Executive. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 7 May 1870. Education: Left school at age six to sell newspapers. Family: Married Caroline, 1894; twin sons: David and Arthur. Career: Worked as a salesman and a furrier; formed People's Vaudeville Company to produce variety shows in New York City and environs,
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Executive Marcus Loew was the founder of Loew's, Inc., a huge entertainment company which grew from a New York City theater circuit presenting vaudeville and early moving pictures into one of Hollywood's most successful integrated film corporations. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the grandest of studios during Hollywood's Golden Age, was in reality only the production arm of this powerful firm. Like all vintage Hollywood businesses, Loew's, Inc. was an oligopoly which produced, distributed, and exhibited movies during what is now known as Hollywood's studio era, a period running roughly from the silent era of the 1920s through the 1950s.
Like the other major film corporations of the era, Loew's was also a bi-coastal enterprise in which the Hollywood production (or "creative") branch was carefully monitored and financially controlled by the New York/east coast executive branch. As the president of Loew's, Inc., Marcus Loew himself was never actively involved in the making of motion pictures, but instead hired and supervised film creators from the company's corporate offices in New York City. At the same time, he built up a nationwide chain of theaters which were as essential a part of this interlocking system as the studio production unit. Loew never lived in Hollywood, preferring instead to reside in his palatial mansion by the sea in Glen Cove, Long Island.
Loew was born to emigrant parents on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1870. His father was a Viennese waiter, and his mother a German widow. Like many future moguls, Loew had an impoverished childhood, and quit school to work while still a young child. After a variety of unsuccessful pursuits, primarily in the garment industry, Loew developed a relationship with another future mogul, Adolph Zukor, whom he had met during an unsuccessful stint in the fur trade. Zukor, a Jewish emigrant from a small village in Hungary, would later build Paramount Pictures, and it was through him that Marcus Loew first became involved in the entertainment business, investing in several Zukor ventures, including several lucrative penny arcades in New York City.
With an actor friend, David Warfield, Loew formed his own People's Vaudeville Company in 1904. People's first venture was a Manhattan amusement arcade, and within months they opened four more in New York City, with a fifth in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Cincinnati, Loew witnessed an early exhibition of moving pictures, and was impressed by the audiences it attracted. He installed a 110-seat theater above his Penny Hippodrome in Cincinnati, which opened to huge crowds. Loew soon converted all of his arcades into theaters which offered affordable variety shows of vaudeville and early moving pictures. Gradually expanding his business in New York and environs, Loew was finally established in the entertainment industry.
By 1910 Loew's theatrical empire had expanded along the east coast, and Loew's Consolidated Entertainment was incorporated with one of Loew's early managers, Nicholas Schenck, as secretary-treasurer. With World War I, the focus of the American entertainment business shifted from vaudeville to movies. Loew's Consolidated was still geared only for motion picutre exhibition, and Loew only gradually realized that like the other integrated majors (such as Famous Players-Lassky and First National), he needed to expand into the production and distribution of films. In 1919 Loew purchased Metro Pictures Corporation, which had been formed in 1915 to produce and market the films of five small Hollywood production companies. The acquisition motivated the birth of the new and reorganized Loew's, Inc., which moved Loew into the motion picture business in earnest. In 1921 Metro's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , starring Rudolph Valentino, became a huge hit.
In 1924 Loew's further expanded his Hollywood empire by acquiring the foundering Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer Productions. This key deal included the large Goldwyn studios in Culver City, and a supervisory production team which included Mayer himself and the 24-year-old Hollywood production wonderboy, Irving G. Thalberg. Thus a new and major Loew's subsidiary, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), was created on May 17, 1924. With Goldwyn Pictures had come a small chain of theaters, including another Times Square property, the Capitol, but the prime incentive was the Goldwyn production facility itself. The Culver City studio had been built around 1915 as Triangle Pictures by pioneering film-maker Thomas Ince and included 45 acres of self-contained production facilities. As MGM this complex of soundstages and backlots would expand throughout the next two decades into one of the greatest and most lavish production units of the studio era.
But Loew would not live to see the great organization he created expand to its full potential. Loew died in 1927, a year after the release of the second of his company's hits, the silent version of Ben Hur , and two years after MGM's first major production, King Vidor's The Big Parade , had grossed over $5 million. Loew was the first of the pioneering moguls to pass away, and one of the most respected and well-loved in this early phase of the industry. He left behind an estate estimated at over $30 million.
Loew's, Inc., and MGM persisted as major players in the history of American film after Loew's death. Nicholas Schenck succeeded Loew as president of the company from 1927 to 1955. A short-lived merger instigated by William Fox created Fox-Loew's from 1928 until 1930, but the largest entertainment conglomerate up to that point in history was soon broken up by early government anti-trust action. In Hollywood, Mayer and Thalberg honed MGM into the most financially and artistically successful studio of the Great Depression, while Schenck and Mayer continued to supervise production into the 1950s. Loew's son, Arthur, supervised the company's extensive overseas expansion, and acted as president for one year in 1955 after Schenck's retirement. After the monopolistic production/exhibition system was finally disbanded by government trust-busting in the late 1940s and most of Loew's theaters were razed, MGM like the other troubled Hollywood studios survived into the 1960s with varying degrees of success. In 1969 Loew's sold off its famous Culver City MGM backlots, and the artifacts of Loew's most famous creation went on the auction block. What remains of the original MGM studio is now Sony Pictures, and Loew's west coast flagship theater, Loew's State, still stands on Broadway in the historic but now sadly decaying old downtown of Los Angeles.