William Fox - Writer

Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Wilhelm Fried in Tulchva, Hungary, 1 January 1879; family moved to New York when Fox was nine months old. Career: Peddler in the garment industry; 1904—went into the penny arcade business; bought cinemas in New York; moved into distribution with the Greater New York Film Rental Co.; launched the Fox production studio in New York with the one-reeler Life's Show Window ; 1912—succeeded in bringing legal action against the Motion Picture Trust for restraint of trade; 1915—merged his production, distribution and exhibition interests; 1917—Fox Studio moved to Los Angeles; 1925—pioneered Movietone Sound for newsreels, bought out Loew's Inc. and its production wing, MGM; bought the Gaumont Theatre Chain in Britain; 1929—taken to court on the grounds that his purchase of Loew's constituted restraint of trade; 1930—seriously injured in car crash; sold his interests in Fox, and retired from film production; 1942–43—imprisoned for bribing a judge in bankruptcy proceedings. Died: Of heart disease in New York, 8 May 1952.

Films as Producer:


A Fool There Was (Powell)


The Silent Lie (Walsh)


Should a Husband Forgive? (Walsh)


The Strongest (Walsh)


Beyond Price (Dawley); The Big Punch (Ford); The Blushing Bride (Furthman); Bucking the Line (Harbaugh); The Cheater Reformed (Dunlap); Children of the Night (Dillon); Cinderella of the Hills (Mitchell); A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (Flynn); Desert Blossoms (Rosson); Dynamite Allen (Henderson); Ever Since Eve (Mitchell); Footfalls (Brabin)


Arabia (Reynolds); Arabian Love (Storm); The Boss of Camp Four (Van Dyke); The Broadway Peacock (Brabin); A California Romance (Storm); Calvert's Valley (Dillon); Catch My Smoke (Beaudine); Chasing the Moon (Sedgwick); The Crusader (Mitchell); Do and Dare (Sedgwick); Elope If You Must (Wallace); The Fighting Streak (Rosson); A Fool There Was (Flynn); For Big Stakes (Reynolds); A Friendly Husband (Blystone); The Fast Mail (Durning)


The Face on the Barroom Floor (Ford); The Footlight Ranger (Dunlap); Big Dan (Wellman); Boston Blackie (Dunlap); Brass Commandments (Reynolds); Bucking the Barrier (Campbell); The Buster (Campbell); Cameo Kirby (Ford); Cupid's Fireman (Wellman); The Custard Cup (Brenon); Does It Pay? (Horan); The Eleventh Hour (Durning); Eyes of the Forest (Hillyer)


The Arizona Express (Buckingham); The Brass Bowl (Storm); Circus Cowboy (Wellman); Curlytop (Elvey); Dante's Inferno (Otto); Darwin Was Right (Seiler); Daughters of the Night (Clifton); The Deadwood Coach (Reynolds); The Desert Outlaw (Mortimer); Flames of Desire (Clift); The Folly of Vanity (Elvey)


The Road to Glory (Hawks); East Lynne (Flynn); The Arizona Romeo (Mortimer); The Dancers (Flynn); The Desert's Price (Van Dyke); Dick Turpin (Blystone); Durand of the Badlands (Reynolds); The Everlasting Whisper (Blystone); Every Man's Wife (Elvey); The Fighting Heart (Ford); The Fool (Millarde)


Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl (Cummings); Black Paradise (Neill); The Blue Eagle (Ford); The Canyon of Light (Stoloff); The City (Neill); The Country Beyond (Cummings); The Cowboy and the Countess (Neill); Desert Valley (Dunlap); The Dixie Merchant (Borzage); The Silver Treasure (Lee); Early to Wed (Borzage); The Family Upstairs (Blystone); Fig Leaves (Hawks); The Fighting Buckaroo (Neill); The First Year (Borzage); The Flying Horseman (Dull)


The Arizona Wildcat (Neill); The Auctioneer (Green); Black Jack (Dull); Blood Will Tell (Flynn); The Broncho Twister (Dull); Chain Lightning (Hillyer); The Circus Ace (Stoloff); Colleen (O'Connor); Come to My House (Green); The Cradle Snatchers (Hawks); East Side, West Side (Dwan); The Gay Retreat (Stoloff)


Fazil (Hawks); Blindfold (Klein); The Branded Sombrero (Hillyer); Chicken à la King (Lehrman); The Cowboy Kid (Carruth); Daredevil's Reward (Forde); Don't Marry (Tinling); Dressed to Kill (Cummings); Dry Martini (D'Arrast); The Farmer's Daughter (Taurog); Fleetwing (Hillyer); Four Sons (Ford); The Gateway of the Moon (Wray)


The River (Borzage); Four Devils (Murnau); Behind That Curtain (Cummings); Big Time (K. Hawks); Black Magic

William Fox (left)
William Fox (left)
(Seitz); The Black Watch (Ford); Blue Skies (Werker); Cameo Kirby (Cummings); Captain Lash (Blystone); Chasing Through Europe (Butler); Christina (Howard); The Cock-Eyed World (Walsh); The Exalted Flapper (Tinling); The Far Call (Dwan); Frozen Justice (Dwan); Fugitives (Beaudine); Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 (Butler)


The Arizona Kid (Santell); The Big Party (Blystone); Born Reckless (Ford); Cheer Up and Smile (Lanfield); City Girl (Murnau); Common Clay (Fleming); Crazy That Way (MacFadden); A Devil with Women (Cummings); Double Cross Roads (Werker); Fox Movietone Follies of 1930 (Stoloff)


On FOX: books—

Sinclair, Upton, Upton Sinclair Presents William Fox , 1933.

Allvine, Glendon, The Greatest Fox of Them All , 1969.

On FOX: articles—

Obituary in Motion Picture Herald (Hollywood), vol. 187, no.7, 17 May 1952.

Cinématographe (Paris), no. 100, May 1984.

Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), no. 111, September 1984.

Zierold, Norman, "The Film's Forgotten Man: William Fox," in The First Tycoons , edited by Richard Dyer MacCann, London, 1987.

Woods, R., " Over the Hill Put William Fox over the Top," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), no. 222, December 1993.

* * *

William Fox was one of the true pioneers of the American motion picture industry. From his base in New York City, he established a chain of early movie and vaudeville theaters. He stubbornly defied the takeover attempts of the Motion Picture Patents Company. Thereafter he prospered. During the 1910s Fox set up a film production unit to feed his growing number of theaters, eventually incorporating as the Fox Film Corporation.

In 1914 the Fox Company made its first film in Los Angeles; three years later it set up a permanent operation in California, eventually building a studio lot complex located at Sunset and Western. By 1920 the Fox company had offices for distribution throughout the world, and an ever expanding chain of movie palaces. Indeed, in the mid-1920s, Fox personally sought to create a set of the greatest movie palaces in the world, each bearing his name. Soon thousands each day sought movie fun at several thousand-seat Fox theaters in Brooklyn, Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Atlanta. By the late 1920s, the Fox theater chain had movie houses in almost every major town west of the Rocky mountains.

But it was the coming of sound that established Fox as a major player in the American motion picture business. During the early days of talkies, from 1925 through 1928, William Fox and his assistants adapted a version of AT&T's pioneering technology for recording and playing back sound-on-film. Others continued to use sound-on-disc, but by the early 1930s, the sound-on-film technology had become the world film industry standard.

In 1926, Fox signed to help pioneer sound because he felt such a technical change might improve his company's newsreel business. Like the Warner Bros., at first Fox did not believe in a future for feature-length talkies, but reasoned that the public certainly might prefer newsreels with sound. Fox never made a better business decision. Skillfully Fox Film engineers labored to integrate sound-on-film with accepted silent newsreel techniques. On the final day of April 1927, five months before the opening of The Jazz Singer , Fox Film presented its first sound newsreel at the ornate, 5000 seat Roxy Theater located at the crossroads of the entertainment world in Times Square. The process of innovation was off and running.

Less than a month later Fox stumbled across the publicity coup of the decade when he was able to tender the only footage with sound of the takeoff and triumphant return of aviator Charles Lindbergh. Fox newsreel cameramen soon travelled all over the globe in search of stories "with a voice." Theater owners queued up to wire their houses simply to be able to show Fox Movietone newsreels. To movie fans of the day Fox Movietone News offered as much an attraction as any feature-length talkie.

But the coming of the Great Depression did not prove kind to the fortunes of Fox. In 1925 Fox had gone so far as to borrow millions to temporarily take over Loew's, Inc., and its noted filmmaking unit, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But this investment, coupled with the existing mortgages on the Fox movie palaces and the financing he took on to innovate sound-on-film meant William Fox and his corporation owed millions. With the Depression came a decline in movie attendance, and Fox was not able to pay his loans back. Soon he lost his company; it was merged with 20th Century Pictures in 1935. Fox thereafter attempted to make a grand return to the film business, but a conviction on court tampering charges, time in jail, and advancing age prevented him from ever doing so.

—Douglas Gomery

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