Hiram Abrams (1917)
22 February 1878|
Portland, Maine, USA
15 November 1926|
Manhattan, New York City, USA
Hiram was born in Portland, Maine, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant who became a real estate broker. Hiram Abrams left school at the age of sixteen, sold newspapers, and eventually ended up managing several Portland film theaters. By 1909, he began marketing films, and later became a distributor.
Through the motion picture industry, Abrams became acquainted with W. W. Hodkinson and when Hodkinson founded Paramount Pictures in 1914, Abrams began serving on the five man board-of-directors. When Hodkinson denied Paramount partners Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky more of the profits, Zukor - in a Machiavellian plot - devised a coup.
Zukor and Lasky sold Hodkinson more of their film rights and, using that money, they purchased Paramount stock to, by 1916, gain a majority of it. Then with Abrams, Steele and Sherry they used this majority to vote Hodkinson out. Abrams took over as president and Steele as treasurer.
In 1917, Abrams, while in Boston, organized a party for Fatty Arbuckle, Zukor, Lansky, and several others. Eventually, the party, sans Arbuckle, moved to Mishawum Manor, an inn of notorious reputation. Willing women appeared, and later a photographer. A few days later it became evident the moguls had been caught in a badger game. Daniel H. Coakley, a notoriously crooked Boston lawyer, threatened arrest on morals charges. Studio lawyers were hastily summoned and eventually $100,000 was paid to have the charges dropped. It is likely this escapade cost Abrams his job, as Zukor fired him soon afterwards.
Abrams and his new partner, Ben Schulberg, convinced Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith to break with their studios and form an independent distributing company; the result was United Artists, set up on 5 February 1919. Abrams was appointed its managing director.
During the company's early years, there were serious problems. The United Artists could not produce a continuous flow of films for theaters and suffered serious distribution problems caused by competing firms. Schulberg walked away within two months. Roughly a year later, he sued Abrams, alleging Abrams had breached their partnership agreement. These distribution problems were not solved until Joseph Schenck, Abrams' successor, took over.
During Abrams' tenure, however, United Artists did release Griffith's Way Down East (1921) and Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925). Both were enormously successful becoming two of the top ten grossing films of the 1920s.
Abrams' influence in the film industry continued for twenty years after his death. While in Boston, around 1912, Abrams had visited Edward Golden, a dentist, to have a tooth pulled. Golden was impressed with Abrams' wealth.
Golden looked into the picture business, started promoting films, moved to Hollywood, and became very successful as a low-end (poverty row) producer. His biggest success, Hitler's Children (1942), came during World War II; the film was a sensational quickie based on Gregor Ziemer's book, Education for Death (1941). Filmed for $200,000, it grossed $3.25 million.
- Arthur Douglas Stover, Eminent Mainers: Succinct Biographies of Thousands of Amazing Mainers, Mostly Dead, and a Few People from Away Who Have Done Something Useful Within the State of Maine, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 2006.
- J. A. Aberdeen. "W. W. Hodkinson: The Man Who Invented the Movie Business". cobbles.com. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- "Behind-the-scenes Intrigue at Paramount: Testimony of Al Lichtman". The New York Telegraph. April 26, 1923.
- "The Morals of Hollywood and the Arbuckle Case: Owners of the Movies Are Responsible for Present Conditions". cinemaweb.com.
- Will Irwin, The House That Shadows Built, New York City:Doubleday, Doran, 1929.
- John Steinle. "D.W. Griffith". sensesofcinema.com.
- "D.W. Griffith • Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema".
- "Ben Schulberg Leaves United Artists". Motion Picture World. April 12, 1919. p. 216.
- "Ben Schulberg Sues Hiram Abrams; Alleging Partnership Agreement Broken". Motion Picture World. September 25, 1920. p. 510.
- "All-Time Top Box-Office By Decade and Year". Filmsite.org. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
- Time, 29 November 1926
- Francis Russell, “The Knave of Boston: In all the pack, Dan Coakley Deserved to be Called,” American Heritage, August, 1976, 27
- Nahma Sandrow, “The Jewish Traveler: Portland” on hadassah.org
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