Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2012

Signing of the United Artist contract in 1919

February 5, 1919: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford join together to form United Artists (UA). They each owned 20% of the company with lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo owing the remaining one-fifth. Each of the four stars was to independently produce five pictures per year. Within a year, the film industry had changed. Feature films lasting 90 minutes (eight reels) were replacing shorts. By 1924 Griffith had dropped out. Others were brought in for financial reasons. Joseph Schenck joined and brought along guest producers Samuel Goldwin, Alexander Korda, and Howard Hughes.

By 1933 the talkies had essentially shut out Pickford and Fairbanks. UA restructured under Darryl F. Zanuck. Walt Disney, Walter Wanger, and David O. Selznick became “producing partners.” Through the next few decades the studio held on to some measure of success. There were reorganizations and mergers along the way. However, UA’s star power continued to decline. By the new millennium they were not much more than a distribution company. On November 2, 2006 Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner announced they were resurrecting UA. Paula Wagner’s departure from the studio was announced August 14, 2008. Cruise maintains a small stake in UA, now a subsidiary of MGM Holdings, Inc.

Charlie Chaplin was born in England in 1889. Chaplin’s natural talent led him to the theater. He first toured in the US in 1910. He was hired by Keystone Film Company and his first one-reel comedy, Making a Living, made him an instant success. He not only acted, but produced movies. He also wrote and played musical background. Douglas Fairbanks was born in Colorado in 1883. He began doing amateur theater at an early age and was a sensation by the time he was a teen. His first film, The Lamb, displayed to great advantage the athletic abilities for which he was to become so famous.

Mary Pickford, also called America’s Sweetheart, was born in Canada in 1892. Like Fairbanks, Pickford worked with D.W. Griffith soon after coming to Hollywood. Mary starred in 52 feature films and by 1920 her pictures were grossing over $1 million. Pickford and Fairbanks eventually divorced their respective spouses and were married in 1920. D.W. Griffith was born in Kentucky in 1875. He moved to Hollywood to become a script writer and became an actor and producer instead. He is credited with producing the first feature-length film in 1915. Chaplin called Griffith “The Teacher of us All.”

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. – Charlie Chaplin

Every week we had a different story and setting. Some were costume and period; some were modern. Some were comedy; some were tragedy. Some were melodrama. They were all different. – Douglas Fairbanks

I pick out young people and teach them in less time than it would take me to alter the methods of people from the boards, and I get actors who look the parts they have to fill. – D. W. Griffith

One of the great penalties those of us who live our lives in full view of the public must pay is the loss of that most cherished birthright of man’s, privacy. – Mary Pickford

Also on this day:

Articles of Confederation – In 1778, South Carolina became the first state to ratify the Articles.
Roger Williams – In 1631, Williams arrived in Boston.
Bombs Away – In  1958, a USAF plane drops a nuclear bomb in the waters off Savannah, Georgia.


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