On this day in 1916, Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company merges with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, forming the Famous Players-Lasky Company. The company will later become Paramount Pictures, one of the first and most successful Hollywood motion-picture studios.
Zukor, a Hungarian immigrant who became a successful Chicago furrier, entered the film business in the early 1900s, financing penny arcades. He soon partnered with Marcus Loew to develop a chain of theaters. Zukor parted ways with Loew in 1912 and purchased the American rights to the French-British film Queen Elizabeth, starring the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. The film was a hit stateside, and Zukor invested the proceeds from its exclusive distribution into his own production company, Famous Players Film Company. The original idea was to make films featuring famous stage actors starring in current Broadway hits.
Lasky, a former vaudeville performer and theatrical producer, teamed up with his brother-in-law Sam Goldfish (later Goldwyn) and the director Cecil B. DeMille to found the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company in 1913. The company’s first film, a Western called The Squaw Man (1914), became a critical and financial success. It was one of the first feature-length films to be produced in Hollywood.
After Lasky and Famous Players merged, they absorbed a dozen other production companies and acquired the film financing and distribution company Paramount Pictures, established by W.W. Hodkinson in 1914. During the next 10 years, the company acquired hundreds of theaters throughout the United States. In 1927, the company changed its name to Paramount Famous Lasky Corp., then to Paramount Publix Corp. in 1930. Paramount soon became one of Hollywood’s most powerful studios, featuring the work of such stars as Mary Pickford, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino and releasing blockbusters like The Ten Commandments (1923).
After surviving a brush with bankruptcy and reorganization in 1933, the company–now known as Paramount Pictures–continued to attract top stars through the 1930s and ‘40s, including Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby. In 1949, after a long and complicated antitrust case, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the studio to sell its theater chains as part of the court’s effort to end studio monopoly of the film industry.
Despite the setbacks, Paramount continued to release hits, including Sabrina (1954) and Psycho (1960). In 1966, Gulf and Western purchased the studio, which continued to produce such hits as the three Godfather films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and its sequels, and the Indiana Jones franchise, beginning with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Gulf and Western changed its name to Paramount Communications in 1989. In 1994, the communications and media giant Viacom Inc. acquired Paramount Communications, including Paramount Pictures Corporation.