William Randolph Hearst Goes to the Movies

“The coming of the motion picture was as important as that of the printing press” – William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) loved the moving image. He was the first to see and understand how this flickering of light could transform how we communicated, formed opinions, bought products, and among other things, how we came to be entertained. Here’s a brief overview of how Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Productions came into existence.

Hearst owned a vast publishing empire with a nation-wide network of newspapers and magazines. These papers created a sensational tabloid style of journalism, known as Yellow Journalism. He realized early on that he could use moving images to help sell his newspapers and tell stories with a slant to his outlook on current events – thus swaying public opinion, building a loyal base of readers for his newspapers, and in turn, boosting profits.

Hearst truly loved, and was keenly interested in, the new technologies of film making. He had his hand in many different avenues of the new medium. Initially, he opened his own animation studio, International Film Service, in order to turn his popular print cartoons into “living comic strips”. Film director Gregory La Cava got his start as an animator with Hearst, and later became head of the studio. Hearst started the International Picture Service to exclusively make newsreels. This company was morphed into International Film Service when his animation studio stopped being profitable.

In 1917, Hearst partnered with Ivan Abramson, forming the Graphic Film Corporation to make feature films. This venture lasted until 1919, when he started Cosmopolitan Productions. This new production company was named after the Hearst owned magazine, which, unlike today, was a story-based publication and the stories published in the magazine were used as the basis for Cosmopolitan films.

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Cosmopolitan Productions second feature film release “The Dark Star” (1919)

Like many other independent production companies at the time, Cosmopolitan was based in New York and ran its own studio. They entered into a distribution agreement with Paramount Pictures, in which Cosmopolitan would receive a large percentage of each film’s profits, and in turn, Hearst’s publishing empire would heavily promote Paramount’s other films. This type of agreement would become the basis for all future collaborations between Cosmopolitan Productions and other studios. Cosmopolitan had its own stock company and stable of stars, which included Marion Davies, Lionel Barrymore, Alma Rubens, and Anita Stewart. Hearst partnered with Goldwyn Pictures in 1923, creating the Goldwyn-Cosmopolitan Distribution Corporation. They released twenty-three films before merging with Marcus Loew’s Metro Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

In 1924, after the merger, Cosmopolitan Productions moved into the new MGM studio lot in Culver City, California. They stayed at MGM until 1934, then moved to Warner Bros. Pictures until 1938, and finally moving over to 20th Century-Fox in 1939. The last feature film for Cosmopolitan Productions was “20,000 Men a Year” (1939) starring Randolph Scott, Preston Foster, and Margaret Lindsay.

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Cosmopolitan Productions last feature film “20,000 Men a Year” (1939)

 

 

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