Charles Koerner

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Charles W. Koerner
Born(1896-10-02)2 October 1896
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Died2 February 1946(1946-02-02) (aged 49)
Hollywood, California, US
OccupationFilm executive

Charles Koerner (September 10, 1896 – February 2, 1946) was an American film executive, best known for being executive vice president over production at RKO Pictures from 1942 to 1946.[1]

Koerner is best remembered today for firing Orson Welles from RKO. However he was a highly successful executive, helping RKO turn around its financial performance from the George Schaefer regime.[2]


Born to a Jewish family[3] in New Orleans, he worked in theatres after school and went on to attend Shattuck Military Academy.[1]

After the academy, he owned and managed a theatre but sold this when he enlisted for World War I. After returning from war, he managed several theatre chains until one was sold to Hughes-Franklin in 1931 and he became the personal representative of Harold B. Franklin. Franklin later became the president of RKO's theatre division and put Koerner in charge of the theatres in the Southwestern United States.[1]

Koerner was appointed vice president in charge of RKO's theatres in 1941.[4] He took over from Joseph Breen as general manager of the studio in 1942.[5]

Among Koerner's first actions was terminating the contract between RKO and Welles.[6][7] (When told the news, Welles famously quipped "Don't worry, boys. We're just passing a bad Koerner."[8]) He also ended the contract between RKO and Pare Lorentz.[9][10]

Koerner's motto was "showmanship instead of genius." By the end of 1942 RKO was in the black for the first time in five years.[11]

Among his most notable achievements were hiring Val Lewton.[12]

Koerner died on February 2, 1946 from leukemia.[1] He was temporarily replaced by Peter Rathvon before being permanently replaced by Dore Schary.[13]

Jean Renoir called him "an extraordinary man... I deeply regretted his unfortunate death. Had he not died, I believe I should have made twenty films for RKO. I would have worked all my life at RKO. He was a man who knew the business and the exploitation of the cinema, but at the same time conceded that one must experiment."[14]

Notable films under Koerner's regime[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Picture Industry in Koerner Tribute; RKO Veepee Dies in Hollywood At 49". Variety. February 6, 1946. p. 4.
  2. ^ Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
  3. ^ Brook, Vincent (December 15, 2016). From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood: Chapter 1: Still an Empire of Their Own: How Jews Remain Atop a Reinvented Hollywood. Purdue University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9781557537638.
  4. ^ "N.P. RATHVON IN RKO POST: Elected Vice President of Film Company, Schaefer Reports". New York Times. 17 Dec 1941. p. 39.
  5. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Robert Preston, Eve Gabor and Martha O'Driscott to Appear in 'Sky Over China' FOUR NEW FILMS IN CITY 'Lady Has Plans,' 'Mr Wise Guy,' 'Ride 'Em Cowboy' and 'Tanya' Arrive Today By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.". New York Times. 4 Mar 1942. p. 23.
  6. ^ WELLES UNIT OUT AT RKO PICTURES: Mercury Productions Asked to Vacate Offices by Charles Koerner, Head of Studio EXECUTIVE SHIFT A FACTOR Dispute Arose After Change in Management -- Official and Attorney Give Views By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 02 July 1942: 25
  7. ^ WELLES VERSUS HOLLYWOOD AGAIN: RKO and the Actor Part Ways -- Warners Ready 'Mission to Moscow' By THOMAS F. BRADY HOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 July 1942: X3.
  8. ^ "Morie Merry-Go-Round Hollywood Presents Soviet Russia". The News. Adelaide. 3 September 1942. p. 4. Retrieved 19 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ THOMAS F BRADY HOLLYWOOD.. (19 July 1942). "ANOTHER COLLISION IN HOLLYWOOD: KO and Mr. Lorentz at Odds on Film Budget -- Other Items". New York Times. p. X3.
  10. ^ THOMAS F BRADY HOLLYWOOD.. (1 Nov 1942). "PRECEDENTIAL ACTION IN HOLLYWOOD: Pare Lorentz Takes Legal Steps Against a Studio -- Other Random News". New York Times. p. X3.
  11. ^ THOMAS F BRADY HOLLYWOOD.. (27 Dec 1942). "HOLLYWOOD IN REVIEW: A Summary of Outstanding Developments In the Film Industry During the Year". New York Times. p. X3.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "DORE SCHARY HEAD OF RKO PRODUCTION: Film Industry Veteran of 14 Years Replaces Late Charles Koerner as Studio Chief". New York Times. 2 Jan 1947. p. 23.
  14. ^