How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (2024)

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (1)

Audrey Hepburn at the gates of Paramount Pictures in the mid-1950s.


Everett

When Paramount Pictures was finally taken over by a conglomerate in 1966, the film industry had long been a major institution in Hollywood and was now facing a number of new challenges.

Paramount, aptly described by historian Robert Sklar as “the house that Adolph Zukor built,” was one of the first major studios. As its head, Zukor set in motion both industrial vertical integration and a carefully constructed mechanism for cultivating and maintaining celebrity image. Although Zukor was no longer chairman when Gulf + Western took over Paramount, the founding magnate's influence was still felt right through the studio doors.

At a time when Hollywood was searching for a new identity – its founding moguls were gone or mostly retired, shattered self-censorship practices were giving way to a modern ratings system, studios were being bought up by companies outside the entertainment industry – Paramount managed to come out on top in glorious fashion. Within a few years, by 1968, the studio was producing gems such as A strange couple, Rosemary's Babyand co-production Once upon a time in the West.

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (2)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (3)

Hollywood was at a crossroads in 1966. Charles Champlin wrote in The Los Angeles Times that it was a “pivotal year” for the industry, “never in modern times has the actual financial control of the studios been contested to such an extent.” Columbia was taken over by the Swiss Banque de Paris, MGM faced constant “shareholding revolts,” and United Artists, Warner Bros., Disney and Fox all experienced changes of ownership.

Chaplin also noted that the relationship between film and television was still uncertain, stressing that The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was leased to television for $2 million, allowing two broadcasts. The studios' backlogs, once considered highly flammable celluloid stuff, began to attract big dollar signs. The magnitude of this Hollywood/TV deal caught the attention of Gulf + Western executive Charles Bludhorn. An unnamed executive told Champlin that to lease a Hollywood film as a television premiere, expect at least $500,000. No more celluloid stuff.

Paramount was acquired by Gulf + Western in late 1966, which New York Times called it its “biggest coup yet.” After profits rose from $400,000 in 1959 to $20 million in 1966, G&W acquired assets from all over the world, including aerospace, electrical, minerals, chemicals and Hollywood studios.

G&W bought over 18 percent of Paramount stock, enough to gain control, and merged the studio and its assets under its umbrella in October 1966. Studio head Howard Koch resigned in November but stayed on as an independent producer, in which role he A strange couple (It was and still is all too common for new management to shut down existing projects to create their own, which did not happen here.) Shortly thereafter, actor and later producer Robert Evans was hired by Bludhorn as Paramount's studio head.

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (4)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (5)

Evans headed Paramount from 1966 to 1974. During this time, the studio released True determination (1969), Catch 22 (1970), Love story (1970), The Godfather (1972), Paper Moon And Serpico in 1973, as well as a banner in 1974 that saw The conversation, Chinatown, The Parallax View, Death wish, No chance for me, The Great GatsbyAnd The Godfather – Part IIand was awarded numerous Oscars for it.

Evans focused on the creative element, while Bernard Donnenfeld, vice president of production administration, kept an eye on the finances. “We discuss together the potential economics of every proposed project,” Donnenfeld told 125 members of the press at the Beverly Hills Hotel in February 1967. Evans added, “Our goal is to make Paramount the industry leader again.”

The studio's film production had just reached its highest level in over two decades; after World War II, Hollywood could enjoy over 85 million viewers per week.

How do I dramatize The offerEvans had disputes with some of his collaborators, such as skirmishes with Francis Ford Coppola during The GodfatherCoppola told Davis that [when casting Michael Corleone] “We always joked: He wants a guy who looks like him, and I want a guy who looks like me.” During the casting, Evans got a call from a columnist who asked why they were casting an “ugly guy” like Pacino. “Bob listens to people like that,” Coppola said.

Writing in Chicago-TribuneThe journalist Ivor Davis described Evans in 1973 as “a fame-seeker but not a power-hungry one; ambitious but not ruthless; a taskmaster but not a tyrant; a ladies' man who did not think much of women; a good team player with personality. But a loner.” Evans took risks on great stories. His talent liked him because Evans was one of them. As an actor turned studio boss, his heart was always with the talent. The Godfather Writer Mario Puzo often spoke of his first meeting with Evans, when the studio head answered a phone call in his closet. “Louis B. Mayer would have pushed us into the closet and answered the call at his desk,” Puzo joked.

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (6)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (7)

Sam Wasson, whose book on Chinatown was recorded in The Hollywood ReporterList of the best film books, wrote in Los Angeles Magazine that Evans turned Paramount “into a cultural revolution… he saved everything… he saved the studio.” The range of talent that came to Paramount during the Evans era is a who's who of the New Hollywood era – Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Alan Pakula, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Mia Farrow, Ali MacGraw, Mike Nichols, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, Alan Arkin, Frank Sinatra, Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Redford, and so on.

At the end of his life, Evans could still captivate a room. I met him at a book signing at Book Soup a few years before his death. I asked Evans who he respected more than anyone else after all his years in Hollywood. “Jack Nicholson,” he said without hesitation. “Robert Evans loved a good story,” wrote Wasson, “but maybe he loved Hollywood even more.” Evans is a reminder of the days when a Hollywood executive rose in Hollywood, not in any other industry.

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (8)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (9)

Television executive Barry Diller was appointed head of Paramount in 1974, bringing with him his television expertise and an impressive crew now known as “The Killer Dillers” – Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson. Paramount had also purchased Desilu Productions (Star Trek, Impossible mission) in 1967 and had the equipment needed to produce high-quality television. Under Diller, Paramount produced successful television series Laverne and Shirley (1976), taxi (1978) and Bottom up (1982) and generation-defining films Saturday Night Fever (1977), Fat (1978) and Hunter of the lost treasure (1981).

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (10)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (11)

Under Frank Mancuso, Sr., production managers Don Simpson (1981-82), Jeffrey Katzenberg (82-84) and Dawn Steel (85-87). The number of successful and iconic films that are still celebrated today is almost too large to list – 48 hrs. (1982); Lightning Dance, Trading venues (1983); Unbound, Beverly Hills Cop (1984); Notice, witness(1985); TopGun, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Manhunter, Crocodile Dundee (1986); Beverly Hills Cop 2: The Wonderful World of Madness, The Untouchables, Fatal attraction, Planes, trains and cars, Eddie Murphy – Raw (1987).

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (12)How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (13)

In the late 1980s, Gulf + Western was renamed Paramount Communications and restructured to shift the conglomerate's focus to entertainment. After a failed attempt to acquire Time (and losing to Warner), the company acquired several television stations and developed the USA and Syfy networks. Paramount was eventually bought out by Viacom in 1994, ushering in the Sumner-Redstone era. Paramount managed to find trusted entertainment leadership in Sherry Lansing (1992-2004), who helped usher in an era of major blockbusters such as Forrest Gump (1994), Brave heart (1995) and Titanic (1997). Lansing was then replaced by Brad Grey (2005-2017) during the acquisition of DreamWorks and a revamped Viacom that boomed with CBS, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, Comedy Central and many other assets.

Paramount has had a long tradition of hiring “showmen” to steer the ship since its inception. The studio's history is laudable and should give Hollywood hope after years of stormy seas. Movies have always prevailed, regardless of the rhetoric of the critics of the time. Paramount has always been a force that kept the movies alive. We hope the house that Adolph Zukor built remains a beacon in Hollywood.

How Paramount's first big sale in 1966 sparked a new Hollywood era (2024)
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