Earl St. John

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Earl St. John
Born (1892-06-14)June 14, 1892
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Died February 26, 1968(1968-02-26) (aged 75)
Nationality American
Occupation Film producer
Years active 1950–1964
Known for Executive producer, Rank Organisation

Earl St. John (14 June 1892 – 26 February 1968) was an American film producer in overall charge of production for The Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios from 1950 to 1964.


He was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His father wanted him to become a soldier but he ran away from a military academy aged 17 and began his career as a page boy for Sarah Bernhardt's company.[1][2]

St John had an uncle in the film business who he went to work for when he was 21. He worked as a poster boy then took two religious films around the US and Mexico. He worked during the Mexican Civil War and met Pancho Villa.[3] He fell out with his uncle and went to work for the Mutual Film Company.[2]

Move to England[edit]

St John served in France with the Texas division during World War One. He demobilised in Liverpool, England, and elected to stay on in that country.

St John ran a small picture theatre in Manchester and became successful.[1] In 1924 he joined Paramount, building up its circuit and opening the Plaza and Carlton cinemas. In 1930 they took over the Astoria Cinemas and St John was responsible for themtoo.[4]

Paramount was bought out by Odeon in 1938 and St John joined the Rank Organisation. In 1939 he became personal assistant to John Davis.[5]

In 1946 he was appointed chief production adviser for Rank.[6]

Head of Rank[edit]

In 1948 he was appointed Executive Producer at the studios by Rank's Managing Director John Davis with a brief to reign in financial losses.[7] "Some producers objected because he was a showman," said one producer of this time.[2]

Under his austere and autocratic control, location filming was cut back, and budgets slashed. Despite this, a number of successful productions emerged from Pinewood including Genevieve, Reach for the Sky and A Night to Remember.[8]

According to a 1954 profile:

His highly-paid job gives him power to say what films will be made, how they will be made and who will make them. He works with 12 producer - director teams, 21 contract artists, a varying number of guest artists, a story department consisting of an editor, two assistants and three readers, and three contract scriptwriters. Pinewood Studios' quota of 15 films a year, for which St. John is responsible and which average £150,000 each, is the largest in Britain today. In his films, St. John has fostered such stars as Petula Clark, Kay Kendall, Anthony Steel, Terence Morgan, Dirk Bogarde and John Gregson and he has helped to promote Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns and Norman Wisdom. In the past four years he has supervised the making of more han 50 films... St. John has earned a reputation for being a driving showman with a gift for succinct expression.[2]

St John's films included a number of adaptations of plays by Terence Rattigan, Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare. "I started out as manager of a small out-of-town cinema, and I viewed films from the out-of-London angle," he explained. "This experience made me realise that the ordinary people in the remotest places in the country were entitled to see the works of the best modern British playwrights."[9]

He made several films overseas, particularly Malta (Malta Story), Canada (Campbell's Kingdom), South Africa (Nor the Moon by Midnight), Hong Kong (Ferry to Hong Kong), Sri Lanka (Windom's Way) and Australia (Robbery Under Arms). However his most successful films were war movies and comedies. He was a big believer in making films in colour to compete with television. He also imported many actors from Europe to appear in Rank films.[10]

"He is like a ringmaster who is happy as long as his charges are performing correctly," said producer Peter Rogers. "His approach is: do what you want, but you know what I want," said director Robert Hamer.[2]

Producer Betty Box called St John "a wonderful old drunk... a wonderful man. But he didn't quite fit into the British filmmaking tradition."[11] Anthony Havelock-Allan said "he did what [Rank chairman John] Davis told him to... nice man but not creative at all, not imaginative. He just did what he was told."[12]

Sir John Davis later said St John "was jolly good. As executive producer his function was to produce films - to get together the units to make them. He was both a creative influence and a facilitator, with a grasp of the technical side of making films, and he understood the creative atmosphere."[13]

Contemporary historical consensus is that St John's influence was limited, and he mainly did what Davis told him to do.[14]

Earl St John had an at times difficult relationship with Dirk Bogarde but he cast Bogarde in Doctor in the House, which made him a big star, and suggested him for the lead in Victim.[15]

Later Years[edit]

St John's slate of films became less successful in the 1960s. The British film industry turned to riskier subject matter. For instance St John bought the film rights to the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning but the Rank board refused to let him make the film, which became a big success.[16] He also refused to make a film of Look Back in Anger.[14]

St John retired in 1964. He died while on vacation in Spain, survived by his wife whom he married in 1946.[17][18]

Select Filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b "American is big British movie man.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982). 1933 - 1982: National Library of Australia. 3 December 1952. p. 57. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Hustling Showman Of British Films.". The Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 - 1954). NSW: National Library of Australia. 19 July 1954. p. 11. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Mr Earl St John The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 28 Feb 1968: 5.
  4. ^ Astoria Cinemas. The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Dec 02, 1930; pg. 16; Issue 45685
  5. ^ MAKING MORE & BETTER PICTURES Karr, Jack. The Times of India (1861-current) [New Delhi, India] 16 May 1948: 5.
  6. ^ "St John is Made Chief Prod", Variety, 21 August 1946, p22
  7. ^ FILM PRODUCTION CHANGES The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 23 Dec 1948: 8.
  8. ^ "Mr Earl St John." Times [London, England] 28 Feb. 1968: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
  9. ^ "FILMS REVIEWED Another "Mr. Chips".". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 28 April 1951. p. 15. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Comedy and color are behind new British film boom.". The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982). 1933 - 1982: National Library of Australia. 1 October 1952. p. 58. Retrieved 17 December 2015. 
  11. ^ J Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry p 221
  12. ^ J Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry p 222
  13. ^ Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema p 159
  14. ^ a b British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference by Sue Harper, Vincent Porter Oxford University Press, 2003 p 42-43
  15. ^ http://new.spectator.co.uk/2011/09/victims-victory/
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Obituary 2 -- No Title Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Feb 1968: a10.
  18. ^ Earl St. John dies on holiday The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 28 Feb 1968: 7

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