Students enrolled in CAMS 210: Film History I (fall term 2013) have published an anthology of original research, The Majors and The Minors: Hollywood Studios Emerge. The essays in the volume were peer edited. The design team, in charge of cover design and layout, included Ava Burnham, Andrew Celly, Vincent DeZutti, Cathy Lee and Rebecca Stimson.
The American film industry was born not in Hollywood but in New York and New Jersey. In 1908, the major east coast film companies combined to form the Motion Picture Patents Company, known as “The Trust.” The powerful Edison-led Trust established a monopoly on all aspects of filmmaking, requiring licenses to make use of their patented equipment, to purchase film stock, and to distribute and exhibit their motion pictures. Independent producers who did not belong to the Trust were cut out of the action and began to migrate to Hollywood between 1912-1917, seeking good weather for year-round filming, not to mention distance from the Trust’s violent enforcers. These independent “moguls,” many of them first-generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, founded the organizations that would become the backbone of the golden-era Hollywood studio system, the vast industrial empire of popular mythology. By 1930, a series of mergers and realignments had concentrated 95 percent of all American film production in the hands of eight Hollywood studios, five “majors” and three “minors.” The majors in order of economic importance—Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, and RKO—were vertically integrated corporations, controlling the means of production, distribution and exhibition. The minors—Universal, Columbia, and United Artists—owned no theaters and were dependent upon the majors for exhibition.
Students researched the emergence of a Hollywood studio and its early years of activity, using primary documents—industry trade papers such as Film Daily and Moving Picture World—to read with and against secondary sources such as their textbook and other published histories. Hard-core historians, they wrote from the ground up, piecing together from myriad sources their own versions of the historical narrative, finding their own angles into this history. They were expected to document sources appropriately and keep in mind their target audience: students just like themselves, enrolled in a film history course, likely encountering this history for the first time.
Madi Emenheiser and Renzhi Wu set the stage by introducing the activities of independent producer Carl Laemmle and the emergence of Universal in 1912. Jhernie Evangelista, Hayden Tsutsui and Griffin Johnson cast new light on the ingenious business practices of moguls Zukor, Lasky and Hodkinson in the formation of Paramount in 1916. Isabel Carter, Jack Turzillo and Soo Hyun Lee detail the fascinating story of how United Artists came to be in 1919, with well-known workers within the studio system—Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith—in revolt against the system. Luke Reppe, Rebecca Stimson and Christopher Williams problematize the popular mythology associating the birth of Warner Bros. with the studio’s fortuitous early adoption of sound technology, adjusting the focus of the story to account for the activities of the brothers Warner leading up to the emergence of the studio in 1923. Vincent DeZutti, Sofia Chang, and Zoe Cohen get to the bottom of the audacious rise of Columbia in January 1924. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer emerges just five months later, the powerhouse among the majors, with a rich history surveyed by Andrew Cely, Brendan Richard and Brian Kremers. Henry Maler and Casey Short direct our attention to RKO, the last of the big five studios to emerge, in 1928, but by no means the least, in terms of storytelling interest. Ava Burnham and Ian Kpachavi tackle the broad historical sweep of 20th Century Fox, the last of the studios to emerge in 1935, but one which is deeply rooted in the activities of mogul William Fox and the establishment of the Fox Film Corporation in 1915.