Twentieth Century Fox


The year 1950 also marked the release of All About Eve , Fox's consummate postwar success. Produced by Zanuck, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909–1993), the film starred Bette Davis (1908–1989) as a veteran stage star struggling with advancing age and a declining career, and its many awards included Oscars ® for best picture, director, and screenplay. All About Eve also featured Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962) in a bit part—one of several in the early 1950s that paved the way to leading roles and top stardom. A worthy successor to Betty Grable, Monroe was the fifties-era blonde bombshell whose star vehicles— Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , How to Marry a Millionaire (both 1953), River of No Return (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), and others—were money in the till for Fox. These hits were also highlights in an otherwise lackluster period, when Fox's only other real star was its widescreen CinemaScope format, which debuted in The Robe (1953), turning that routine biblical yarn into a major hit and persuading Zanuck to produce all of the studio's releases in CinemaScope.

The emphasis on Monroe and widescreen spectacles underscored a shift to a more upbeat, conservative ethos at Fox, which intensified when Zanuck resigned his executive post in 1956 to pursue independent production in France and installed producer Buddy Adler (1909–1960) as head of the studio. That led to a particularly fallow period for Fox, which by 1960–1961 was showing net losses for the first time in decades—and threatened to grow much worse in light of the now-legendary budget overruns on Cleopatra (1963). Problems on that film, along with the success of Zanuck's own D-Day drama, The Longest Day (1962), prompted his return to Fox to salvage Cleopatra and reverse the studio's declining fortunes. Zanuck assumed the presidency of Fox in August 1962, replacing Skouras, and he appointed his son Richard (b. 1934) head of production. Within a year the studio was showing a profit, and in 1965 it enjoyed monumental success with The Sound of Music , whose $80 million in rental receipts made it Hollywood's all-time biggest hit.

Inspired by the runaway success of that film, Fox embarked on a woefully ill-advised production campaign that resulted in the musical extravaganzas Doctor Dolittle (1967), Star! (1968), and Hello, Dolly! (1969), and the wildly ambitious war epic, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), a US-Japanese co-production about the attack on Pearl Harbor. These and other big-budget projects failed at the box office, causing cumulative net losses in 1969–1970 of just over $100 million, contributing mightily to an industry-wide recession and to the ouster of Richard Zanuck in 1970 and Darryl Zanuck in 1971. At that point 20th Century Fox came under control of its board chairman, Dennis Stanfill, although like many of the studios at the time, it was without effective leadership, direction, or control. Interestingly enough, Fox did release some modest offbeat hits in that era, including Planet of the Apes (1968), which spun off several film sequels and TV series; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), a prototypical action-adventure buddy movie co-starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford; and breakthrough hits by two of the era's leading auteurs: Robert Altman's (b. 1925) M*A*S*H (1970) and William Friedkin's (b. 1935) The French Connection (1971).

The French Connection gave Fox another batch of Oscars ® , including best picture and best director, and helped spur a recovery that accelerated in 1973–1974 with the arrival of Alan Ladd Jr. (b. 1937) as head of production. Under Ladd, Fox turned out solid, predictable hits like The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Omen (1976), along with some inspired comedy hits like Young Frankenstein (1974), one of several Mel Brooks (b. 1926) films done at Fox, and Silver Streak (1976). The studio's fortunes were forever changed with the 1977 release of George Lucas's (b. 1944) space epic, Star Wars , which cost roughly $13 million and grossed well over $200 million, giving Fox another all-time box-office hit. But unfortunately for Fox, Ladd signed away the sequel rights to Lucas in lieu of his final payment as writer-director, which meant that Fox would collect only distribution fees on subsequent releases—which were among the most successful films of their respective release years (1980, 1983, 1999, 2003, and 2005). Other Fox hits from the Ladd era included several exceptional women's pictures, Julia , The Turning Point (both 1977), and An Unmarried Woman (1978), and two of the top box-office hits of 1979, Alien and Breaking Away .

Ladd left for independent production that same year, initiating a period of turmoil at Fox that intensified with the sale of the studio to the oil magnate Marvin Davis in 1981, and then the brief, unsuccessful tenures of Alan Hirschfield as chief executive and Sherry Lansing (b. 1944) as production head. Both Hirschfield and Lansing were out by 1983, as Fox continued to struggle and Davis's interest waned; but the company's fortunes began to turn in 1984 with the hiring of Barry Diller as president and CEO. At age forty-two, Diller already had a remarkable track record in US media, starting in the late 1960s at ABC where he developed the TV-movie and miniseries operations, and then at Paramount, where in 1974 he was named chairman of the studio's motion picture and television divisions. Diller found Fox to be undercapitalized and Davis unwilling to invest, so he began looking for outside investors. He found one in Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born media baron whose global publishing empire, News Corp., had begun rapidly expanding into media. Impressed by Diller and the opportunity at hand, which was enhanced substantially by the deregulation of US media under President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), Murdoch decided to invest heavily, purchasing half-ownership of Fox in 1984 and completing the acquisition in 1985 (for a bargain total price of $575 million). Murdoch also became a naturalized US citizen in 1985 to satisfy FCC regulations that prohibited foreign ownership of TV stations.

At that point Murdoch and Diller began assembling the necessary resources to create Fox Broadcasting, a fourth US television network to compete with ABC, CBS, and NBC. Although launching Fox-TV was a bold and visionary move, the rollout was done slowly and deliberately, beginning with a late night program in October 1986 and gradually working into prime time and then into a weeklong evening schedule as Fox acquired its own TV stations and a chain of affiliates. Meanwhile, Murdoch and Diller promoted the notion of

Marilyn Monroe sings "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953).
movies and television as complementary components of Fox's "filmed entertainment" division. Thus the studio was no longer regarded as primarily a motion picture operation, and indeed Fox's share of the movie market gradually declined as its filmed entertainment revenues increased. The studio turned out a few blockbuster hits during Diller's regime, including Aliens (1986), Die Hard (1988), and Home Alone (1990), but it displayed nowhere near the blockbuster-driven mentality of its major competitors.

In 1992 Diller left Fox, satisfied with his achievements but determined to build and run his own company. Murdoch by then was tightening his grip on Fox as well as News Corp., which he continued to expand at a staggering pace, building a vertically and horizontally integrated global communications system that featured multiple courses of "content," multiple modes of distribution, and multiple "pipelines" to the consumer—with Fox-TV being the most lucrative. The movie studio continued to turn out a steady supply of hits after Diller's departure, most notably Titanic (1997), which Fox co-financed and co-released with Paramount, and which earned over $1.8 billion in its initial worldwide theatrical release. Fox also saw huge revenues as the distributor of the rejuvenated Star Wars series, and in fact by 2005, Titanic , Independence Day (1996), and the Star Wars franchise gave Fox a share in six of the top twenty-five worldwide box-office hits. Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight, the studio's indie subdivision launched in the mid-1990s (primarily as a distributor of low-budget independent films), enjoyed a remarkable run of hits including The Full Monty (1997), Boys Don't Cry (1999), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), and Sideways (2004).

In the early twenty-first century, 20th Century Fox remains one of Hollywood's principal motion picture producer-distributors, and along with 20th Century Fox Television is a primary "content provider" for News Corp.'s vast media delivery holdings—the Fox-TV broadcast network, a dozen cable channels (including FX, the Fox Movie Channel, Fox News, et al.), and extensive cable and satellite holdings overseas. Thus the film and television studios, which co-exist within Fox Filmed Entertainment, are part of a worldwide, vertically integrated media system that has effectively reconstituted the studio system of old on a global, diversified scale. Movies are key to the system's success, of course, although Fox's most successful filmed entertainment franchises have come from the television side—hit series like The Simpsons and The X-Files , whose capacity to generate revenues far surpasses even the most successful movie blockbusters. Indeed, given the "ownership" of the contract talent and the mode of production involved, these TV series franchises are perhaps the clearest descendants of the star-genre formulas that made 20th Century Fox and the other Hollywood studios tick a half-century ago.

SEE ALSO Star System ; Studio System

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Thomas Schatz

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