Monogram Pictures

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Monogram Pictures
Type Wholly owned subsidiary of Allied Artists International
Industry Entertainment
Founded Southern California (1931)
predecessor-in-interest to Allied Artists Pictures Corporation (1946)
Headquarters Los Angeles, California &
New York City, New York
Key people Kim Richards, Chairman and CEO, Robert Fitzpatrick, President
Products Motion Pictures, Television Production, Music, Music Publishing, Entertainment, Television Syndication, Online games, Mobile Entertainment, Video on demand, Digital distribution
Parent Allied Artists International
Website monogrampictures.com

Monogram Pictures Corporation is a Hollywood studio that produced and released films, most on low budgets, between 1931 and 1953, when the firm completed a transition to the name Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. Monogram is considered a leader among the smaller studios sometimes referred to collectively as Poverty Row. The idea behind the studio was that when the Monogram logo appeared on the screen, everyone knew they were in for action and adventure. It is now a division of Allied Artists International.[1] The original sprawling brick complex that was home to both Monogram and Allied Artists remains in place today at 4376 Sunset Drive, utilized as part of the KCET television.[2]

History[edit]

Monogram was created in the early 1930s from two earlier companies, W. Ray Johnston's Rayart Productions (renamed "Raytone" when sound pictures came in) and Trem Carr's Sono Art-World Wide Pictures. Both specialized in low-budget features and, as Monogram Pictures, continued that policy until 1935, with Carr in charge of production. Another independent producer, Paul Malvern, released his Lone Star western productions (starring John Wayne) through Monogram.

The backbone of the studio in those early days was a father-and-son combination: writer/director Robert N. Bradbury and cowboy actor Bob Steele (born Robert A. Bradbury) were on their roster. Bradbury wrote almost all, and directed many, of the early Monogram and Lone Star westerns. While budgets and production values were lean, Monogram offered a balanced program, including action melodramas, classics and mysteries.

In 1935 Johnston and Carr were wooed by Herbert Yates of Consolidated Film Industries; Yates planned to merge Monogram with several other smaller independent companies to form Republic Pictures. However, after short time in this new venture, they discovered that they couldn't get along with Herbert Yates, and they left. Carr moved to Universal Pictures, while Johnston reactivated Monogram in 1937.

Revival and creation of Allied Artists Productions[edit]

Producer Walter Mirisch began at Monogram after World War II as assistant to studio head Steve Broidy. He convinced Broidy that the days of low-budget films were ending, and in 1946 Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists Productions, to make costlier films.

At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 (and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000), Allied Artists' first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000.[3] Subsequent Allied Artists releases were more economical but did have enhanced production values; many of them were filmed in color.

The studio's new policy permitted what Mirisch called "B-plus" pictures, which were released along with Monogram's established line of B fare. Mirisch's prediction about the end of the low-budget film had come true thanks to television, and in September 1952 Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The Monogram brand name was finally retired in 1953. The company was now known as Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.

Allied Artists did retain a few vestiges of its Monogram identity, continuing its popular Stanley Clements action series (through 1953), its B-Westerns (through 1954), its Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (through 1955) and especially its breadwinning comedy series with The Bowery Boys (through 1958, with Clements replacing Leo Gorcey). For the most part, however, Allied Artists was heading in new, ambitious directions under Mirisch. Its greatest artistic success, however, came with a low-budget film firmly in the Monogram tradition, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released by Allied in 1956.

For a time in the mid-1950s the Mirisch family held great influence at Allied Artists, with Walter as executive producer, his brother Harold as head of sales, and brother Marvin as corporate treasurer. They pushed the studio into big-budget filmmaking, signing contracts with William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Gary Cooper. However, when their first big-name productions, Wyler's Friendly Persuasion and Wilder's Love in the Afternoon were box-office flops in 1956–57, studio head Broidy retreated into the kind of pictures Monogram had always favored: low-budget action and thrillers. Mirisch Productions then had success releasing their films through United Artists.

Allied Artists ceased production in 1966 and became a distributor of foreign films, but restarted production with the 1972 release of Cabaret and followed it the next year with Papillon. Both were critical and commercial successes, but high production and financing costs meant they were not big moneymakers for Allied Artists. Allied Artists raised financing for their adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King by selling the European distribution rights to Columbia Pictures and the rest of the backing came from Canadian tax shelters.[4] King was released in 1975, but received disappointing returns. That same year it distributed the French import Story of O, but spent much of its earnings defending itself from obscenity charges.[4]

In 1976, Allied Artists attempted diversification when it merged with consumer producers Kalvex and PSP, Inc. The new Allied Artists Industries, Inc. manufactured pharmaceuticals, mobile homes, and activewear in addition to films.[4]

Demise[edit]

Monogram/Allied Artists survived by finding a niche and serving it well. The company lasted until 1979, when runaway inflation and high production costs pushed it into bankruptcy. The post-1947 Monogram/Allied Artists library was bought by television production company Lorimar; today a majority of this library belongs to Warner Bros. Entertainment. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was sold in 1954 to Associated Artists Productions, which itself was sold to United Artists in 1958. UA merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was not part of the deal with Ted Turner (The rights to some of these films are now owned by MGM, others are now in the public domain). The pre-1936 Monogram library became incorporated into that of Republic, today a part of Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures. Not long after, it[citation needed] was reorganized into Allied Artists International.[citation needed]

Probably the best-known tribute paid to Monogram came from French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard, who dedicated his 1960 film Breathless to Monogram, citing the studio's films as a major influence.

Monogram today[edit]

Today, Monogram Pictures is a division of Allied Artists International.[1] However, as Allied Artists emerged as the predominant brand, Monogram Pictures took a backseat and was dormant for many years. Allied Artists has recently renewed the Monogram Pictures trademarks and announced new productions under the Monogram banner.[5]

Studios[edit]

Sunset Boulevard[edit]

Allied Artists had its studio at 4401 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, on a 4.5-acre lot. The longtime home (since 1971) of former PBS television station KCET,[6] the station sold the studios to the Church of Scientology in April 2011.[7][8]

Monogram Ranch[edit]

Monogram Pictures operated the Monogram Ranch, its movie ranch in Placerita Canyon near Newhall, California, in the northern San Gabriel Mountains foothills. Tom Mix had used the "Placeritos Ranch" for location shooting for his silent western films. Ernie Hickson became the owner in 1936 and reconstructed all the "frontier western town" sets, moved from the nearby Republic Pictures Movie Ranch (present day Disney Golden Oak Ranch), onto his 110-acre (0.45 km2) ranch. A year later Monogram Pictures signed a long-term lease with Hickson for "Placeritos Ranch", with terms that stipulated the ranch be renamed "Monogram Ranch". Actor/cowboy singer/producer Gene Autry purchased the Monogram Ranch property from the Hickson heirs in 1953, renaming it after his film Melody Ranch.[9][10][11] Today it's operated as the "Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio" and "Melody Ranch Studios".[12]

Monogram's stars[edit]

Poster for the movie Wife Wanted (1946), featuring star Kay Francis and other cast members

In its early years, Monogram could seldom afford big-name movie stars and would employ either former silent-film actors who were idle (Herbert Rawlinson, William Collier, Sr.) or young featured players (Ray Walker, Wallace Ford).

In 1938 Monogram began a long and profitable policy of making series and hiring familiar players to star in them. Frankie Darro, Hollywood's foremost tough-kid actor of the 1930s, joined Monogram and stayed with the company until 1950. Comedian Mantan Moreland co-starred in many of the Darros and continued to be a valuable asset to Monogram through 1949.

Juvenile actors Marcia Mae Jones and Jackie Moran carried a series of homespun romances. Crime themes dominated the roster at Monogram in the late thirties and early forties. For example, the very forgettable though endearing Riot Squad (1941) cast Richard Cromwell as a doctor working covertly for the police department to catch the mobsters before his girlfriend Rita Quigley breaks their engagement.

Boris Karloff brought a touch of class to the Monogram release schedule with his "Mr. Wong" mysteries. This prompted producer Sam Katzman to engage Bela Lugosi for a follow-up series of Monogram thrillers. Katzman hit the bull's-eye with his street-gang series The East Side Kids, which ran from 1940 to 1945. East Side star Leo Gorcey then took the reins himself and transformed the series into The Bowery Boys, which became the longest-running feature-film series in movie history (48 titles). During this run, Gorcey became the highest paid actor in Hollywood on an annual basis.[citation needed]

Monogram always catered to western fans. The studio released sagebrush sagas with Bill Cody, Bob Steele, John Wayne, Tom Keene, Tim McCoy, Tex Ritter, and Jack Randall before hitting on the "trio" format teaming veteran saddle pals. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton became The Rough Riders; Ray (Crash) Corrigan, John 'Dusty' King, and Max Terhune were The Range Busters, and Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, and Bob Steele teamed as The Trail Blazers. When Universal Pictures allowed Johnny Mack Brown's contract to lapse, Monogram grabbed him and kept him busy through 1952.

The studio was a launching pad for stars of the future (Preston Foster in Sensation Hunters, Randolph Scott in Broken Dreams, Ginger Rogers in The Thirteenth Guest, Lionel Atwill in The Sphinx, Alan Ladd in Her First Romance, Robert Mitchum in When Strangers Marry. The studio was also a haven for established stars whose careers had stalled: Edmund Lowe in Klondike Fury, John Boles in Road to Happiness, Ricardo Cortez in I Killed That Man, Kay Francis and Bruce Cabot in Divorce.

Monogram did create and nurture its own stars. Gale Storm began her career at RKO Radio Pictures in 1940 but found a home at Monogram. Storm had been promoted from Monogram's Frankie Darro series and was showcased in crime dramas (like Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943) opposite Richard Cromwell and radio's Frank Graham in the title role) and a string of musicals to capitalize on her singing talents (like Campus Rhythm and Nearly Eighteen, both 1943). Another of Monogram's finds during this time was British skating star Belita, who conversely starred in musical revues first and then graduated to dramatic roles, including Suspense (1946), the only A-budget picture to be produced under the Monogram name.

Series films and success[edit]

Eduardo Ciannelli in Dillinger

Monogram continued to experiment with series; some hit and some missed. Definite hits were Charlie Chan (which Monogram picked up after the series had been dropped by Twentieth Century Fox), The Cisco Kid, and Joe Palooka, all proven movie properties abandoned by other studios and revived by Monogram. Less successful were the comic-strip exploits of Snuffy Smith, the mysterious adventures of The Shadow, and Sam Katzman's comedy series co-starring Billy Gilbert, Shemp Howard, and Maxie Rosenbloom.

Later Monogram very nearly hit the big time with King Brothers Productions' Dillinger, a sensationalized crime drama that was a runaway success in 1945, and received Monogram's only major Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Screenplay. The King Brothers released their later films through United Artists. Monogram tried to follow it up immediately (with several "exploitation" melodramas cashing in on topical themes), and did achieve some success, but Monogram never became a respectable "major" studio like former poverty-row denizen Columbia Pictures.

Interstate/Allied Artists Television[edit]

Interstate Television Corporation was the television arm of Monogram/Allied Artists. It mainly syndicated the company's film library, along with the Hal Roach-produced Our Gang shorts (retitled The Little Rascals, later distributed by King World Productions, now CBS Television Distribution). The Tiki Ti, a still-functioning watering hole, was a common drinking spot for Allied-Artists workers in the early sixties.

In later years it became Allied Artists Television after it became safe for film studios to show their names on television.

After Allied Artists' television library was sold to Lorimar's TV production and distribution arms, Lorimar was acquired by Warner Bros. Television who now administer the library.

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Registered Trademark Ownership". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Variety, August 10, 1945
  3. ^ "Out Hollywood Way", New York Times, September 8, 1946, p. X1.
  4. ^ a b c David A. Cook. Lost illusions: American cinema in the shadow of Watergate and ..., Volume 9. Simon & Schuster. pp. 325–328. 
  5. ^ "Trademark Assignment Assignee Details". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 19 September 2010.  and "IMDb Listing for Monogram Pictures". Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "KCET may sell studio to Church of Scientology". KTLA. March 31, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2011. 
  7. ^ Church of Scientology Acquires Hollywood Studio Facility
  8. ^ CBS Los Angeles: "KCET Sells Production Studios To Church Of Scientology", April 25, 2011.
  9. ^ "Placeritos Ranch – Monogram Ranch – Melody Ranch". Melody Ranch History. employees.oxy.edu. Retrieved 8 September 2010. 
  10. ^ Leon Worden. "Melody Ranch: Movie Magic in Placerita Canyon". Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 2003-03-29. 
  11. ^ "The Town". melodyranchstudio.com. Retrieved May 15, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio". melodyranchstudio.com. Retrieved May 15, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ted Okuda, The Monogram Checklist: The Films of Monogram Pictures Corporation, 1931–1952, McFarland & Company, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0750-6.

External links[edit]