Republic Pictures was an American independent film production-distribution corporation with studio facilities, operating from 1935 through 1959, and was best known for specializing in westerns, movie serials, and B films emphasizing mystery and action.
The studio was also responsible for financing and distributing one Shakespeare film, Orson Welles' Macbeth (1948), and several of the films of John Ford during the 1940s and early 1950s. It was also notable for developing the careers of John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.
Created in 1935 by Herbert J. Yates, a longtime investor in film and music properties and founder and president of film processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries, Republic was the result of a union of six smaller Poverty Row studios.
In the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Yates' laboratory was servicing many Poverty Row studios. In 1935 Yates saw a chance to become a studio head himself. Six established Poverty Row companies (Monogram Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures) were all in debt to Yates' lab. He prevailed upon these studios to merge under his leadership (or otherwise face foreclosure on their outstanding lab bills). Yates' new company, Republic Pictures Corporation, was established as a collaborative enterprise focused on low-budget product.
- The largest of Republic's components was Monogram Pictures, run by producers Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston, which specialized in "B" films and operated a nationwide distribution system. (Monogram was revived in 1937.)
- The most technically advanced of the studios that now comprised Republic was Nat Levine's Mascot Pictures Corporation, which had been making serials almost exclusively since the mid-1920s and had a first-class production facility, the former Mack Sennett-Keystone lot in Studio City. Mascot also had just discovered Gene Autry and signed him to a contract as a singing cowboy star.
- Larry Darmour's Majestic Pictures had developed a following, with big-name stars and rented sets giving his humble productions a polished look.
- Republic took its original "Liberty Bell" logo from M. H. Hoffman's Liberty Pictures (not to be confused with Frank Capra's short-lived Liberty Films that produced his It's a Wonderful Life, ironically now owned by Republic).
- Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures, two sister companies under the same ownership, were skilled in producing low-budget melodramas and mysteries.
Acquiring and integrating these six companies allowed Republic to begin life with an experienced production staff, a company of veteran B-film supporting players and at least one very promising star, a complete distribution system and a functioning and modern studio. In exchange for merging, the principals were promised independence in their productions under the Republic aegis, and higher budgets with which to improve the quality of the films.
After he had "learned the ropes" of film production and distribution from his partners, Yates began asserting more and more authority over their film departments, and dissension arose in the ranks. Carr and Johnston left and reactivated Monogram Pictures; Darmour resumed independent production for Columbia Pictures; Levine left and never recovered from the loss of his studio, staff and stars, all of whom now were contracted to Republic and Yates. Freed of partners, Yates presided over what was now his film studio and acquiring senior production and management staff who served him as employees, not experienced peers with independent ideas and agendas.
Types of films
In its early years Republic was itself sometimes labelled a "poverty row" company, as its primary products were B movies and serials. Republic, however, showed more interest in, and provided larger budgets to, these films than many of the larger studios were doing, and certainly more than other independents were able to. The heart of the company was its westerns, and many western-film leads, among them John Wayne, Gene Autry, Rex Allen and Roy Rogers, became recognizable stars at Republic. However, by the mid-1940s Yates was producing better-quality pictures, even mounting big-budget fare like The Quiet Man, Sands of Iwo Jima, Johnny Guitar and The Maverick Queen.
In 1947 Republic incorporated animation into its Gene Autry feature film Sioux City Sue. It turned out well enough for the studio to dabble in animated cartoons. After leaving Warner Bros. Cartoons in 1946 (reportedly because of angering his peers at the studio's cartoon division for taking credit that was not really his), Bob Clampett approached Republic and wound up directing a single cartoon, It's a Grand Old Nag, featuring the equine character Charlie Horse. Republic management, however, had second thoughts owing to dwindling profits, and discontinued the series. Clampett took his direction credit under the name "Kilroy". Republic also made another cartoon series in 1949 (this time without Clampett) called Jerky Journeys, but only four cartoons were made.
From the mid-1940s Republic films often featured Vera Hruba Ralston, a former ice-skater from Czechoslovakia who had won the heart of studio boss Yates, becoming the second Mrs. Yates in 1949. She was originally featured in musicals as Republic's answer to Sonja Henie, but Yates tried to build her up as a dramatic star, casting her in leading roles opposite important male stars. Yates billed her as "the most beautiful woman in films," but her charms were lost on the moviegoing public and exhibitors complained that Republic was making too many Ralston pictures. Years later John Wayne admitted that the reason he left Republic in 1952 was the threat of having to make another picture—he had endured two—with Miss Ralston. Yates remained Ralston's biggest supporter, and she continued to appear in Republic features until its very last production.
With production costs increasing, Yates organised Republic's output into four types of films: "Jubilee", usually a western shot in seven days for about $50,000; "Anniversary", filmed in 14 to 15 days for $175,000 to $200,000; "Deluxe", major productions made with a budget of around $500,000; and "Premiere", which were usually made by top-rank directors who did not usually work for Republic, such as John Ford, Fritz Lang and Frank Borzage, and which could have a budget of $1,000,000 or more. Some of these "Deluxe" films were from independent production companies that were picked up for release by Republic.
Although Republic made most of its films in black and white, it occasionally produced a higher-budgeted film, such as The Red Pony (1949) and The Quiet Man (1952), in Technicolor. During the late 1940s and 1950s Yates utilized a low-cost Cinecolor process called Trucolor in many of his films, including Johnny Guitar (1954), The Last Command and Magic Fire (1956).
In the television era
Republic was one of the first Hollywood studios to offer its film library to television. In 1951 Republic established a subsidiary, Hollywood Television Service, to sell screening rights in its vintage westerns and action thrillers. Many of these films, especially the westerns, were edited to fit in a one-hour television slot. Hollywood Television Service also produced television shows filmed in the same style as Republic's serials, such as The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956). Also, in 1952 the Republic studio lot became the first home of MCA's series factory, Revue Productions. While it appeared that Republic was well suited for television series production, it did not have the finances or vision to do so. Yet by the mid 1950s, thanks to its sale of old features and leasing of studio space to MCA, television was the prop holding up Republic Pictures. During this period Republic produced Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe; unsuccessful as a theater release, the 12-part serial was later sold to NBC for television distribution. Talent agent MCA exerted influence at the studio, bringing in some high-paid clients for occasional features, and it was rumored at various times that either MCA or deposed MGM head Louis B. Mayer would buy the studio outright. From 1953 to 1954 Republic produced The Pride of the Family, a situation comedy on ABC starring Paul Hartman, Fay Wray and Natalie Wood. From 1954 to 1955 the studio produced Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis. The syndicated series was the first western to win an Emmy Award.
As the demand and market for motion pictures declined with the increasing popularity of television, Republic began to cut back on its films, slowing production from 40 features annually in the early 1950s to 18 in 1957. A tearful Yates informed shareholders at the 1958 annual meeting that feature film production was ending; the distribution offices were shut down the following year. In 1959, Victor M. Carter, a Los Angeles businessman and turn-around specialist, acquired controlling interest in the floundering company, becoming its president. Carter turned Republic around, building it into a diversified business which included plastics and appliances in addition to its film and studio rentals and Consolidated Film Industries, renaming the company Republic Corporations. Having used the studio for series production for years, Republic began leasing its backlot to other firms, including CBS in 1963. In 1967 Republic's studio was purchased outright by CBS  and, having more than quadrupled the stock price for shareholders, Carter sold his controlling interest. Other than producing a 1966 package of 26 "Century 66" 100-minute made-for-TV movies edited from some of the studio's serials to cash in on the popularity of the Batman television series, Republic Pictures' role in Hollywood ended with the sale of the studio lot. Republic sold its library of films to National Telefilm Associates (NTA).
Today the studio lot is known as CBS Studio Center. In 2006 it became home to the network's Los Angeles stations KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV. In 2008 the CBS Network relocated from its Hollywood Television City location to the Radford lot. All network executives now reside on the lot.
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During the early 1980s NTA resyndicated most of the Republic film library for use by then-emerging cable television and found itself so successful with these product lines that in January 1985 the company was renamed Republic Pictures Corporation. A television production unit was set up under the Republic name and offered, among other things, the CBS series Beauty and the Beast and game show Press Your Luck (the rights to the latter series have since acquired by FremantleMedia). There were also a few theatrical films, including Freeway, Ruby in Paradise, Dark Horse, Live Nude Girls and Bound. The "new" Republic also began marketing the original's serial library on videotape.
In 1993 Republic won a landmark legal decision reactivating the copyright on Frank Capra's 1946 RKO film It's a Wonderful Life (under NTA, they had already acquired the film's negative, music score, and the story on which it was based, "The Greatest Gift").
On April 27, 1994, Spelling Entertainment, headed by Aaron Spelling and controlled by Blockbuster Entertainment, acquired Republic Pictures. Soon after, Spelling consolidated its many divisions; its established home video unit, Worldvision Home Video merged with Republic's and took the latter's name. Later that year, Blockbuster merged with Viacom.
In September 1998, Spelling licensed the American and Canadian video rights to its library to Artisan Entertainment, while the library itself continued to be released under the Republic name and logo. By the end of the decade, Viacom bought the portion of Spelling it did not own previously; thus, Republic became a wholly owned division of Paramount. Artisan (later sold to Lionsgate Home Entertainment) continued to use the Republic name, logo and library under license from Paramount. Republic Pictures' holdings consist of a catalog of 3,000 films and TV series, including the original Republic library (except for the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry catalogs, owned by their respective estates) and inherited properties from NTA and Aaron Spelling.
In 2012, library holder Richard Feiner & Company sued Paramount for the unauthorized exploitation of 17 films from the 1940s and 1950s originally released by Warner Bros. Feiner sold Republic Pictures the "rights, and interest of every kind, nature, and description throughout the Universe" to the films in 1986, but retained the license to exploit the films in major U.S. markets (New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, etc.). Plaintiff claimed that the films aired on cable several times without their knowledge. The case was later settled, with Feiner now sharing in the royalties.
Republic has since folded and as of the present is part of Melange Pictures, LLC, established by Viacom as a holding company for the Republic library. The video rights, in turn, shifted from Lionsgate to Olive Films (under license from Paramount). However, both the Republic name and its logo are still being used on its in-house reissues on DVD and Blu-ray through Olive as they remain licensed trademarks of Viacom.
Notable Republic Pictures
- Feuer, Cy and Gross, Ken I Got The Show Right Here: The Amazing, True Story of How an Obscure Brooklyn Horn Player Became the Last Great Broadway Showman Simon & Schuster 2003
- Beck, Jerry; Amidi, Amid. "It's a Grand Old Nag". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
- p.161 Harkins, Anthony Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon" 2005 Oxford University Press
- p.276 Roberts, Randy & Olson, James Stewart John Wayne: American 1997 University of Nebraska Press
- Naturama - Republic's New Wide - Screen Process. Widescreenmuseum.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-18.
- Tugend, Tom (April 1, 2004). "Victor M. Carter Dies at 94". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Staff Writer, Times (April 2, 2004). "Victor Carter, 94; Businessman Gave Time, Money to Southland Charities". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Hurst, Richard M. (2007). Republic Studios: Beyond Poverty Row and the Majors, p. 222. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press
- "Republic Pictures' Eagle Flies Again". Los Angeles Times. January 8, 1985.
- RICHARD FEINER v. PARAMOUNT 95 A.D.3d 232 (2012) 941 N.Y.S.2d 157 2012 NY Slip Op 2593 RICHARD FEINER AND COMPANY INC., Respondent, v. PARAMOUNT PICTURES CORPORATION, Appellant. 6227 Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Department. Decided April 5, 2012.
- Gardner, Eriq. Paramount Gets Mixed Rulings in Legal Cases Over 'La Dolce Vita,' 'Johnny Come Lately.' The Hollywood Reporter (April 24, 2012)
- Mathis, Jack Republic Confidential Volume One The Studio and Republic Confidential Volume Two The Players (1992) Empire Publishing Company