Today: April 18, 2024

The Business of Filmmaking

You better make some space on your bookshelf. The University Press of Kentucky, who were behind Harry Dean Stanton: Hollywood’s Zen Rebel, have released not one but two fascinating studies of some truly fascinating tinseltown history. With deep, analytical portraits of both Universal and Columbia Pictures from the incredibly knowledgeable Bernard F. Dick, these two tomes offer an incredible amount of insight into the business of filmmaking throughout Hollywood’s most formative years. 

City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures

Horror films. Deanna Durbin musicals. Francis, the talking mule. Ma and Pa Kettle. Ross Hunter weepies. Theme parks. E.T. (1982). Apollo 13 (1995). These are only a few of the many faces of Universal Pictures. In February 1906, Carl Laemmle, German immigrant and former clothing store manager, opened his first nickelodeon in Chicago, where he quickly moved from exhibition to distribution and then to film production. A master of publicity and promotions, within ten years “Uncle Carl” had moved his entire operation to Southern California, founded a city, and established Universal Pictures as one of the major Hollywood studios.

In City of Dreams, Bernard F. Dick traces the history of Universal Pictures from its humble early origins to the modern day and analyzes the studio’s films, from horror flicks featuring Karloff and Lugosi to comedies starring Abbott and Costello and W. C. Fields. Dick details how the Laemmle family was eventually forced out of the Universal empire, replaced by a string of studio heads who entered and exited one after another—the beginning of the age of corporate Hollywood, which transformed Universal Pictures into NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. Dick explains how the Universal-International merger in 1946, Decca’s stock takeover in the early 1950s, and MCA’s buyout in 1962 all presaged today’s Hollywood, where the art of the deal often eclipses the art of making movies. 

Ultimately, although stars and executives have come and gone, shaping and reshaping the studio’s image, Universal’s revolving globe logo has lit up screens around the world through it all.

Columbia Pictures: Portrait of a Studio

Drawing on previously untapped archival materials including letters, interviews, and more, Bernard F. Dick traces the history of Columbia Pictures, from its beginnings as the CBC Film Sales Company, through the regimes of Harry Cohn and his successors, and ending with a vivid portrait of today’s corporate Hollywood. 

The book offers unique perspectives on the careers of Rita Hayworth and Judy Holliday, a discussion of Columbia’s unique brands of screwball comedy and film noir, and analyses of such classics as The Awful Truth, Born Yesterday, and From Here to Eternity. Following the author’s highly readable studio chronicle are fourteen original essays by leading film scholars that follow Columbia’s emergence from Poverty Row status to world class, and the stars, films, genres, writers, producers, and directors responsible for its transformation. A new essay on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood rounds out the collection and brings this seminal studio history into the 21st century.

Amply illustrated with film stills and photos of stars and studio heads, Columbia Pictures is the first book to integrate history with criticism of a single studio, and is ideal for film lovers and scholars alike.

CITY OF DREAMS and COLUMBIA PICTURES are available now from University Press of Kentucky

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