RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures.
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RCA gained an outlet to its variable-area, optical sound-on-film system: RCA Photophone. All of the major film studios and theater divisions signed contracts to use AT&T Western Electric division's Westrex variable density optical sound-on-film system.
Promising to make only sound films, RKO orginated at the former FBO studios building in 1929. William LeBaron was in charge of production at the time. By the 1930s, RKO was making forty pictures a year and was releasing them under the names "Radio Pictures" and "RKO Pathe." LeBaron was succeeded in 1931 by a Mr. David O. Selznick, who then signed several new actors and actresses for "new talent." These said-stars, such as Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Joel McCrea, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., along many others, would carry RKO studios throughout the decade. The studio, also, among other things, would release films for independent producers. In 1936, they released Walt Disney's features and in 1941, they also handled Samuel Goldwyn's productions. During this time, the RKO Studios Club was founded by Errol Leslie "Sandy" Sanders. What lacked the resources of the other large film studios, RKO made up in style.
The Justice Department forced a re-organization of RCA in the early 1930s and as a result, RCA reduced its holdings in RKO. Control passed to investor Floyd Odlum and the Rockefeller brothers. The shaky finances of the Kennedy-Sarnoff years did not carry RKO through the Depression. In fact, by 1932, the company sank into receivership. A corporate re-organization led to greener pastures. From 1935 and on, the Pathe name was used on documentaries, newsreels and now went under the revised name of the studio: RKO Radio Pictures. When World War II came knocking, RKO was under more stable management, so they came back strong in the 1940s. Charles Koernder, who was the former head of the RKO theater chain, favored star-driven movies, but RKO no longer had any major stars under contract. So, Koernder made deals with some of the biggest stars in the business. These stars would...well, star, in one RKO movie each year, which explains why RKO films made in the mid-1940s and late 1940s featured stars such as James Stewart, Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert and many others who were originally out of RKO's price range for their services. This was also during this time that film noir became something of a style at the studio. With the 1940s list of RKO's contract players, it merely screams film noir.
RKO sincerely depended on B-pictures to fill up their schedule, much unlike other major film studios. The low-budget films also served as experience for new directors at the studio. Among them were Anthony Mann, Robert Wise and Nicholas Ray. Many RKO B-pictures include Cat People, Hitler's Children, Isle of the Dead and many others that are still remembered and watch today. Some are even on DVD, available for purchase at the store.
Floyd Odlum, after several financial ups-and-downs, decided to cash in his RKO holdings and in 1947, he put his shares on the market. It was assumed that J. Arthur Rank, then expanding his British/American holdings would buy the stock. But, to the public's surprise, Howard Hughes gained control by obtaining 25% of the outstanding stock in 1948. During his tenure, RKO again severly suffered and Hughes' eccentric management took a heavy toll. Within weeks of taking control, Hughes dismissed two-thirds of RKO's work force and production was shut down for six months in 1949 while he undertook investigating politics of the remaining movie employees. Can anyone spell c-r-a-z-y? Completed movies, under Hughes's control, would even be sent back to the drawing room if he thought the star (especially female) wasn't properly presented or if a film-s anti-Communist views weren't clear enough for his tastes.
Hughes finally let go of the RKO theaters as a result of the U.S. vs. Paramount anti-trust case in 1953. With the sale of profitable theaters, the shaky status of RKO became crystal clear. Busy during the Korean War years and the demands of his aircraft-manufacturing and other holdings, Hughes found the numerous lawsuits from RKO's other shareholders to be too bothersome. He was anxious to get rid of the charges, so Hughes offered to buy out the other stockholders. By 1954 and $24 million dollars later, Hughes gained control of RKO. He was the first sole-owner of a studio since the beginning of Hollywood. One year and six months later, Hughes automatically sold RKO to General Tire for $25 million. Hughes retained the rights to movies he had personally produced, including the ones made at RKO, and also kept the contract for his prodigy: Jane Russell. This was the end of Hollywood for Howard Hughes.
General Tire restored RKO's link to broadcasting once they took control of the studio. General bought Boston's WNAC and the Yankee Network in 1943. They also bought and merged with Bamberger Broadcasting and Don Lee Broadcasting to form General Teleradio in 1952. The son of General's founder, Thomas O'Neill (also chairman of the broadcasting group) made sure General Tire's newly-acquired television stations would have programming. In 1953, O'Neill asked Hughes about purchasing RKO's film library. When the library was purchased two years later, the rights to 700 pre-1948 RKO films were put up for sale. The asking price? $15.5 million! This price convinced other studios that their libraries, even if they were small, held profit and could be sold. The C&C Television Corporation (a link off of the beverage maker C&C Cantrell & Cochrane) bought RKO's library. They then offered the films to independent television stations with ads for C&C Cola already edited into the movies themselves.
By the late 1950s, 1956 to be exact, RKO's pre-1948 films were played normally on television. And for forgotten films, such as Citizen Kane, they were rediscovered and embraced by the public like they were when they first premiered. General Tire, meanwhile, tried to keep the studio running and hired a veteran producer to head production. But, most RKO films during this time were remakes of successes many moons ago or just B-pictures. Mismanagement throughout the studio's legacy had driven away many stars, directors, producers, or just people in the business stayed away. Disney and Goldwyn left RKO in the dust. Disney set up its own firm in 1954. Then, after a year and a half of little success, General Tire shut down RKO production for good. The date was in January, 1957.
RKO's studio in Hollywood and in Culver City, California were sold that same year to Desilu Productions for $6.5 million dollars. In 1967, Paramount Pictures acquired the production company and the RKO lot became home to Paramount television--which is what it is today. With the shutting down of the studio, RKO shut down its exchanges. From 1957 to 1959, the remaining movies were released through other major studios. Warner Brothers, Universal, MGM, you name it. Most of the last RKO films carried the copyright "RKO Teleradio Pictures Inc.," shortened later to "RKO Teleradio Inc." By 1960, what was left of RKO went to the parent company: RKO General, which was the holding company for all of General Tire's broadcasting and investments. It was said, years later, that General Tire had broken-even on its RKO investment and the sale of its film library, the studio lots and the profits of RKO's films, let them walk away clean and begin again. Wow, that was a workout, eh?