Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interesting… A studio-owned movie theater showing films from a competing studio!

Program Guide for next week's motion picture attractions at
Warner Bros.' Tivoli theater, published in 1934.  Note
that these weren't Warner Bros. films, they were
films from the studio's competitor, Paramount.
This post is in relation to the recent passing of Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Several months ago, I saw an old program guide in the lobby display case at the Weinberg Center for the Arts (formerly known as the Tivoli).

On the 1934 program guide, it stated that one of the attractions was Little Miss Marker*, with Temple and Adolphe Menjou (it was remade as Sorrowful Jones with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in 1948, 40 Pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette in 1962, and a 1980 rendition of the ’34 feature, with Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews).

Even though the program guide says Warner Bros.Tivoli, I noticed (along with further research) that these weren't Warner features, they were all Paramount Pictures.

I remembered at the time that I caught a short glimpse of the 1934 feature weeks earlier on NBC’s Cozi TV service. The other Paramount films that were listed on the program guide were Many Happy Returns with George Burns and Gracie Allen, Private Scandal with Zasu Pitts, and Here Comes the Groom with Jack Haley. It sounds ironic that a studio-owned movie theater (back then) would play feature films from a rival studio.

At the time, Warner Bros. owned the majority of cinemas (Tivoli, City Opera House, and the Frederick) in the area until the 1948 decree. In the PBS documentary series, American Cinema: The Studio System (narrated by Peter Coyote) - film historians note that most of the major studios’ investments went into company-owned cinemas across the nation.

Film scholar Douglas Gomery (Professor Emeritus and Resident Scholar at the Center for Visual and Mass Media, University of Maryland Libraries) mentioned that the five major studios broke their theater holdings into five geographical territories. For example, Loew’s/MGM would have New York City and the east coast markets, Paramount would have the majority of cinemas in the mid-west and southern regions, and Twentieth Century Fox would have the majority of cinemas on the west coast.

Film scholar Thomas Schatz (Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Radio-Television-Film) notes that Warner Bros. did not own as many first-run theaters in major metropolitan markets, and owned more rural-based theater holdings throughout the country.   

No matter where the film companies’ theater holdings were located in the nation, it affected the output of feature films that the majors produced.

My guess is that in addition to the first-run Warner Bros.-First National films shown at the Tivoli, these Paramount films might have been second-run for the WB theater cluster, since Paramount did not own theaters in the Frederick area. An interesting (and somewhat unusual) chapter in the “golden age” of motion picture exhibition.  A future post about the Tivoli/Weinberg Center for the Arts (with Warners’ connection) will appear on At The Matinee in the near future.

SIDEBAR: *The original 1934 version of Little Miss Marker, along with the 1948 re-make, Sorrowful Jones was included in the sale of Paramount’s pre-1948 features to MCA in 1958. Because of the success that they had with syndicating the vintage Paramount films to television, MCA would acquire the Decca Record Company (American Decca) in 1962, and along with it – Universal Studios

The later adaptations (1962’s 40 Pounds of Trouble and the 1980 version) are Universal productions. In 2004, Universal Studios (then-owned by French conglomerate Vivendi) merged with General Electric’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC), forming NBCUniversal. Thus, films from Universal’s pre-1948 Paramount holdings will show up on NBC’s Cozi TV channel from time to time (the channel was launched on NBC-owned stations at the end of 2012).

ON ANOTHER NOTE: In 2013, Paramount Pictures decided to outsource their home entertainment division to their competitor, Warner Bros.  Warner Home Video now handles distribution of post-1948 Paramount titles on DVD and Blu-Ray (aside from existing contracts of select Paramount/Republic product released through Criterion, Olive Films, and Legend Films).

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