Twentieth (20th) Century Fox, shorthand for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, is one of the major movie studios, located in the Century City area of Los Angeles, California, USA, just west of Beverly Hills. The studio is a subsidiary of News Corporation, the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
The company is the result of a 1935 merger of two entities, Fox Film Corporation founded by William Fox in 1914, and Twentieth Century Pictures, begun in 1932 by Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph Schenck, Raymond Griffith and William Goetz. [William Fox], a pioneer in creating the theater "chain," began producing films in 1914, and in 1917 hit the jackpot when he offered the sensation of her time, Theda Bara. Always more of an entrepreneur than a showman, Fox concentrated on acquiring and building theaters; pictures were secondary. When sound came along, Fox acquired the rights to a German sound-on-film process which he dubbed "Movietone," and in 1926 began offering films with a music-and- effects track. The following year he began the weekly "Fox Movietone News" feature, which ran until 1963. The growing company needed space, and in 1926 Fox acquired three-hundred acres in the open country west of Beverly Hills and built "Movietone City," the best-equipped studio of its time.
When rival Marcus Loew died in 1927, Fox offered to buy the Loew family's holdings; Loew's Inc. controlled more than two-hundred theaters as well as the MGM studio. When the family agreed to the sale, the merger of Fox and Loew's Inc. was announced in 1929. But MGM studio-boss Louis B. Mayer, not included in the deal, fought back; using political connections, he called on the Justice Department's anti-trust unit to block the merger. Fate favoured Mayer; Fox was badly injured in a car wreck, and by the time he recovered, the 1929 stock market crash had taken most of his fortune, and put an end to the Loew's merger.
Over-extended, near bankruptcy, Fox was stripped of his empire. Fox Film, with more than five-hundred theatres, was placed in receivership; a bank-mandated reorganisation propped the company up for a time, but it was clear a merger was the only way Fox Film could survive.
At Warner Brothers, production-head Darryl Zanuck was in a feud over money; tight-fisted Warners had cut costs in the depression by reducing salaries. When Zanuck asked for his pay to be restored, they refused, and he quit. Days later he announced the formation of a new company Twentieth Century Pictures, in partnership with Joseph Schenck, president of United Artists. Begun in mid-1933, releasing four to six pictures a year through United Artists, Twentieth Century was a success, in part due to financial backing from L.B. Mayer and Nicholas Schenck, Joe's brother and head of Loews.
Two years later, Joe Schenck and Fox Film management agreed to a merger; Zanuck was to head production, and Schenck would be chief executive. Observers of this mouse-and-elephant combination expected that the new company would be called "Fox-Twentieth Century." But taking the name Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, the new company was created on May 31, 1935.
Aside from the theater chain and a first-rate studio lot, Zanuck and Schenck felt there wasn't much else to Fox Film. The studio's biggest star, Will Rogers, died in a plane crash weeks after the merger. Its leading female star, Janet Gaynor, was fading in popularity. Promising leading men James Dunn and Spencer Tracy had been dropped because of heavy drinking. Zanuck quickly signed young actors who would carry Twentieth Century-Fox for years: Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, ice-skater Sonja Henie, and Betty Grable. And also on the Fox payroll he found two players whom he would build into the studio's leading assets, Alice Faye and seven-year-old Shirley Temple.
Favoring popular biographies and musicals, Zanuck built Fox back to profitability. Thanks to record attendance during World War II, Fox passed RKO and mighty MGM to become the third-most profitable studio. While Zanuck went off for eighteen months' war service, junior partner William Goetz kept profits high by emphasizing light entertainment; the studio's - indeed the industry's, biggest star was creamy blonde Betty Grable. But when Zanuck returned in 1943 he intended to make Fox's output more serious-minded. During the next few years, with pictures like Wilson, Gentleman's Agreement, The Snake Pit, Boomerang and Pinkie, Zanuck established a reputation for provocative, adult films. Fox also specialized in adaptations of best-selling books and Broadway musicals.
After the war audiences drifted away, and the arrival of television hastened the process. Fox held on to its theaters until a court-mandated divorce; they were spun off as Fox National Theaters in 1953. That year, with attendance at one-half 1946's level, Fox gambled on an unproven gimmick. Noting that the two movie sensations of 1952 had been Cinerama, which required three projectors to fill a giant curved screen, and "Natural Vision" 3-D, which got its effects of depth by requiring the use of polarized glasses, Fox mortgaged its studio to buy rights to a French anamorphic projection system which gave a slight illusion of depth without glasses. In February, 1953, Zanuck announced that henceforth all Fox pictures would be made in CinemaScope. To convince theater owners to install this new process, Fox agreed to help pay conversion costs (about $25,000 per screen); and to insure enough product, Fox gave access to CinemaScope to any rival studio choosing to use it. Seeing the box-office for the first two CinemaScope features, The Robe and How to Marry a Millionaire, Warners, MGM, Universal and Columbia quickly adopted the process.
CinemaScope brought a brief up-turn in attendance, but by 1956 the numbers again began to slide. That year Darryl Zanuck announced his resignation as head of production. Officially attributed to burn-out, rumors persisted that Mrs. Zanuck had threatened divorce (in community-property California) after discovering Zanuck's affair with actress Bella Darvi. Zanuck moved to Paris, setting up as an independent producer; he did not set foot in California again for fifteen years.
His successor, producer Buddy Adler, died a year later. Chairman Spyros Skouras brought in a series of production executives, but none had Zanuck's touch. By the early 1960s Fox was in trouble. A remake of Theda Bara's Cleopatra had begun in 1959 with Joan Collins in the lead; as a publicity gimmick producer Walter Wanger offered one million dollars to Elizabeth Taylor if she woud star; Taylor accepted, and costs for Cleopatra began to escalate. As Cleopatra's budget passed the ten-million dollar mark, Fox sold its back lot (now the site of Century City) to Alcoa in 1961 to raise cash. With few pictures on the schedule, Skouras wanted to rush Zanuck's big-budget war epic The Longest Day into release as another source of quick cash. This offended Zanuck, still Fox's largest shareholder; at the next board meeting Zanuck spoke for eight hours, convincing directors that Skouras was mis-managing the company and the only possible savior was Darryl F. Zanuck. He was installed as chairman; then named his son Richard Zanuck as president. This new management group: seized Cleopatra and rushed it to completion; shut down the studio and laid off the entire staff to save money; axed the long-running Movietone Newsreel; and, with limited funds, made a series of cheap, popular pictures that luckily restored Fox as a major studio.
Zanuck stayed on as chairman until 1971 but his last years were not easy; expensive pictures he'd commissioned flopped, and in 1969, 1970 and 1971 the studio recorded huge losses. Following his removal, and after an uncertain period, new management brought Fox back to health. Under president Dennis Stanfill and production head Alan Ladd, Jr., Fox films connected with modern audiences. Stanfill used the profits to acquire resort properties, soft-drink bottlers, Australian theaters, and other properties in an attempt to diversify enough to offset the boom-or-bust cycle of picture-making. With financial stability came new owners, and in 1978 control passed to the investors Marc Rich and Marvin Davis. Three years later, Rich sold his shares to Rupert Murdoch's Australian media group, News Corporation. In 1984, Davis sold his half of Fox to News Corp., giving Murdoch's company complete control. To run the studio, Murdoch hired Barry Diller from Paramount; Diller brought with him a plan which Paramount's board had refused: a studio-backed, fourth commercial television-network (most likely due to the DuMont fiasco).
But to gain FCC approval of Fox's purchase of Metromedia's television holdings (once the stations of the old DuMont network), Murdoch had to become an American citizen. This he did, and in 1985 the new Fox Broadcasting took to the air. Over the next twenty years the network and owned-stations group have expanded to become extremely profitable for News Corp. The film studio has prospered too, although Fox has backed away from its reputation for literary adaptations and adult themes to concentrate on "popcorn" movies such as the Star Wars trilogies (1977-1983 and 1999-2005), and others.
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