|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2013)|
|Fate||Reincorporated as Universal Studios in 1997|
Universal Music Group
|Key people||Jules Stein and William R. Goodheart, Jr., founders|
|Products||Television Production and music production|
|Parent||Matsushita Electric (1990–1995)
MCA, Inc. (or Music Corporation of America) was an American media company. Initially starting in the music business, they would next become a dominant force in the film business, and later expanded into the television business. MCA published music, booked acts, ran a record company, represented film, television and radio stars, and eventually produced and sold television programs to the three major television networks. MCA, Inc. is the legal predecessor of NBCUniversal, which since March 2013 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast. MCA's other legal successor is Vivendi, owner of MCA's former music assets, now known as Universal Music Group (which has absorbed PolyGram and EMI) and Universal Music Publishing Group.
MCA was formed in 1924 by Jules Stein and William R. Goodheart, Jr. as Music Corporation of America, a music booking agency based in Chicago, Illinois. MCA helped pioneer modern practices of touring bands and name acts. Early on, MCA booked such prominent artists as King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton for clubs and speakeasies run by legendary notorious Chicago mobsters such as Al Capone and others.
Lew Wasserman joined MCA in 1936 at the age of 23 and rose through the ranks to MCA for more than four decades, with Sonny Werblin as his right-hand man. Wasserman helped create MCA's radio show Kay Kyser and His Kollege of Musical Knowledge, which debuted on NBC Radio that same year. Following that success, Stein installed Wasserman in New York City in 1937, but Wasserman convinced him that Hollywood was the best place for the company's growth.
The company was guided by a codification of Stein's pet policies known as "The Rules of The Road". The rules were passed down from the prohibition era, Chicago area MCA (referenced in "Citizen Cohn" and "The King and Queen of Hollywood" books.) to the LA area 1940s era movie actor rep firm. The rules were passed to the 1950s generation of MCA talent agents including A. Jerold Perenchio who'd later own and head a number of businesses including the 1992 to 2007 version of Univision. Perenchio is well known for his version of the rules (now up to twenty rules) which vary from year to year and have some internal contradictions (AJP pointed out that while there is a "no neoptism" rule he's aware his son was on the board of directors at the time.)
In 1939, MCA's headquarters moved from Chicago to Beverly Hills, California, creating a movie division and beginning to acquire talent agencies and represent established actors such as James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, and Ronald Reagan, whom Wasserman became very close with personally. In later decades, Wasserman would become a guiding force in Reagan's political ambition by helping Reagan to win the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), then election as Governor of California in 1966, and finally President of the United States in 1980.
By the end of the 1930s, MCA would become the largest talent agency in the world with over 700 clients which includes movie stars, recording artists, Broadway actors, radio stars, producers, and directors. Its aggressive acquisition of its clientele in all entertainment sectors earned MCA's nickname of The Octopus. This behavior led U.S. Department of Justice agents to investigate not only whether MCA was a monopoly breaking anti-trust laws, but also its suspected connections to underworld criminal activities. This investigation would continue for the next few decades.
In 1948, Jules Stein moved up as MCA's first chairman, giving Lew Wasserman charge of day-to-day operations of the company as president. That year, Stein and Wasserman decided to get into a new medium that decades later, would changed the entertainment landscape forever: television. Although many motion picture studios would not touch this new medium, thinking it was just a fad and would fade away, MCA decided to embrace this new phenomenon. At first however, the company needed to get a waiver from The Screen Actors Guild which ruled at the time that talent agencies such as MCA were prohibited from producing TV shows or films. Thanks to the newly elected SAG president, Ronald Reagan, MCA was granted a waiver to start producing TV shows.
After the waiver was granted, the company formed MCA Television Limited for syndication. In 1950 Revue Productions, once a live concert subsidiary that produced "Stage Door Canteen" live events for the USO during World War II, was re-launched as MCA's television production subsidiary. By 1956, Revue became the top supplier of television for all broadcast networks, spanning three decades of television programs such as Armour Theater, General Electric Theater, Leave It to Beaver, Wagon Train, and many others. Prior to 1958, all Revue's shows were filmed at the old Republic Pictures studio lot in Studio City, California.
In 1958, MCA bought the 423-acre (1.71 km2) Universal Studios lot from Universal Pictures for $11 million and renamed it, as well as the actual television unit, Revue Studios. As part of the deal, MCA leased the studios back to Universal for $2 million a year, plus unlimited access to MCA's clients such as Stewart, Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock to make films for Universal.
Stein, who by this time was the sole owner of MCA, decided to take the company public by giving 51% of his ownership of MCA to his employees, which included a 20% stake for Wasserman. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange and was incorporated as MCA Inc. on November 10, 1958.  A couple of years later, Alfred Hitchcock gave MCA his rights to Psycho and his television anthology in exchange for 150,000 shares, making him the third largest investor in MCA his own boss at Universal.
Takeover of Universal Pictures and Decca Records
In 1962, MCA entered a merger of equals with New York-based American Decca Records, with MCA as the surviving company. Decca at the time owned Coral Records and Brunswick Records, as well as a 89% controlling stake in Universal Pictures. In order to acquire Universal, MCA was forced to dissolve its talent agency—which represented most of the industry's biggest names—by Robert F. Kennedy's Department of Justice, as owning both the movie studio and a talent agency would violate antitrust laws. The agents quickly formed several dozen new firms, representing talent. Many of these are woven into the corporate fabric of today's talent management agencies. Jerry Perenchio's firm, UTM (United Talent Management) represented Elizabeth Taylor and Muhammad Ali. By the end of the year, MCA would assume full ownership of Universal upon the completion of the merger.
In 1964, MCA formed Universal City Studios, Inc. to merge both Universal Pictures and Revue Productions division.
In 1967, the MCA Records label was established outside North America to issue releases by MCA's labels. Decca, Kapp and Uni were merged into MCA Records at Universal City, California in 1971; the three labels maintained their identities for a short time but were soon retired in favor of the MCA label. The first MCA Records release in the US was former Uni artist Elton John's Crocodile Rock in 1972. In 1973, the final Decca pop label release was issued.
In 1973, Stein stepped down from the company he founded and Wasserman took over as chairman and chief executive officer, while Sidney Sheinberg was appointed president and chief operating officer of MCA. Other executives within MCA were Lawrence R. Barnett, who ran the agency's live acts division during its glory agency years in the 1950s and 1960s, and Ned Tanen, head of Universal Pictures. Tanen was behind Universal hits such as Animal House, John Hughes's Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.
MCA issued soundtrack albums for most films released by Universal Pictures.
In 1975, the company entered the book publishing business with the acquisition of G. P. Putnam's Sons. In 1979, it acquired ABC Records along with its subsidiaries Paramount Records, Impulse Records, and Dot Records. ABC had acquired the Paramount and Dot labels when they purchased Gulf+Western's record labels.
The Chess Records catalog was acquired from the remnants of Sugarhill in 1985. Motown Records was bought in 1988 (and sold to PolyGram in 1993). GRP Records (which became MCA's label for jazz music and thus began managing the company's jazz catalogue) and Geffen Records (which served as another mainstream music subsidiary) were acquired in 1990. In the same year, MCA was purchased by the Japanese multinational conglomerate Matsushita Electric.
MCA also acquired other assets outside of the music industry. It became a shareholder in USA Network in 1981, eventually owning 50% of the network (the other half was owned by Paramount). In 1982, their publishing division, G. P. Putnam's Sons, bought Grosset & Dunlap from Filmways. In 1984, MCA bought Walter Lantz Productions and its characters. It also bought a TV station in New York City, WWOR-TV (renamed from WOR-TV), in 1987, from RKO General, which was in the midst of a licensing scandal. It was forced to sell the station in 1991 by the Federal Communications Commission after Matsushita Electric's takeover of MCA because foreign companies could not own over 25% of a US TV station.
In 1995, Seagram Company Ltd. acquired 80% of MCA from Panasonic and the following year the new owners dropped the MCA name; the company became Universal Studios, Inc. and its music division, MCA Music Entertainment Group, was renamed Universal Music Group. MCA Records continued to live on as a label within the Universal Music Group. The following year, G. P. Putnam's Sons was sold to the Penguin Group.
In 1996, MCA filed a lawsuit against Viacom over their launch of the TV Land cable network. Viacom had purchased Paramount in 1994, and the contract for USA Networks prohibited either of their owners from operating cable channels outside the joint venture. Viacom had owned MTV Networks (the parent of TV Land) since 1985. The suit was settled when Viacom sold MCA its half of the joint venture. TV Land eventually added shows from the MCA/Universal library in 1999.
In 1998, Seagram acquired PolyGram from Philips and merged it with its music holdings. When Seagram's drinks business was bought by France-based Pernod Ricard, its media holdings (including Universal) were sold to Vivendi, which became Vivendi Universal in 2000.
In the spring of 2003, MCA Records was folded into Geffen Records. Its country music label, MCA Nashville Records, is still in operation. MCA's classical music catalog is managed by Deutsche Grammophon.
MCA's non-music assets at the time of the company's renaming, including Universal Studios and the 50% interest in USA Networks, are now owned by NBC Universal (now full owner of USA), which was 80% owned by General Electric, and 20% owned by Vivendi. In 2009, a deal was struck in which GE would buy out Vivendi's interest, and sold a controlling 51% interest to Comcast afterwards. The sale was completed on January 28, 2011, with General Electric owning 49% of the newly formed NBCUniversal. Comcast would buy GE's stake two years later.
The landmark Paul Williams-designed Beverly Hills property that MCA once occupied is now the headquarters for Paradigm Talent Agency. Conference rooms inside the building are named after Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman in honor of the legendary occupants.
- Stephen Rebello, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Soft Skull Press, Berkeley, 1990.
- Lieberman, David. "Comcast Completes Acquisition Of GE’s 49% Stake In NBCUniversal." Deadline.com (March 19, 2013)