Columbia Pictures

}} Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. It was one of the so-called Little Three among the eight major film studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. Today, as part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group—owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony—it is one of the leading film companies in the world, a member of the so-called Big Six. It has no connection with CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System).

The studio, founded in 1919 as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales by brothers Jack and Harry Cohn and Joe Brandt, released its first feature film in August 1922. It adopted the Columbia Pictures name in 1924 and went public two years later. In its early years a minor player in Hollywood, Columbia began to grow in the late 1920s, spurred by a successful association with director Frank Capra. With Capra and others, Columbia became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. In the 1930s, Columbia's major contract stars were Jean Arthur and Cary Grant (who was shared with RKO Pictures). In the 1940s, Rosalind Russell, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, and William Holden became major stars at the studio.

In 1982, the studio was purchased by Coca-Cola; that same year it launched Tri-Star Pictures as a joint venture with HBO and CBS. Five years later, Coca-Cola divested Columbia, which merged with Tri-Star. After a brief period of independence, the combined studio was acquired by Sony in 1989.


The early years

The predecessor of Columbia Pictures, Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales, was founded in 1919 by Harry Cohn, his brother Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt.

Brandt was president of CBC Film Sales, handling sales, marketing and distribution from New York along with Jack Cohn, while Harry Cohn ran production in Hollywood.

Many of the studio's early productions were low-budget affairs; the start-up CBC leased space in a Poverty Row studio on Hollywood's Gower Street. Among Hollywood's elite, CBC's reputation led some to joke that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage."

Reorganization and new name

Following a reorganization, partner Brandt was bought out, and Harry Cohn took over as president. In an effort to improve its image, the Cohn brothers renamed the company Columbia Pictures Corporation in 1924. Columbia's product line consisted mostly of moderately budgeted features and short subjects including comedies, sports films, various serials, and cartoons. Columbia gradually moved into the production of higher-budget fare, building a reputation as one of Hollywood's more important studios.

Helping Columbia's climb was the arrival of an ambitious director, Frank Capra. Between 1927 and 1939, Capra constantly pushed Cohn for better material and bigger budgets. A string of hits he directed in the early 1930s, particularly Lady for a Day and the Oscar-winning It Happened One Night, solidified Columbia's status as a major studio. Other Capra-directed hits followed, including the original version of Lost Horizon, with Ronald Colman, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which made James Stewart a major star.

Columbia couldn't afford to keep a huge roster of contract stars under contract, so they usually borrowed them from other studios. In the 1930's they signed Jean Arthur to a long-term contract, and after The Whole Town's Talking (1935), Arthur became a major comedy star. Cary Grant signed a contract in 1937 and soon after it was altered to a non-exclusive contract shared with RKO.

Short subjects

At Harry Cohn's insistence the studio signed The Three Stooges in 1934. Rejected by MGM (which kept straight-man Ted Healy but let the Stooges go), the Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia between 1934 and 1957. Columbia's short-subject department employed many famous comedians, including Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde, and Hugh Herbert. Almost 400 of Columbia's 529 two-reel comedies were released to television in the late 1950s; to date, only the Stooges and Keaton subjects have been released to home video.

In the early 1930s Columbia distributed Walt Disney's famous Mickey Mouse cartoons. In 1934 the studio established its own animation house, under the Screen Gems brand; Columbia's leading cartoon series were Krazy Kat, Scrappy, The Fox and the Crow, and (very briefly) Li'l Abner. In the late 1940s Columbia agreed to release animated shorts from United Productions of America; these new shorts were more sophisticated than Columbia's older cartoons, and many won critical praise and industry awards.

According to Bob Thomas's book "King Cohn," studio chief Harry Cohn always placed a high priority on serials. Beginning in 1937 Columbia entered the lucrative serial market, and kept making these episodic adventures until 1956, after other studios had discontinued them. The most famous Columbia serials are based on comic-strip or radio characters: Mandrake the Magician, The Shadow, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, The Phantom, Batman, and Superman, among many others.

Columbia also produced musical shorts, sports reels (usually narrated by sportscaster Bill Stern), and travelogues. Its "Screen Snapshots" series, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Hollywood stars, was a Columbia perennial; producer-director Ralph Staub kept this series going through 1958.

Screen Gems

Columbia dropped the Screen Gems brand from its cartoon line, but retained the Screen Gems name for various ancillary activities, including a 16mm film-rental agency and a TV-commercial production company. In 1948, Columbia adopted the Screen Gems name for its television production subsidiary. Screen Gems became a major producer of situation comedies for TV, beginning with Father Knows Best. The Donna Reed Show, The Partridge Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Monkees followed.


In the 1940s, propelled in part by their film's surge in audiences during the war, the studio also benefited from the popularity of its biggest star, Rita Hayworth. Columbia maintained a long list of contractees well into the 1950s: Glenn Ford, Penny Singleton, William Holden, Judy Holliday, The Three Stooges, Ann Miller, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Doran, Jack Lemmon, Cleo Moore, Barbara Hale, Adele Jergens, Larry Parks, Arthur Lake, Lucille Ball, Kerwin Mathews, and Kim Novak.

Harry Cohn monitored the budgets of his films, and the studio got the maximum use out of costly sets, costumes, and props by reusing them in other films. Many of Columbia's low-budget "B" pictures and short subjects have an expensive look, thanks to Columbia's efficient recycling policy. Cohn was reluctant to spend lavish sums on even his most important pictures, and it wasn't until 1944 that he agreed to use three-strip Technicolor in a live-action feature. (Columbia was the last major studio to employ the expensive color process.) Columbia's first Technicolor feature was Cover Girl, starring the vibrant, red-haired Rita Hayworth. Cohn quickly used Technicolor again for the fanciful biography of Frederic Chopin, A Song to Remember, with Cornel Wilde, released in 1945. Another biopic, 1946's The Jolson Story with Larry Parks and Evelyn Keyes, was started in black-and-white, but when Cohn saw how well the project was proceeding, he scrapped the footage and insisted on filming in Technicolor.

In 1948 the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust decision forced Hollywood motion picture companies to divest themselves of the theatre chains that they owned. Columbia, which did not own theaters, was now on equal terms with the largest studios, and soon joined the ranks of the "Big Five" studios.


By 1950 Columbia had discontinued most of its popular series films (Boston Blackie, Blondie, The Lone Wolf, The Crime Doctor, Rusty, etc.) Only Jungle Jim, launched by producer Sam Katzman in 1949, kept going through 1955. Katzman contributed greatly to Columbia's success by producing dozens of topical feature films, including crime dramas, science-fiction stories, and rock-'n'-roll musicals. (For details about these Columbia releases of the 1950s, see the Wikipedia entry on Sam Katzman.) Columbia kept making serials until 1956 and two-reel comedies until 1957, after other studios had discontinued them.

As the larger studios declined in the 1950s, Columbia took the lead, continuing to produce 40-plus pictures a year, offering adult fare that often broke ground and kept audiences coming to theaters. A good example of a ground-breaking Columbia film was its adaptation of the controversial James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, released in 1953, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Columbia also won the next year (1954) with another hard-hitting story, On the Waterfront. The studio won Best Picture again in 1957, when it released The Bridge on the River Kwai with William Holden and Alec Guinness.

Columbia also released the made-in-England Warwick Films by producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli as well as many films by producer Carl Foreman who resided in England.

After Harry Cohn's death

Columbia president and production director Harry Cohn died in February 1958.

By the late 1960s, Columbia had an ambiguous identity, offering old-fashioned fare like A Man for All Seasons and Oliver! along with the more contemporary Easy Rider and The Monkees. After turning down releasing Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions James Bond films, Columbia hired Broccoli's former partner Irving Allen to produce the Matt Helm series with Dean Martin.

Columbia Pictures Corporation was renamed Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. in 1968. Nearly bankrupt by the early 1970s, the studio was saved via a radical overhaul: the Gower Street studios were sold and a new management team was brought in. While fiscal health was restored through a careful choice of star-driven vehicles, the studio's image was badly marred by the David Begelman check-forging scandal. Begelman eventually resigned (later ending up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), and the studio's fortunes gradually recovered.

From 1971 until the end of 1987, Columbia's international distribution operations were a joint venture with Warner Bros., and in some countries, this joint venture also distributed films from other companies (like EMI Films and Cannon Films in the UK). Warners pulled out of the venture in 1988 to join up with Walt Disney Pictures.

In 1974, Columbia retired the Screen Gems name from television, renaming its television division Columbia Pictures Television.

1982-89: Coca-Cola and Tri-Star

With a healthier balance-sheet, Columbia was bought by Coca-Cola in 1982, after having considered buying the struggling Walt Disney Productions. Studio head Frank Price mixed big hits like Tootsie, The Karate Kid, and Ghostbusters with many costly flops. In 1985, Columbia acquired Norman Lear and Jerry Perenchio's Embassy Pictures division Embassy Television (included Tandem Productions), mostly for its library of highly successful television series such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Expanding its television franchise, Columbia also bought Merv Griffin Enterprises the following year, including the rights to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!

To share the increasing cost of film production, Coke brought in two outside investors whose earlier efforts in Hollywood had come to nothing. In 1982, Columbia, Time Inc.'s HBO and CBS announced, as a joint venture, "Nova Pictures"; this enterprise was to be renamed Tri-Star Pictures. CBS dropped out of the venture in 1984. Three years later, HBO also dropped out, and Tri-Star expanded into the television business with its new Tri-Star Television division. In December 1987, Tri-Star Television was folded into Columbia Pictures Television. In 1986, Columbia recruited British producer David Puttnam to head the studio. He held the position for only one year.

The volatile film business made Coke shareholders nervous, and following the box-office failure, Ishtar, Coke spun off its entertainment holdings in 1987. The new stand-alone company, Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc., brought Tri-Star fully into the fold in December 1987, creating Columbia/Tri-Star. Puttnam was succeeded by Dawn Steel, the first woman to run a Hollywood motion picture studio. Other small-scale, "boutique" entities were created: Nelson Entertainment, a joint venture with British and Canadian partners; Triumph Films, jointly owned with French studio Gaumont; and Castle Rock Entertainment. In 1989, further expanding the TV franchise, Columbia Pictures Television acquired Barris Industries.

The Sony years to present

The Columbia Pictures empire was sold in 1989 to electronics giant Sony, one of several Japanese firms then buying American properties. Sony then hired two producers, Peter Guber and Jon Peters to serve as co-heads of production when Sony also acquired Guber-Peters Entertainment. Guber and Peters had just signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros; to extricate them from this contract, Sony ended up paying hundreds of millions of dollars, gave up a half-interest in its Columbia House Records Club mail-order business, and bought from Warner the former MGM studio in Culver City which Warners had acquired in its takeover of Lorimar in 1990. Sony spent $100 million to refurbish the rechristened Sony Pictures Studios. Guber and Peters set out to prove they were worth this fortune, and though there were to be some successes, there were also many costly flops. Peters resigned in 1991, to be followed soon after by Guber.

The entire operation was reorganized and renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) in 1991, and at the same time, TriStar (which had officially lost its hyphen) relauched its television division. Publicly humiliated, Sony suffered an enormous loss on its investment in Columbia, taking a $2.7 billion write-off in 1994. John Calley took over as SPE president in November 1996, installing Amy Pascal as Columbia Pictures president and Chris Lee as president of production at TriStar. By the next spring, the studios were clearly rebounding, setting a record pace at the box office. In 1998, Columbia and TriStar merged to form the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group (a.k.a. Columbia TriStar Pictures), though both studios still produce under their own names. Pascal retained her position as president of the newly united Columbia Pictures, while Lee became the combined studio's head of production.

In 1994, Columbia Pictures Television and TriStar Television were integrated into Columbia TriStar Television (CTT). In 1994 as well, the television library expanded when Susan Stafford sold Barry & Enright Productions, which included the post-scandal Jack Barry Productions (excluding those owned by NBC), to CTT. The company also purchased Bob Stewart Productions. In 1999, Sony Pictures Entertainment relaunched the Screen Gems brand as a horror and independent film distribution company and TriStar Television was folded into CTT. Two years later, CPT was folded into CTT as well.

In the 2000s, Sony broadened its release schedule by creating Sony Pictures Classics for arthouse fare, and by backing Revolution Studios, the production company headed by Joe Roth. In 2002, Columbia TriStar Television was renamed Sony Pictures Television.

The Columbia logo

Columbia's logo, a lady carrying a torch (suggestive of the Statue of Liberty), originally appeared in 1924. The first model for the logo is unknown, although Bette Davis claimed that Claudia Dell was used. In 1987, People Magazine reported that a Texas-born model and minor actress Amelia Batchler was the lady from 1933.

The original version of the Torch Lady depicted her draped with an American flag, the word "Columbia" being an informal synonym for the United States. This was eventually changed to a unicolor drape. The modern color logo has a bluish drape.

In 1936, the logo was somewhat changed, with the Columbia "Torch Lady" appearing with shimmering light behind her in place of the more artificial-looking rays of light projecting from the torch. Actress Evelyn Venable was the original model for this logo, which was used for a total of 40 years. 1976's Taxi Driver was one of the last films to use the "Torch Lady" in her classic appearance.

In 1976, Columbia (like other studios) experimented with a new logo. It began with the familiar lady with a torch. Then, the camera zoomed in on the torch, and the torch-light rays then formed an abstract blue semi-circle depicting the top half of the rays of light, with the name of the studio appearing under it. (A variation on this was used in the 2007 film Superbad.) In Alternate logo, the Blue clouds are bright, the Torch Lady, and bright sunburst look enhanced. The television counterpart used only the latter part of the logo, and the semi-circle was orange.

This logo was replaced with a modernized version of the "Torch Lady" in 1981. In 1993, the logo was repainted digitally by New Orleans artist, Michael Deas. Although the woman closely resembles Dorothy Kilgallen and it has been rumored that Annette Bening was the model, in fact, Deas used a model named Jenny Joseph, and said he used a composite for the face.

Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia

Columbia Pictures launched Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia in 1999.

Selected filmography


See also

External links

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