universal: The oldest of all these studio’s. It was founded in 1912. Carl Leammle founded the studio Universal offered a variety of motion picture packages which allowed an exhibitor to show a different film every day. The first feature film, Traffic in Souls (1913) grossed $0.5 million. The movie’s significance was in innovative editing and plot lines which gave the impression of simultaneous events. But they spent who spent too much money and were forced out of the company because they couldn’t pay back a loan in 1936. After this, Universal switched owners a couple of times. The most important stars included Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Donald O’Connor, Deanna Durbin, and Lana Turner.

The most remembered films include Frankenstein and The Birds. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Universal Studios produced a long string of horror hits that terrified and enraptured audiences. These films were totally unlike the kinds of horror movies seen before, and they quickly developed their own distinctive style. The movies expanded the popularity of horror and pushed the boundaries of what audiences were used to on screen. One of Universal’s most well-known horror films, and the one that began the craze that was to follow, was their adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1931. Featuring Bela Lugosi in the title role, Dracula was a hit at the box office.

Universal Studios 1940

3.United Artists: United Artists was formed by 4 actors who wanted to take control of their own careers: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., D.W Griffith and last but not least: Charlie Chaplin. Each held a 20% stake, with the remaining 20% held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The four film stars were veterans of Hollywood and wanted better control of their work and their futures.

The reason for this was because established Hollywood producers and distributors had been tightening their control over the actors salaries and creative decisions (Which eventually led to the studio system).

Their contract was to star and produce 5 films per year. However, they were scrutinized for this saying no one could do such an ambitious thing.

His Majesty, the American was the first film created by and starring Fairbanks. It was a success. There was limited funding for movies at the time. Without selling stock to the public like the other studios of the time, all United had to work with was weekly prepayment installments from theater owners for the upcoming movies. Thus production was slow with the company distributing for the first five years averaging five films.

United Artists continued to grow and is still around today.



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