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Spyros Skouras

[skoor-uhs; Gk. skoo-rahs]
Spyros P. Skouras (March 28, 1893August 16, 1971) was an American movie executive who was the president of the Twentieth Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. He resigned June 27, 1962 effective September 30. An immigrant to America from Greece, his accent was so pronounced that Bob Hope would joke "Spyros has been here twenty years but he still sounds as if he's coming next week." Skouras oversaw the production of such epics as "Cleopatra" with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as the creation of Century City.

The Early Years

Born in Skourohorion, Greece, Skouras along with his brothers Charles Skouras and George Skouras emigrated to America in 1910. They finally ended-up in St. Louis Missuri. The sons of a poor sheep herder rose to become top movie executives in some of Hollywood's biggest studios.

Living frugally on wages as busboys and bartenders in downtown hotels, the brothers pooled their savings of $3500 in 1914. In partnership with two other Greeks, the Skourases constructed a modest nickelodeon at 1420 Market Street on the site of today's Kiel Opera House. This initial property, named the Olympia, was quickly followed by the acquisition of other theaters. The brothers incorporated in 1924 with $400,000 capital stock. By then more than thirty local theaters belonged to the Skouras Brothers Co. of St. Louis. The biggest moment for the Skouras empire came when their dream of building a world-class movie palace in downtown St. Louis was grandly realized in 1926 when the $5.5 million Ambassador Theatre Building opened (this theater re-opened in 1939 as the New Fox Theatre). In 1929, following the depression, the triumvirate sold out to Warner Brothers and moved east to claim top executive places in the industry.

From 1929 to 1931 Spyros worked as a general manager of the Warner Brothers Theater Circuit in America. During these hard years, with the depression running wild, Spyros managed to eliminate losses and eventually quadrupled the profits of the chain. Despite this success, his wish to be his own boss again, made him voluntarily leave the company.

In 1932, the Skouras Brothers (Charles, Spyros and George) took over the management of over 500 Fox-West Coast theaters. Once again the phantasm of bankruptcy threatened one of Hollywoods early film studios. The three brothers did what they could to stave of a disaster.

Rise to fame

During the the following years Spyros helped merge Fox with 20th Century films. He later served as president of 20th Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. Spyros and his brothers were also major stockholders of 20th Century Fox; at some point their assets amounted to amazing $6,000,000.

During Skouras' tenure - which was the longest in the company's history - he worked to rescue the faltering movie industry from television's lure. 20th Century Fox's famous advertising slogan, Movies are Better than Ever, gained credibility in 1953 when Spyros introduced Cinemascope in the studio's groundbreaking feature film The Robe. With his introduction of Cinemascope, Skouras did much to save the movie industry from its newly invented competitor - television.

Closing Curtain

And yet, like many movie tycoons since, Skouras was brought low by the excesses on such films as "Cleopatra," where cost overruns set in motion a shareholder revolt that dethroned him. Darryl F. Zanuck was elected president of the company while Spyros was relegated to the role of chairman of the company for a number of years.

In parallell with his work in the film industry Skouras had, like many of his countrymen, invested in the shipping industry. Thus in the 1960s his Prudential Lines owned seven tankers that cruised the world seas.

Skouras died from a heart attack at the age of 78.


Curti, Carlo (1967). Skouras, King of Fox Studios. Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company.

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