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Southern California (1931)|
predecessor-in-interest to Allied Artists Pictures Corporation (1946)
W. Ray Johnston |
Los Angeles, California &|
New York City, New York
|Kim Richards, Chairman and CEO, Robert Fitzpatrick, President|
|Products||Motion Pictures, Television Production, Music, Music Publishing, Entertainment, Television Syndication, Online games, Mobile Entertainment, Video on demand, Digital distribution|
Monogram Pictures Corporation is a Hollywood studio that produced and released films, mostly on low budgets, between 1931 and 1953, when the firm completed a transition to the name Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. Monogram was among the smaller studios in the golden age of Hollywood, generally referred to collectively as Poverty Row. The idea behind the studio was that when the Monogram logo appeared on the screen, everyone knew they were in for action and adventure.
Today the company's trademark is owned by Allied Artists International. The original sprawling brick complex that was home to both Monogram and Allied Artists remains in place today at 4376 Sunset Drive, utilized as part of the Church of Scientology Media Center (formerly KCET television).
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Monogram was created in the early 1930s from two earlier companies, W. Ray Johnston's Rayart Productions (renamed Raytone when sound pictures came in) and Trem Carr's Sono Art-World Wide Pictures. Both specialized in low-budget features and, as Monogram Pictures, continued that policy until 1935, with Carr in charge of production. Another independent producer, Paul Malvern, released his Lone Star western productions (starring John Wayne) through Monogram.
The backbone of the studio in those early days was a father-and-son combination: writer/director Robert N. Bradbury and cowboy actor Bob Steele (born Robert A. Bradbury) were on their roster. Bradbury wrote almost all, and directed many, of the early Monogram and Lone Star westerns. While budgets and production values were lean, Monogram offered a balanced program, including action melodramas, classics and mysteries.
In 1935, Johnston and Carr were wooed by Herbert Yates of Consolidated Film Industries; Yates planned to merge Monogram with several other smaller independent companies to form Republic Pictures. However, after a short time in this new venture, they discovered that they couldn't get along with Herbert Yates, and they left. Carr moved to Universal Pictures, while Johnston reactivated Monogram in 1937.
Revival and creation of Allied Artists Productions
Producer Walter Mirisch began at Monogram after World War II as assistant to studio head Steve Broidy. He convinced Broidy that the days of low-budget films were ending, and in 1946 Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists Productions, to make costlier films. The new name was meant to mirror the name of United Artists by invoking images of "creative personnel uniting to produce and distribute quality films".
At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 (and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000), Allied Artists' first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000. Subsequent Allied Artists releases were more economical but did have enhanced production values; many of them were filmed in color.
The studio's new policy permitted what Mirisch called "B-plus" pictures, which were released along with Monogram's established line of B fare. Mirisch's prediction about the end of the low-budget film had come true thanks to television, and in September 1952 Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The Monogram brand name was finally retired in 1953. The company was now known as Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.
Allied Artists did retain a few vestiges of its Monogram identity, continuing its popular Stanley Clements action series (through 1953), its B-Westerns (through 1954), its Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (through 1955) using Johnny Sheffield, "Boy" of the Tarzan films, and especially its breadwinning comedy series with The Bowery Boys (through 1958, with Clements replacing Leo Gorcey). For the most part, however, Allied Artists was heading in new, ambitious directions under Mirisch. It released the first Cinecolor science fiction film Flight to Mars, then its greatest artistic success a low-budget film firmly in the Monogram tradition, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released by Allied in 1956.
For a time in the mid-1950s the Mirisch family held great influence at Allied Artists, with Walter as executive producer, his brother Harold as head for sales Allied Artists, and brother Marvin as assistant treasurer. They pushed the studio into big-budget filmmaking, signing contracts with William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Gary Cooper. However, when their first big-name productions, Wyler's Friendly Persuasion which was nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Wilder's Love in the Afternoon were box-office flops in 1956–57, studio head Broidy retreated into the kind of pictures Monogram had always favored: low-budget action and thrillers. Mirisch Productions then had success releasing their films through United Artists.
Broidy retired in 1965 and Allied Artists ceased production in 1966 and became a distributor of foreign films, but restarted production with the 1972 release of Cabaret and followed it the next year with Papillon. Both were critical and commercial successes, but high production and financing costs meant they were not big moneymakers for Allied Artists. Allied Artists raised financing for their adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King by selling the European distribution rights to Columbia Pictures and the rest of the backing came from Canadian tax shelters. King was released in 1975, but received disappointing returns. That same year it distributed the French import Story of O, but spent much of its earnings defending itself from obscenity charges.
In 1976, Allied Artists attempted diversification when it merged with consumer producers Kalvex and PSP, Inc. The new Allied Artists Industries, Inc. manufactured pharmaceuticals, mobile homes, and activewear in addition to films.
Monogram/Allied Artists lasted until 1979, when runaway inflation and high production costs pushed it into bankruptcy. The post-1947 Monogram/Allied Artists library was bought by television production company Lorimar; today a majority of this library belongs to Warner Bros. Entertainment. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was sold in 1954 to Associated Artists Productions, which itself was sold to United Artists in 1958. UA merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. The 1936–1946 Monogram library was not part of the deal with Ted Turner (The rights to some of these films are now owned by MGM, others-most noticeably The Big Combo- are now in the public domain). The pre-1936 Monogram library became incorporated into that of Republic Pictures, today a part of Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures.
Allied Artists had its studio at 4401 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, on a 4.5-acre lot. The longtime home (since 1971) of former PBS television station KCET, the station sold the studios to the Church of Scientology in April 2011.
Monogram Pictures operated the Monogram Ranch, its movie ranch in Placerita Canyon near Newhall, California, in the northern San Gabriel Mountains foothills. Tom Mix had used the "Placeritos Ranch" for location shooting for his silent western films. Ernie Hickson became the owner in 1936 and reconstructed all the "frontier western town" sets, moved from the nearby Republic Pictures Movie Ranch (present day Disney Golden Oak Ranch), onto his 110-acre (0.45 km2) ranch. A year later Monogram Pictures signed a long-term lease with Hickson for "Placeritos Ranch", with terms that stipulated the ranch be renamed "Monogram Ranch". Actor/cowboy singer/producer Gene Autry purchased the Monogram Ranch property from the Hickson heirs in 1953, renaming it after his film Melody Ranch. Today it's operated as the "Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio" and "Melody Ranch Studios".
In its early years, Monogram could seldom afford big-name movie stars and would employ either former silent-film actors who were idle (Herbert Rawlinson, William Collier, Sr.) or young featured players (Ray Walker, Wallace Ford).
In 1938, Monogram began a long and profitable policy of making series and hiring familiar players to star in them. Frankie Darro, Hollywood's foremost tough-kid actor of the 1930s, joined Monogram and stayed with the company until 1950. Comedian Mantan Moreland co-starred in many of the Darros and continued to be a valuable asset to Monogram through 1949.
Juvenile actors Marcia Mae Jones and Jackie Moran carried a series of homespun romances. Crime themes dominated the roster at Monogram in the late thirties and early forties. For example, the very forgettable though endearing Riot Squad (1941) cast Richard Cromwell as a doctor working covertly for the police department to catch the mobsters before his girlfriend Rita Quigley breaks their engagement.
Boris Karloff brought a touch of class to the Monogram release schedule with his "Mr. Wong" mysteries. This prompted producer Sam Katzman to engage Bela Lugosi for a follow-up series of Monogram thrillers. Katzman hit the bull's-eye with his street-gang series The East Side Kids, which ran from 1940 to 1945. East Side star Leo Gorcey then took the reins himself and transformed the series into The Bowery Boys, which became the longest-running feature-film comedy series in movie history (48 titles over 12 years). During this run, Gorcey became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood on an annual basis.
Monogram always catered to western fans. The studio released sagebrush sagas with Bill Cody, Bob Steele, John Wayne, Tom Keene, Tim McCoy, Tex Ritter, and Jack Randall before hitting on the "trio" format teaming veteran saddle pals. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton became The Rough Riders; Ray (Crash) Corrigan, John 'Dusty' King, and Max Terhune were The Range Busters, and Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, and Bob Steele teamed as The Trail Blazers. When Universal Pictures allowed Johnny Mack Brown's contract to lapse, Monogram grabbed him and kept him busy through 1952.
The studio was a launching pad for new stars (Preston Foster in Sensation Hunters, Randolph Scott in Broken Dreams, Ginger Rogers in The Thirteenth Guest, Lionel Atwill in The Sphinx, Alan Ladd in Her First Romance, Robert Mitchum in When Strangers Marry. The studio was also a haven for established stars whose careers had stalled: Edmund Lowe in Klondike Fury, John Boles in Road to Happiness, Ricardo Cortez in I Killed That Man, Simone Simon in Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Kay Francis and Bruce Cabot in Divorce.
Monogram did create and nurture its own stars. Gale Storm began her career at RKO Radio Pictures in 1940 but found a home at Monogram. Storm had been promoted from Monogram's Frankie Darro series and was showcased in crime dramas (like Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943) opposite Richard Cromwell and radio's Frank Graham in the title role) and a string of musicals to capitalize on her singing talents (like Campus Rhythm and Nearly Eighteen, both 1943, as well as Swing Parade of 1946 featuring The Three Stooges). Another of Monogram's finds during this time was British skating star Belita, who conversely starred in musical revues first and then graduated to dramatic roles, including Suspense (1946), an A-budget King Brothers Productions picture released under the Monogram name.
Series films and success
Monogram continued to experiment with series; some hit and some missed. Definite hits were Charlie Chan (which Monogram picked up after the series had been dropped by Twentieth Century Fox), The Cisco Kid, and Joe Palooka, all proven movie properties abandoned by other studios and revived by Monogram. Less successful were the comic-strip exploits of Snuffy Smith, the mysterious adventures of The Shadow, and Sam Katzman's comedy series co-starring Billy Gilbert, Shemp Howard, and Maxie Rosenbloom.
Later Monogram very nearly hit the big time with Dillinger, a King Brothers Productions sensationalized crime drama that was a runaway success in 1945. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Monogram tried to follow Dillinger immediately (with several "exploitation" melodramas cashing in on topical themes), and did achieve some success, but Monogram never became a respectable "major" studio like former poverty-row denizen Columbia Pictures.
The only Monogram release to win the Academy Award was Climbing the Matterhorn, which won the Best Short Subject (Two Reeler) Oscar in 1947. Other Monogram films to receive Oscar nominations were King of the Zombies for Academy Award for Best Music (Music Score of a Dramatic Picture) in 1941 and Flat Top for Best Film Editing in 1952.
Interstate/Allied Artists Television
Monogram cautiously entered the field of television syndication. Studios usually avoided putting their own names on their television subsidiaries, fearing adverse reaction from their movie-theater customers, the noticeable exception to this being Paramount. Monogram followed suit, christening its TV arm as Interstate Television Corporation. Interstate's biggest success was the Little Rascals series (formerly Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies, which had been reissued for theaters by Monogram). In later years Interstate TV became Allied Artists Television.
Allied Artists' television library was sold to Lorimar's TV production and distribution arms in 1979. Lorimar was acquired by Warner Bros. Television, which now controls the library.
- Okuda, Ted. The Monogram Checklist: The Films of Monogram Pictures Corporation, 1931–1952, McFarland & Company, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0750-6.
- "Registered Trademark Ownership". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
- Variety, August 10, 1945
- p. 164 Balio, Tino United Artists, Volume 2, 1951–1978: The Company That Changed the Film Industry Univ of Wisconsin Press, 8 Apr. 2009
- "Out Hollywood Way", New York Times, September 8, 1946, p. X1.
- David A. Cook. Lost illusions: American cinema in the shadow of Watergate and ..., Volume 9. Simon & Schuster. pp. 325–328.
- "KCET may sell studio to Church of Scientology". KTLA. March 31, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
- Church of Scientology Acquires Hollywood Studio Facility
- CBS Los Angeles: "KCET Sells Production Studios To Church Of Scientology", April 25, 2011.
- "Placeritos Ranch – Monogram Ranch – Melody Ranch". Melody Ranch History. employees.oxy.edu. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
- Leon Worden. "Melody Ranch: Movie Magic in Placerita Canyon". Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 2003-03-29.
- "The Town". melodyranchstudio.com. Retrieved May 15, 2010.
- "Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio". melodyranchstudio.com. Retrieved May 15, 2010.
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