RKO Pictures

RKO Pictures

company_name = RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
company_type = Corporation
foundation = 1929 (as Radio Pictures Inc., subsidiary of Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp.)
location = 1270 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
key_people =
industry = Motion pictures
dissolved = 1959 (de facto)

RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As Radio Pictures Inc. and then RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the so-called Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928. [The current online edition of Encyclopædia Britannica erroneously claims that RKO resulted "from the merger of the Radio Corporation of America, the Keith-Albee-Orpheum theatre chain, and the American Pathé production firm." See [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9063828/RKO-Radio-Pictures-Inc RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. entry] . Retrieved 11/24/06. Many other online sources make the same demonstrably false claim or similar ones (e.g., that the RCA Photophone business was made part of RKO).
Note also the following:
*Many sources incorrectly describe Keith-Albee-Orpheum as the union of three theater chains; in fact the name describes the union of just two chains, B. F. Keith Corp. (doing business as Keith-Albee) and Orpheum Circuit Inc. Edward F. Albee was Benjamin F. Keith's right-hand man; he took over the company after its founder's death in 1914.
*Many sources incorrectly give FBO's full name as "Film Booking Office of America"; the proper name is Film Booking Offices of America, which may be confirmed by examining its .As an example of the many erroneous descriptions of RKO's early history that are routine even in reputable sources, take the summary history of the company's origins in Balio, Tino, "Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930–1939" (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1995 [1993] ), p. 16. The following corrections must be made to a single paragraph:
*FBO's full name was "not" "Film Booking Office."
*RCA Photophone was "not" "amalgamated" with FBO and KAO under the Radio-Keith-Orpheum holding company (see, e.g., Lasky [1989] , p. 120).
*The company did "not" "contain" anything close to "three hundred theaters" (see note 2, below).
*The company did "not" "contain...four studios" in either standard meaning of the term—production company or permanent production facility. After its purchase of Pathé (U.S.) in January 1931, RKO could be said to "contain" two studios in the former sense; as for the latter sense, after the purchase, RKO possessed the former FBO studio in Hollywood, a backlot it had established in Encino in 1929, and the Pathé studio/backlot in Culver City—three "studios" by even a generous count. And note that Balio does not mention the Pathé purchase.
] RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger in order to create a market for the company's sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone. By the mid-1940s, the studio was under the control of investor Floyd Odlum.

RKO has long been celebrated for its cycle of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the mid- to late 1930s. Katharine Hepburn and, later, Robert Mitchum had their first major successes at the studio. Cary Grant was a mainstay for years. The work of producer Val Lewton's low-budget horror unit and RKO's many ventures into the field now known as film noir have been acclaimed, largely after the fact, by film critics and historians. The studio left its deepest mark with two of the most famous films in motion picture history: "King Kong" and "Citizen Kane".

In its later years, RKO was taken over by maverick industrialist Howard Hughes and finally by the General Tire and Rubber Company. The original RKO Pictures ceased production in 1957 and was effectively dissolved two years later. In 1981, broadcaster RKO General, the corporate heir, revived it as a production subsidiary, RKO Pictures Inc. In 1989, this business with its few remaining assets, the trademarks and remake rights to many classic RKO films, was sold to new owners, who now operate the small independent company RKO Pictures LLC.

The birth of RKO

Shut out of the profitable sound-film conversion business driven by the success of Warner Bros.' October 1927 release "The Jazz Singer", RCA bought its way into the motion picture industry to gain an outlet for the optical sound-on-film system, Photophone, recently developed by General Electric, RCA's parent company. All of the major studios and their theater divisions were in the process of signing with ERPI, a subsidiary of AT&T's Western Electric division, to handle conversion. Hoping to join in the anticipated boom in sound movies, David Sarnoff, general manager of RCA, approached Joseph Kennedy in late 1927 about using the Photophone system for Kennedy's modest-sized studio, Film Booking Offices of America (FBO). Negotiations resulted in General Electric acquiring a substantial interest in FBO, the first step in a broader plan that appears to have been largely conceived by Sarnoff. Next on the agenda was securing a string of exhibition venues like those the leading Hollywood production companies owned. Around the same time that Kennedy began investigating the possibility of such a purchase, the large Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit of theaters, built around the now fading medium of live vaudeville, was attempting a transition to the movie business. In spring 1927, the filmmaking operations of Pathé (U.S.) and Cecil B. De Mille had united under the control of the theater group. Early in 1928, KAO general manager John J. Murdock, who had assumed the presidency of Pathé, turned to Kennedy as an advisor in consolidating the studio with De Mille's company, Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC). This was the relationship Sarnoff and Kennedy were looking for. [Goodwin (1987), pp. 375–379; Jewell (1982), pp. 9–10; Lasky (1989), pp. 25–27; Gomery (1985), pp. 63–65; Crafton (1997), pp. 136–139, 193–194; "Cinemerger", "Time", May 2, 1927 (available [http://www.time.com/time/archive/printout/0,23657,751696,00.html online] ). Note that Jewell's reference to "the 700 K-A-O Theatres in the US and Canada" (p. 10) is wildly inaccurate. The "Time" article indicates that as of May 1927, Keith-Albee (legally the B. F. Keith Corp.) had 50 theaters and Orpheum had 47. Crafton claims KAO had "200 theaters" at the time of RKO's founding (p. 141), though he references no contemporary source. He does cite "Film Daily" in a description of RKO as controlling 250 theaters in 1930, following a "buying binge" (p. 256). Schatz (1998) describes an "RKO chain of 161 theaters" around the time David O. Selznick became production chief in October 1931 (p. 128). Schatz (1999) writes that as of 1940, RKO had "slightly more than 100 theaters" (p. 17). He explains that "the figures on studio-affiliated theaters very considerably, owing to the number of houses in which the studios held only partial interest—as little as 5 percent in some cases" (p. 484, n. 24).]

With Murdock's support, Kennedy led a syndicate that acquired KAO on May 10, 1928. [Goodwin (1987), p. 376.] De Mille was soon bought out and Pathé took over his production facilities in Culver City. After an aborted attempt by Kennedy to bring yet another studio that had turned to him for help, First National Pictures, into the Photophone fold, RCA was ready to step back in: the company acquired Kennedy's stock in both FBO and the KAO theater business. On October 23, 1928, RCA announced the creation of the Radio-Keith-Orpheum holding company, with Sarnoff as chairman of the board. Kennedy, who stepped aside from his executive positions in the merged companies, kept Pathé separate from RKO and under his personal control. [Goodwin (1987), pp. 375–379; Jewell (1982), p. 10; Lasky (1989), pp. 27–29, 33–34; Gomery (1985), pp. 63–65; Crafton (1997), pp. 136–139, 193–194.] RCA owned the governing stock interest in RKO, 22 percent; in the early 1930s, RCA's share of stock in the company would rise as high as 60 percent. [Crafton (1997), p. 210.] The company's production and distribution arm, presided over by former FBO vice-president Joseph I. Schnitzer, was incorporated early in 1929 as Radio Pictures. ["New Incorporations", "New York Times", April 11, 1929.] Looking to get out of the film business the following year, Kennedy arranged in late 1930 for RKO to purchase Pathé from him. On January 29, 1931, Pathé, with its contract players, well-regarded newsreel operation, and Culver City studio and backlot, was merged into RKO as Kennedy sold off the last of his stock in the company he had been instrumental in creating. [Goodwin (1987), pp. 422–423; Jewell (1982), p. 32; Crafton (1997), pp. 208, 210.]

RKO Radio Pictures Inc.

The early years

Declaring that it would make only all-talking films, RKO began shooting at the former FBO facility in early 1929. In charge of production was William LeBaron, who had held the same position at FBO. The new studio's first two releases were musicals, the melodramatic "Syncopation", which premiered March 3, and the comedic "Street Girl" (RKO's first "official" production, following the formal incorporation of Radio Pictures), which debuted July 30. For the lavish musical "Rio Rita", RKO spared no expense, including a number of Technicolor sequences. Opening in September to rave reviews, it was the studio's first major hit and was named one of the ten best pictures of the year by "Film Daily". Encouraged by its success, RKO produced several costly musicals incorporating Technicolor sequences in 1930, among them "Dixiana" and "Hit the Deck", both scripted and directed, like "Rio Rita", by Luther Reed. Following the example of the other major studios, RKO planned to create its own musical revue, "Radio Revels". [Bradley (1996), p. 260; "R.-K.-O. Signs More Noted Names", "Los Angeles Times", June 20, 1929; "Studios Plan Huge Programs", "Los Angeles Times", July 21, 1929.] Promoted as the studio's most extravagant production to date, it was to be photographed entirely in Technicolor. A second all-color musical was also planned, the first screen version of Victor Herbert's operetta "Babes in Toyland", to be directed by Reed. ["Los Angeles Times", May 31, 1930, p. A9.] The projects were abandoned, however, as the public's taste for musicals temporarily subsided. From a total of more than sixty Hollywood musicals in 1929 and over eighty the following year, the number would drop to eleven in 1931. [Bradley (1996), p. 279.] RKO was left in a bind: it still had a contract with Technicolor to produce two more features with its system. Complicating matters, audiences had come to associate color with the momentarily out-of-favor musical genre due to a glut of such productions from the major Hollywood studios. Fulfilling its obligations, RKO produced two all-Technicolor pictures, "The Runaround" and "Fanny Foley Herself" (both 1931), containing no musical sequences. Neither was a success. [Jewell (1982), pp. 38, 41. For Technicolor contracts during this era, see [http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/kalmus.htm "Technicolor Adventures in Cinemaland"] address by company founder Herbert Kalmus, October 28, 1938; part of the "Widescreen Museum" website. Retrieved 3/24/07.]

Even as the U.S. economy foundered, RKO had gone on a spending spree, buying up theater after theater to add to its exhibition chain. By the early 1930s, RKO was producing over forty features a year, releasing them under the names "Radio Pictures" and, for a short time after the 1931 merger, "RKO Pathé." "Cimarron" (1931), produced by LeBaron himself, would become the only RKO production to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; nonetheless, having cost an astonishing $1.4 million to produce, "Cimarron" was a clear domestic money-loser on original release. [Crafton (1997), p. 552; Lasky (1989), p. 55. Only one previous sound film had cost more than $1 million, and just barely: "Noah's Ark" (1929), from Warner Bros. (Crafton [1997] , p. 549).] The most popular RKO star of this pre-Code era was Irene Dunne, who made her debut as the lead in the 1930 musical "Leathernecking" and was a headliner at the studio for the entire decade. Other major performers included Joel McCrea, Ricardo Cortez, and Mary Astor. Richard Dix, Oscar-nominated for his lead performance in "Cimarron", would serve as RKO's standby B-movie star through the early 1940s. The comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, often wrangling over sweetie pie Dorothy Lee, was a bankable mainstay for years. Constance Bennett, Ann Harding, and Helen Twelvetrees came over with Pathé, whose distribution deal with the Van Beuren cartoon studio was also picked up. The Pathé acquisition, though a defensible investment in the long term for its physical facilities, was yet another major expense borne by the fledgling RKO, particularly as Pathé's stock price had been artificially inflated by some prepurchase finagling. [Lasky (1989), pp. 58–59.] After little more than a year of semiautonomous operation within RKO, Pathé was dissolved as a feature production unit.

uccess under Selznick

Exceptions like "Cimarron" and "Rio Rita" aside, RKO's product was largely regarded as mediocre, so in autumn 1931 Sarnoff hired 29-year-old David O. Selznick to replace LeBaron as production chief. In addition to implementing rigorous cost-control measures, Selznick was a champion of the so-called unit production system that gave the producers of individual movies much greater independence than they had under the prevailing central producer system. Instituting unit production at RKO, he predicted substantial benefits in both "cost and quality." [Bordwell et al. (1985), pp. 320–321.] To make films under the new system, Selznick recruited prize behind-the-camera personnel, such as director George Cukor and producer/director Merian C. Cooper, and gave whiz kid producer Pandro S. Berman increasingly important projects. Selznick discovered and signed a young actress who would quickly become one of the studio's biggest stars, Katharine Hepburn. John Barrymore was also enlisted for a few memorable performances. From September 1932 on, print advertising for the company's features displayed the revised name "RKO Radio Pictures"; the Pathé name was used only for newsreels and documentaries. [For the switch to the RKO Radio Pictures brand at the beginning of the 1932–33 exhibition season for U.S. print advertising, see, e.g., [http://www.impawards.com/1932/most_dangerous_game.html this original poster] for "The Most Dangerous Game", which premiered September 9, 1932.] Selznick spent a mere fifteen months as RKO production chief, resigning over a dispute with new corporate president Merlin Aylesworth concerning creative control. [Schatz (1998), pp. 131–133.] One of his last acts at RKO was to approve a screen test for an aging, balding Broadway song-and-dance man named Fred Astaire. [Schatz (1998), p. 133.] Selznick's tenure was widely considered masterful: In 1931, before he arrived, the studio had produced forty-two features for $16 million in total budgets. In 1932, under Selznick, forty-one features were made for $10.2 million, with clear improvement in quality and popularity. [Schatz (1998), pp. 131.] He backed several major successes, including "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), with Cukor directing Hepburn's debut, and the monumental "King Kong" (1933)—largely Merian Cooper's brainchild, brought to life by the astonishing special effects work of Willis O'Brien. Still, the shaky finances and excesses that marked the company's pre-Selznick days had not left RKO in shape to withstand the Depression; the company sank into receivership in early 1933, from which it would not emerge until 1940. [Lasky (1989), pp. 81–82.]

Cooper at the helm

Cooper took over as production head after Selznick's departure and oversaw the hits "Little Women" (1933), with Cukor again directing Hepburn, and "Morning Glory" (1933), for which the actress won her first Oscar. Ginger Rogers had already made several minor films for RKO when Cooper signed her to a seven-year contract and cast her in the big-budget musical "Flying Down to Rio" (1933). [Lasky (1989), pp. 98–99.] Rogers was paired with Astaire, making his movie debut. Billed fourth and fifth respectively, the picture turned them into major stars. Along with Columbia Pictures, RKO became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. As film historian James Harvey describes, compared to their richer competition, the two studios were "more receptive to experiment, more tolerant of chaos on the set. It was at these two lesser 'majors'...that nearly all the preeminent screwball directors did their important films— [Howard Hawks| [Howard] Hawks] and [Gregory La Cava| [Gregory] La Cava] and [Leo McCarey| [Leo] McCarey] and [George Stevens| [George] Stevens] ." [Harvey (1998), p. 290.] The relatively unheralded William A. Seiter directed the studio's first significant contribution to the genre, "The Richest Girl in the World" (1934). [See, e.g., Di Battista (2001), p. 90.] Directors such as Stevens, John Cromwell, and John Ford made impressive films at the studio in this period: Cromwell's "Of Human Bondage" (1934) was Bette Davis's first great success. Stevens's "Alice Adams" and Ford's "The Informer" were each nominated for the 1935 Best Picture Oscar—the Best Director statuette won by Ford was the only one ever given for an RKO production. "The Informer"'s star, Victor McLaglen, also took home an Academy Award; he would appear in thirteen movies for the studio over a span of two decades.

Lacking the financial resources of industry leaders MGM, Paramount, and Fox, RKO turned out many pictures during the era that made up for it with high style, exemplified by such Astaire–Rogers musicals as "The Gay Divorcee" (1934) and "Top Hat" (1935). One of the figures most responsible for that style was another Selznick recruit: Van Nest Polglase, chief of RKO's highly regarded design department for almost a decade. Indeed, the studio's craft divisions were among the best in the industry across the board. Costumer Walter Plunkett, who worked with the company from the close of the FBO era through the end of 1939, was known as the top period wardrobist in the business. Sidney Saunders, innovative head of the studio's paint department, was responsible for significant progress in rear projection quality. [Morton (2005), p. 43; Cotta Vaz and Barron (2002), p. 59.] On June 13, 1935, RKO premiered the first feature film shot entirely in advanced three-strip Technicolor, "Becky Sharp". The movie was coproduced with Pioneer Pictures, founded by Cooper—who departed RKO after two years helming production—and John Hay "Jock" Whitney, who brought in his cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney; Cooper had successfully encouraged the Whitneys to purchase a major share of the Technicolor business as well. ["What? Color in the Movies Again?" "Fortune", October 1934 (available [http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/fortune-page01.htm online] ); Morton (2005), pp. 111–112; Lasky (1989), p. 104.] Though judged by critics a failure as drama, "Becky Sharp" was widely lauded for its visual brilliance and technical expertise. RKO also employed some of the industry's leading artists and craftsmen whose work was never seen. From the studio's earliest days through late 1935, Max Steiner, regarded by many historians as the most influential composer of the early years of sound cinema, made music for over 100 RKO films. [Finler (1988), p. 184.] Murray Spivak, head of the studio's audio special effects department, made important advances in the use of rerecording technology first heard in "King Kong". [Brunelle (1996); Morton (2005), pp. 75–77, 108–109.]

Briskin and Berman

In October 1935 the ownership team expanded, with financier Floyd Odlum leading a syndicate that bought 50 percent of RCA's stake in the company; the Rockefeller brothers, also major stockholders, increasingly became involved in the business. [Lasky (1989), pp. 118–119; Jewell (1982), p. 19.] While the Astaire–Rogers team ran its course and RKO kept missing the mark in building Hepburn's career, major stars Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck joined the studio's roster—though Stanwyck would have little success during her few years there. Grant was a trendsetter, one of the first leading men of the sound era to work extensively as a freelancer, under nonexclusive studio deals, while his star was still on the rise. [For Grant's unusual contract situation, see McCann (1998), pp. 79–80, 144. Among still-ascendant male stars, Grant was preceded by the more established Fredric March as a freelancer. For other freelance Hollywood performers of the mid-1930s, see Balio (1995), p. 155.] Ann Sothern starred in seven RKO films between 1935 and 1937, paired five times with Gene Raymond.

Soon after the appointment of a new production chief, Samuel Briskin, in late 1935, RKO dropped Van Beuren and entered into an important distribution deal with animator Walt Disney. From 1936 to 1954, the studio released his features and shorts; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) was the highest grossing movie in the period between "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939). Following the change in print branding a few years earlier, the opening and closing logos on RKO movies, other than the Pathé nonfiction line, were changed to "RKO Radio Pictures" in 1936. [It has not yet been possible to determine exactly when the studio business's name officially changed from Radio Pictures Inc. to RKO Radio Pictures Inc., in part due to the many references to RKO-Radio Pictures Inc. (i.e., Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp. subsidiary Radio Pictures Inc.) Early on, before the official name change, the hyphen was sometimes informally dropped; later, after the official name change had definitely taken place, the hyphen was sometimes mistakenly used. The latest official document so far located that strongly suggests Radio Pictures was still the official name of the studio subsidiary is "Anti 'Block-booking' and 'Blind Selling' in the Leasing of Motion-picture Films: Hearings Before a Subcommittee" (U.S. Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce, 1939), p. 460. The earliest official document so far located that unambiguously refers to RKO Radio Pictures Inc. as a subsidiary of Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp. is "Propaganda in Motion Pictures: Hearings Before a Subcommittee...on S. Res. 152...Sept. 9 to 26, 1941" (U.S. Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce, 1941), p. 26.] In February 1937, Selznick, now a leading independent producer, took over RKO's Culver City studio and Forty Acres, as the backlot was known, under a long-term lease. "Gone with the Wind", his coproduction with MGM, was largely shot there. ["News of the Screen," "New York Times", February 16, 1937; Schatz (1998), p. 181. By August 1940, the lease was no longer exclusive—see "Screen News Here and in Hollywood," "New York Times", August 28, 1940. By mid-1949, Selznick had left the studio entirely—see two articles by Thomas F. Brady: "Republic to Make Film on Baseball," "New York Times", April 8, 1949; and "Hollywood Buys More Stories," "New York Times", May 1, 1949.] In addition to its central Hollywood studio, RKO production now revolved around its Encino backlot. While the Disney association was beneficial, RKO's own product was widely seen as declining in quality and Briskin was gone by the end of the year.

Pandro Berman—who had filled in on three previous occasions—accepted the position of production chief on a noninterim basis. As it turned out, he would leave the job before the decade's turn, but his brief tenure resulted in some of the most notable films in studio history, including "Gunga Din", with Grant and McLaglen; "Love Affair", starring Dunne and Charles Boyer; and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (all 1939). Charles Laughton, who gave a now fabled performance as Quasimodo in the latter, returned periodically to the studio, headlining six more RKO features. For Maureen O'Hara, who made her American screen debut in the film, it was the first of ten pictures she would make for RKO through 1952.

The studio's B Western star of the period was George O'Brien, who made eighteen RKO pictures, sixteen between 1938 and 1940. "The Saint in New York" (1938) successfully launched a B detective series featuring the character Simon Templar that would run through 1943. The Wheeler and Woolsey comedy series ended in 1937 when Woolsey became ill (he died the following year). RKO filled the void by releasing independently produced features such as the Dr. Christian series and the Laurel and Hardy comedy "The Flying Deuces". The studio soon had its own new B comedy star in Lupe Vélez: "The Girl from Mexico" (1939) was followed by seven frantic installments of the Mexican Spitfire series, all featuring Leon Errol, between 1940 and 1943. The studio's technical departments maintained their reputation as industry leaders; Vernon Walker's special effects unit became famous for its sophisticated use of the optical printer and lifelike matte work, an art that would reach its apex with 1941's "Citizen Kane." [Bordwell et al. (1985), p. 349. For Walker's earlier work on "King Kong", see Morton (2005), pp. 30, 43, 52.]

"Kane" and Schaefer's troubles

Pan Berman had received his first screen credit in 1925 as a nineteen-year-old assistant director on FBO's "Midnight Molly". He departed RKO in December 1939 after policy clashes with studio president George J. Schaefer, handpicked the previous year by the Rockefellers and backed by Sarnoff. With Berman gone, Schaefer became in effect production chief, though other men—including the former head of the industry censorship board, Joseph I. Breen—nominally filled the role. [For Breen's position, see Jeff and Simmons (2001), pp. 119, 122–125.] Schaefer, announcing his philosophy with a new studio slogan, "Quality Pictures at a Premium Price", was keen on signing up independent producers whose films RKO would distribute. [Jewell (1982), p. 140.] In 1941, the studio landed one of the most prestigious independents in Hollywood when it arranged to handle Samuel Goldwyn's productions. The first two Goldwyn pictures released by the studio were highly successful: "The Little Foxes", directed by William Wyler, is seen as one of Bette Davis's finest films, while the Howard Hawks–directed "Ball Of Fire" at last brought Barbara Stanwyck a hit under the RKO banner. However, Schaefer agreed to terms so favorable to Goldwyn that it was next to impossible for the studio to make money off his films. [Schatz (1999), p. 57; Jewell (1982), p. 142.] David O. Selznick loaned out his leading director under contract for two RKO pictures in 1941: Alfred Hitchcock's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" was a modest success and "Suspicion" a more substantial one, with an Oscar-winning turn by Joan Fontaine. [Schatz's (1999) brief description of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" as a "critical and commercial failure" (p. 89) is evidently incorrect. According to historian Leonard Leff, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" had a happy ending: good reviews and modest box office success" (Leff [1999] , p. 92). Ed Sikov agrees, calling it a "solid commercial hit" (Sikov [1996] , p. 152). Donald Spoto's report on its release lends further support to this position (Spoto [1983] , p. 250).]

That May, RKO released "Citizen Kane", coproducing with director Orson Welles's Mercury Productions. While it opened to strong reviews and would go on to be hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made, it lost money at the time and brought down the wrath of the Hearst newspaper chain on RKO. The next year saw the commercial failure of Welles's "The Magnificent Ambersons"—like "Kane", critically lauded and overbudget—and the expensive embarrassment of his aborted documentary "It's All True". The three Mercury productions combined to drain $2 million from the RKO coffers, major money for a corporation that had reported an overall deficit of $1 million in 1940 and a profit (perhaps "creative") of a bit more than $500,000 in 1941. ["Citizen Kane" lost $150,000–$160,000 on original release (the production cost was precisely $805,527.53); "The Magnificent Ambersons" lost $624,000 (production cost $1.125 million); and the unreleased "It's All True" cost the studio an estimated $1.2 million. See Brady (1990), pp. 288, 311 ("Kane"), 346 ("It's All True"); Jewell, 164 ("Kane"), 173 ("Ambersons"). Corporate deficit and profit: Jewell (1982), pp. 144, 156. Note that the studio operation itself was almost certainly a bigger money-loser than these figures suggest, with profits coming from the corporation's theatrical division. See Jewell (1982), p. 168.] Many of RKO's other artistically ambitious pictures were also dying at the box office and it was losing its last exclusive deal with a major star as well. Rogers, after winning an Oscar in 1941 for her performance in the previous year's "Kitty Foyle", held out for a freelance contract like Grant's; after 1943, she would appear in just one more RKO production, thirteen years later. [For ambitious box office failures: Jewell (1982), pp. 144, 146 ("Abe Lincoln in Illinois"), 152 ("They Knew What They Wanted"), 156, 166 ("All That Money Can Buy"); Lasky (1989), p. 165; Schatz (1999), p. 57. For Rogers: Jewell (1982), p. 156; Schatz (1999), p. 57.] On June 17, 1942, Schaefer tendered his resignation. ["Ned Depinet Heads RKO Pictures Unit; Ex-Vice President in Charge of Distribution Is Elected to Succeed G. J. Schaefer", "New York Times", June 26, 1942.] He departed a weakened and troubled studio, but RKO was about to turn the corner. Propelled by the box-office boom of World War II and guided by new management, RKO would make a strong comeback over the next half-decade.

Rebound under Koerner

By the end of June 1942, Floyd Odlum had taken over a controlling interest in the company via his Atlas Corporation, edging aside the Rockefellers and Sarnoff. Charles Koerner, former head of the RKO theater chain and allied with Odlum, had assumed the title of production chief some time prior to Schaefer's departure. With Schaefer gone, Koerner could actually do the job; announcing a policy of "entertainment, not genius" (a snipe at Schaefer's artistic ambitions in general and his sponsorship of Welles in particular), he brought the studio much-needed stability until his death in February 1946. [Quoted in Server (2002), p. 78.] The change in RKO's fortunes was virtually immediate: corporate profits rose from $736,241 in 1942 (the theatrical division compensating for the studio's $2.34 million deficit) to $6.96 million the following year. [Jewell (1982), pp. 168, 178.] The Rockefellers sold off their stock and, early in 1943, RCA dispensed with the last of its holdings in the company as well, cutting David Sarnoff's ties to the studio that was largely his conception. [Lasky (1989), p. 187.]

With RKO on increasingly secure ground, Koerner sought to increase its output of handsomely budgeted, star-driven features. However, the studio's only remaining major star under anything like an extended contract was Grant, whose services were shared with Columbia Pictures. Lacking in-house stars, Koerner and his successors under Odlum made deals with the other studios to loan out their biggest names for top-drawer RKO productions. Thus RKO pictures of the mid- and late forties offered Bing Crosby, Henry Fonda, and others who were out of the studio's price range for extended contracts. John Wayne appeared in 1943's "A Lady Takes a Chance" on loan from Republic Pictures; he was soon working regularly with RKO, making nine more movies for the studio. Gary Cooper appeared in RKO releases produced by Goldwyn and, later, the startup International Pictures, and Claudette Colbert starred in a number of RKO coproductions. Ingrid Bergman appeared under a variety of hats for RKO—on loan out from Selznick in "The Bells of St. Mary's" (1945), in the coproductions "Notorious" (1946) and "Stromboli" (1950), and in the independently produced "Joan of Arc" (1948). Freelancing Randolph Scott appeared in one major RKO release annually from 1943 through 1948. In similar fashion, many leading directors made one or more films at RKO during this era—most notably, Alfred Hitchcock once more, with "Notorious", and Jean Renoir, with "This Land Is Mine" (1943), reuniting Laughton and O'Hara, and "The Woman on the Beach" (1947). John Ford's "The Fugitive" (1947) and "Fort Apache" (1948), which appeared right before studio ownership changed hands again, were followed by "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949) and "Wagon Master" (1950); all four were co-productions between RKO and Argosy, the company run by Ford and RKO alumnus Merian C. Cooper. The best-known director under contract to RKO for much of the 1940s was Edward Dmytryk, who first came to notice with the remarkably profitable "Hitler's Children" (1943); shot on a budget placing it in the bottom 25 percent of Big Five studio productions, it was one of the ten biggest Hollywood hits of the year. [Jewell (1982), p. 181; Lasky (1989), pp. 184–185. The film cost $205,000 to make. See Schatz (1999), p. 173, table 6.3, for budgets of Big Five releases the following year. Jewell states that it "attracted $3,355,000 in film rentals"; Lasky refers to a "Hollywood Reporter" article on the film, published seven months after its premiere, predicting it "would do better than $3 million in the U.S. alone." It is not listed in Schatz's appendix of annual top box-office films of the 1940s (p. 466), based on a 1992 "Variety" reckoning, perhaps because of its unusual production history—$3 million alone would have tied it for eleventh place, a very impressive feat for a movie with a B budget and star (Tim Holt). Assuming Jewell's figure is accurate, and the Schatz/"Variety" list is otherwise accurate and complete, "Hitler's Children" was the ninth biggest earner of 1943.]

Focus on B movies

Much more than the other Big Five studios, RKO relied on B pictures to fill up its schedule. Of the thirty-one features released by RKO in 1944, for instance, ten were budgeted below $200,000, twelve were in the $200,000 to $500,000 range, and only nine cost more. In contrast, a clear majority of the features put out by each of the other Big Five were budgeted at over a half a million dollars. [Analysis based on Schatz (1999), p. 173, table 6.3.] A focus on B pictures limited the studio's financial risk; while it also limited the potential for reward (Dmytryk's extraordinary coup aside), RKO had a history of making better profits with its run-of-the-mill and low-cost product than with its A movies. [Crafton (1997), p. 210.] The studio's low-budget films were also training opportunities for new directors, among them Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, Mark Robson, and Anthony Mann. A number of RKO B's are highly regarded today, notably the movies created by producer Val Lewton's horror unit, such as "Cat People" (1942), "I Walked with a Zombie" (1943), and "The Body Snatcher" (1945). Richard Dix concluded his lengthy RKO career with the 1943 Lewton production "The Ghost Ship". Tim Holt was RKO's B Western star of the era, appearing in over fifty movies for the studio. In 1940, Chester Lauck and Norris Goff brought their famous comic characters Lum and Abner from radio to RKO for a six-film run. The Falcon detective series began in 1941; the Saint and the Falcon were so similar that Saint creator Leslie Charteris sued RKO. [Jewell (1982), p. 164.] The Falcon was first played by George Sanders, who had appeared five times as the Saint. He bowed out after four Falcon films and was replaced by his brother, Tom Conway. Conway had a nine-film run in the part before the series ended in 1946. Johnny Weissmuller starred in six Tarzan pictures for RKO between 1943 and 1948.

Film noir, to which lower budgets lent themselves, became something of a house style at the studio; indeed, the RKO B "Stranger on the Third Floor" (1940) is widely seen as initiating noir's classic period. Its cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca, who began at FBO in the 1920s and stayed with RKO through 1954, is a central figure in creating the look of classic noir. Albert D'Agostino—another long-termer who took over as head of the design department from Polglase in 1941—and his team, including art directors Jack Okey and Walter Keller and set decorator Darrell Silvera, are similarly credited. The studio's 1940s list of contract players reads like a noir who's-who: Robert Mitchum (who would graduate to major star status) and Robert Ryan each made no fewer than ten film noirs for RKO. Gloria Grahame, Jane Greer, Lawrence Tierney, and George Raft were also notable studio players in the genre. Tourneur, Musuraca, Mitchum, and Greer, along with D'Agostino's design group, would join to make "Out of the Past" (1947), now considered one of the greatest of all film noirs. Nicholas Ray began his directing career with the RKO noir "They Live by Night" (1948), the first of a number of well-received films he made for the studio.

HUAC and Howard Hughes

RKO (and the movie industry as a whole) had its most profitable year ever in 1946, and Floyd Odlum cashed in by selling off about 40 percent of his shares in the company to a group of investment firms. [Lasky (1989), pp. 203–204.] After Koerner's death, Radio-Keith-Orpheum president N. Peter Rathvon and RKO Radio Pictures president Ned Depinet had exchanged positions, with Depinet moving to the corporate offices in New York and Rathvon relocating to Hollywood and doubling as production chief while a permanent replacement was sought for Koerner. On the first day of 1947, the talented screenwriter/producer Dore Schary took over the role. [Lasky (1989), pp. 192–193, 195.]

RKO appeared in good shape to build on its recent successes, but the year brought a number of unpleasant harbingers for all of Hollywood. The British government, followed by others, imposed limits on how much capital American movie companies could withdraw annually, curtailing one of the studios' primary sources of earnings. The postwar attendance boom peaked sooner than expected and television emerged as a competitor for audience interest. Across the board, profits fell—a 27 percent drop for the Hollywood studios from 1946 to 1947. [Schatz (1999), pp. 290–291.] The phenomenon that would become known as McCarthyism was building up steam, and in October, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began hearings into Communism in the motion picture industry. Two of RKO's top talents, Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott, refused to cooperate; blacklisted as members of the so-called Hollywood Ten, they were fired by RKO per the terms of the Waldorf Statement, the industry's "antisubversive" declaration. [See, e.g., Friedrich (1997), pp. 333–336.] Ironically, the studio's major success of the year was "Crossfire", a Scott–Dmytryk film. Odlum concluded it was time to exit the film business, and he put his remaining RKO shares—approximately 25 percent of the outstanding stock—on the market. [Brown and Broeske (2004), p. 281.] Before the turn of the year, the Pathé-branded newsreel was sold to Warner Bros. [Jewell (1982), p. 216.] For her performance in "The Farmer's Daughter" (1947), a coproduction with Selznick's Vanguard Films, Loretta Young won the Best Actress Oscar the following March. It would turn out to be the last major Academy Award for an RKO picture.

In May 1948, eccentric multimillionaire and occasional movie producer Howard Hughes gained control of the company, beating out British film magnate J. Arthur Rank as the buyer of Odlum's interest. [Lasky (1989), pp. 204–205.] During Hughes's tenure, RKO suffered its worst years since the early 1930s, as his capricious management style took a heavy toll. Production chief Schary quit almost immediately due to his new boss's interference and Rathvon soon followed. Within weeks of taking over, Hughes had dismissed three-fourths of the work force; production was virtually shut down for six months as Hughes ordered investigations into the politics of all remaining studio employees. Completed pictures would be sent back for reshooting if the stars, especially female, weren't presented to his liking, or if a film's anticommunist sentiments weren't sufficiently blatant. All of the Big Five saw their profits dwindle in 1948—from Fox, down 11 percent, to Loew's/MGM, down 62 percent—but at RKO they virtually vanished: from $5.1 million in 1947 to $0.5 million, a drop of 90 percent. [Analysis based on Schatz (1999), p. 330, table 10.2. See Jewell (1982), pp. 216, 226, for confirmation of RKO figures.] The production-distribution end of the RKO business, now deep in the red, would never make a profit again.

Offscreen, Robert Mitchum's arrest and conviction for marijuana possession—he would serve two months in jail—was widely assumed to mean career death for RKO's most promising young star, but Hughes surprised the industry by announcing that his contract was not endangered. [Jewell (1982), p. 226.] Of much broader significance, Hughes decided to get the jump on his Big Five competitors by being the first to settle the federal government's antitrust suit against the major studios. Under the consent decree he signed, Hughes agreed to dissolve the old parent company, Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corp., and split RKO's production-distribution business and its exhibition chain into two entirely separate corporations—RKO Pictures Corp. and RKO Theatres Corp.—with the obligation to promptly sell off one or the other. While Hughes delayed the divorcement procedure until December 1950 and didn't actually sell his stock in the theater company until November 1953, his decision to acquiesce was one of the crucial steps in the collapse of classical Hollywood's studio system. [Lasky (1989), pp. 218–220, 223, 227; [http://www.cobbles.com/simpp_archive/paramountcase_6supreme1948.htm The Independent Producers and the "Paramount" Case, 1938–1949: Part 6] "The Supreme Court Verdict That Brought an End to the Hollywood Studio System, 1948" (see "The First Studio Is Dissolved" and "The Mighty Paramount Is Broken"); part of the Society Of Independent Motion Picture Producers research archive. Retrieved 7/22/06.]

Hughes's mismanagement

While Hughes's time at RKO was marked by dwindling production and a slew of expensive flops (as well as further witch hunts for suspected Reds), the studio continued to turn out some good films under production chiefs Sid Rogell and Sam Bischoff, each of whom became fed up with Hughes's meddling and quit after less than two years. (Bischoff would be the last man to hold the job under Hughes. [Jewell (1982), p. 254.] ) There were B noirs such as "The Set-Up" and "The Window" (both 1949), whose reputation has only grown over the decades, and "The Thing" (1951), a science-fiction drama coproduced with Howard Hawks's Winchester Pictures. In 1952, RKO put out two films directed by Fritz Lang, "Rancho Notorious" and "Clash by Night". The latter was a project of the renowned Jerry WaldNorman Krasna production team, lured by Hughes from Warner Bros. with great fanfare in August 1950. The company also began a close working relationship with Ida Lupino. She would star in two memorable suspense films with Robert Ryan—Nicholas Ray's "On Dangerous Ground" (1952, though shooting had been completed two years earlier) and "Beware, My Lovely" (1952), a coproduction between RKO and Lupino's company, The Filmakers. Of more historic note, Lupino was Hollywood's only female director during the period; of the five pictures The Filmakers made with RKO, Lupino directed three, including her now celebrated "The Hitch-Hiker" (1953). Exposing many moviegoers to Asian cinema for the first time, RKO distributed Akira Kurosawa's epochal "Rashomon" in the United States, sixteen months after its original 1950 Japanese release.

In September 1952, Hughes and his corporate president, Ned E. Depinet, sold their RKO studio stock to a Chicago-based syndicate with no experience in the movie business; the syndicate's chaotic reign lasted until February 1953, when the stock and control were reacquired by Hughes. ["An Old Flame Returns", "Time", February 23, 1953 (available [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,936396,00.html online] ).] During the turmoil, Samuel Goldwyn ended his 11-year-long distribution deal with RKO. Wald and Krasna escaped their contracts and the studio as well. The deal that brought the team to RKO had called for them to produce sixty features over five years; in just shy of half that time, they succeeded in making four. [Jewell (1982), pp. 246, 262; Lasky (1989), pp. 221, 223, 225.] The studio had a poor year financially in 1952, and production had again virtually ground to a halt over the winter. The Encino backlot shut down permanently in 1953 and the property was sold off. [ [http://www.americassuburb.com/timeline.html Timeline of Valley History] "The Valley Observed". Retrieved 9/24/07.] Hughes soon found himself the target of no less than five separate lawsuits filed by minority shareholders in RKO, accusing him of malfeasance in his dealings with the Chicago group and a wide array of acts of mismanagement. "RKO's contract list is down to three actors and 127 lawyers", quipped Dick Powell. [Quoted in Lasky (1989), p. 226.]

Looking to forestall the impending legal imbroglio, in early 1954 Hughes offered to buy out all of RKO's other stockholders. Convinced that the studio was sinking, Walt Disney ended his arrangement with RKO and set up his own distribution firm, Buena Vista Pictures. By the end of the year, at a cost of $23.5 million, Hughes had gained near-total control of RKO Pictures, becoming the first virtual sole owner of a studio since Hollywood's pioneer days. Virtual, but not quite actual. Floyd Odlum reemerged to block Hughes from acquiring the 95 percent ownership of RKO stock he needed to write off the company's losses against his earnings elsewhere. Hughes had reneged on his promise to give Odlum first option on buying the RKO theater chain when he divested it and was now paying the price. [Jewell (1982), pp. 244–245; Lasky (1989), pp. 218–219, 223, 227–228.] With negotiations between the two at a stalemate, in July 1955, Hughes turned around and sold RKO to the General Tire and Rubber Company for $25 million. Hughes retained the rights to pictures he had personally produced, including those made at RKO; he also kept the contract of his discovery Jane Russell. For Hughes, this was the effective end of a quarter-century's involvement in the movie business. Historian Betty Lasky describes Hughes's relationship with RKO as a "systematic seven-year rape." [Lasky (1989), p. 229.]

General Tire and the end of RKO Pictures

In taking control of the studio, General Tire restored RKO's links to broadcasting. General Tire had bought the Yankee Network, a New England regional radio network based around WNAC (AM) in Boston, in 1943. In 1950, it purchased the West Coast regional Don Lee Broadcasting System, and two years later, the Bamberger Broadcasting Service, owner of the WOR TV and radio stations in New York City. General Tire then merged its broadcasting interests into a new division, General Teleradio. Thomas O'Neil, son of General Tire's founder William O'Neil and chairman of the broadcasting group, saw that the company's new television stations, indeed all TV outlets, were in need of programming. In 1953, O'Neil had approached Hughes about buying RKO's film library; with the 1955 purchase of the studio that library was his, and rights to the approximately 740 RKO films the studio retained clear title to were quickly put up for sale. C&C Television Corp., a subsidiary of beverage maker Cantrell & Cochrane, won the bidding and was soon offering the films to independent stations with the RKO trademarks replaced by "C&C Films" or "MovieTime USA" logos. RKO Teleradio Pictures—the new company created from the merger of General Teleradio and the RKO studio—retained the broadcast rights for the cities where it owned TV stations. By 1956, RKO's classic movies were playing widely on television, allowing many to see such films as "Citizen Kane" for the first time. The $15.2 million RKO made on the deal convinced the other major studios that their libraries held profit potential—a turning point in the way Hollywood did business. [Segrave (1999), pp. 40–41; Hilmes (1990), pp. 160–161; Boddy (1990), p. 138.]

The new owners of RKO made a half-hearted effort to run the studio, hiring veteran producer William Dozier to head production. RKO Teleradio Pictures released Fritz Lang's final two American films, "While the City Sleeps" and "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" (both 1956), but years of mismanagement had driven away many directors, producers, and stars. The studio was also saddled with the last of the lumbering, inflated B movies such as "Pearl of the South Pacific" (1955) and "The Conqueror" (1956) that enchanted Hughes. After a year and a half without a notable success, General Tire shut down production at RKO for good at the end of January 1957. The Hollywood and Culver City facilities were sold later that year for $6.15 million to Desilu Productions, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, who had been an RKO contract player from 1935 to 1942. [Jewell (1982), p. 245; Lasky (1989), p. 3.] Desilu would be acquired by Gulf and Western Industries in 1967 and merged into G+W's other production company, Paramount Pictures; the former RKO Hollywood studio became home to Paramount Television (now CBS Paramount Television), which it remains to this day. The renovated Culver City studio is now owned and operated as an independent production facility. Forty Acres, the Culver City backlot, was razed in the mid-1970s. ["Initial Plans for Movie Studio Backlot Approved", "Los Angeles Times", May 1, 1975. For more on the lot, see [http://www.retroweb.com/40acres.html 40 Acres] part of "RetroWeb".]

With the closing down of production, RKO also shut its distribution exchanges; from 1957 forward, remaining pictures were released through other companies, primarily Universal-International. The final RKO film, "Verboten!", a coproduction with director Samuel Fuller's Globe Enterprises, was released by Columbia Pictures in March 1959. That same year, "Pictures" was stripped from the corporate identity; the holding company for General Tire's broadcasting operation and the few remaining motion picture assets was renamed RKO General. [O'Neill (1966), p. 180. Many online information sites give RKO General's year of inception as 1958, without sourcing; O'Neill's 1959 dating is supported by the fact that there is no mention of RKO General in either the "New York Times" or the "Los Angeles Times" before February 1960.] In the words of scholar Richard B. Jewell, "The supreme irony of RKO's existence is that the studio earned a position of lasting importance in cinema history largely "because" of its extraordinarily unstable history. Since it was the weakling of Hollywood's 'majors,' RKO welcomed a diverse group of individualistic creators and provided them...with an extraordinary degree of freedom to express their artistic idiosyncrasies.... [I] t never became predictable and it never became a factory." [Jewell (1982), p. 15.]

The Astaire–Rogers RKO films

The initial team-up
* "Flying Down to Rio" (1933) d. Thornton Freeland, starring Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond, featuring Eric Blore

The classic cycle
* "The Gay Divorcee" (1934) d. Mark Sandrich, w/Alice Brady, featuring Edward Everett Horton, Blore
* "Roberta" (1935) d. William A. Seiter, w/Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott
* "Top Hat" (1935) d. Mark Sandrich, featuring Horton, Blore
* "Follow the Fleet" (1936) d. Mark Sandrich, w/Randolph Scott
* "Swing Time" (1936) d. George Stevens, featuring Blore
* "Shall We Dance" (1937) d. Mark Sandrich, featuring Horton, Blore
* "Carefree" (1938) d. Mark Sandrich, w/Ralph Bellamy
* "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" (1939) d. H. C. Potter

Hepburn and Grant at RKO

As costars
* "Sylvia Scarlett" (1935) d. George Cukor
* "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) d. Howard Hawks

Other Katharine Hepburn RKOs
* "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932) d. George Cukor, w/John Barrymore
* "Christopher Strong" (1933) d. Dorothy Arzner, w/Colin Clive
* "Morning Glory" (1933), d. Lowell Sherman, w/Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
* "Little Women" (1933) d. George Cukor, w/Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, Jean Parker
* "Spitfire" (1934) d. John Cromwell, w/Robert Young
* "The Little Minister" (1934) d. Richard Wallace, w/John Beal
* "Break of Hearts" (1935) d. Philip Moeller, w/Charles Boyer, John Beal
* "Alice Adams" (1935) d. George Stevens, w/Fred MacMurray
* "Mary of Scotland" (1936) d. John Ford, w/Fredric March, Florence Eldridge
* "A Woman Rebels" (1936) d. Mark Sandrich, w/Herbert Marshall
* "Quality Street" (1937) d. George Stevens, w/Franchot Tone
* "Stage Door" (1937) d. Gregory La Cava, w/Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou

Other Cary Grant RKOs
* "The Toast of New York" (1937) d. Rowland V. Lee w/Edward Arnold, Frances Farmer
* "Gunga Din" (1939) d. George Stevens, w/Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
* "In Name Only" (1939) d. John Cromwell, w/Carole Lombard
* "My Favorite Wife" (1940) d. Garson Kanin, w/Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott
* "Suspicion" (1941) d. Alfred Hitchcock, w/Joan Fontaine
* "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1942) d. Leo McCarey, w/Ginger Rogers
* "Mr. Lucky" (1943) d. H. C. Potter, w/Laraine Day
* "None But the Lonely Heart" (1944) d. Clifford Odets, w/Ethel Barrymore
* "Notorious" (1946) d. Alfred Hitchcock, w/Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
* "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947) d. Irving Reis, w/Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple
* "The Bishop's Wife" (1947; a Samuel Goldwyn Company prod.) d. Henry Koster, w/Loretta Young, David Niven
* "Every Girl Should Be Married" (1948) d. Don Hartman, w/Betsy Drake
* "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948) d. H. C. Potter, w/Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas

Robert Mitchum at RKO

* "Nevada" (1944) d. Edward Killy, w/Anne Jeffreys
* "Girl Rush" (1944) d. Gordon Douglas, starring Wally Brown, Alan Carney
* "West of the Pecos" (1945) d. Edward Killy, w/Barbara Hale
* "The Locket" (1946) d. John Brahm, starring Laraine Day, Brian Aherne
* "Till the End of Time" (1946) d. Edward Dmytryk, starring Dorothy McGuire, Guy Madison
* "Crossfire" (1947) d. Edward Dmytryk, w/Robert Young, Robert Ryan
* "Out of the Past" (1947) d. Jacques Tourneur, w/Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas
* "Rachel and the Stranger" (1948) d. Norman Foster, starring Loretta Young, William Holden
* "Blood on the Moon" (1948) d. Robert Wise, w/Barbara Bel Geddes
* "The Big Steal" (1949) d. Don Siegel, w/Jane Greer
* "Holiday Affair" (1949) d. Don Hartman, w/Janet Leigh
* "Where Danger Lives" (1950) d. John Farrow, w/Faith Domergue, Claude Rains
* "His Kind of Woman" (1951) d. John Farrow, w/Jane Russell
* "My Forbidden Past" (1951) d. Robert Stevenson, w/Ava Gardner
* "The Racket" (1951) d. John Cromwell, w/Robert Ryan, Lizabeth Scott
* "Angel Face" (1952) d. Otto Preminger, w/Jean Simmons
* "The Lusty Men" (1952) d. Nicholas Ray, w/Susan Hayward, Arthur Kennedy
* "Macao" (1952) d. Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray, w/Jane Russell
* "One Minute to Zero" (1952) d. Tay Garnett, w/Ann Blyth
* "Second Chance" (1953) d. Rudolph Maté, w/Linda Darnell, Jack Palance
* "She Couldn't Say No" (1954) d. Lloyd Bacon, w/Jean Simmons

RKO studios and buildings

*RKO Hollywood Studios – 780 Gower St., Hollywood, Los Angeles/established by Robertson–Cole in 1921; now owned by CBS Paramount Television
*RKO-Pathé Culver City Studios – 9336 Washington Blvd., Culver City/established by Thomas H. Ince in 1919; now owned by PCCP Studio City Los Angeles
*RKO Forty Acres (backlot) – Culver City/established by Ince in 1919; razed in 1976
*RKO Encino Ranch (backlot) – Encino, Los Angeles/established by RKO in 1929; razed in 1954
*Estudios ChurubuscoChurubusco, Mexico City/established by RKO and Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta in 1945; now owned by Mexican government [See Fein, Seth, "Transcultured Anticommunism: Cold War Hollywood in Postwar Mexico", in "Visible Nations: Latin American Cinema and Video", ed. Chon A. Noriega (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 82–111.]
*RKO Building (corporate headquarters) – 1270 Sixth Ave., New York/Art Deco skyscraper in Rockefeller Center, built in 1931–32; now known as the Amax Building

RKO General

One of North America's major radio and television broadcasters from the 1950s through the late 1980s, RKO General traces its roots to the 1943 purchase of the Yankee Network by General Tire. In 1952, the company united its newly expanded broadcasting interests into a division dubbed General Teleradio. With the tire manufacturer's acquisition of the RKO film studio in 1955, its media businesses were brought together under the rubric of RKO Teleradio Pictures. In 1959, following the breakup of the movie studio, the media division was given the name it would operate under for the next three decades, RKO General. In addition to its broadcasting activities, RKO General was also the holding company for many of General Tire's (and, after its parent company's reorganization, GenCorp's) other noncore businesses, including soft-drink bottling, hotel enterprises, and, for seventeen years, the original Frontier Airlines.

The RKO General radio lineup included some of the highest rated, most influential popular music stations in North America. In May 1965, KHJ (AM) in Los Angeles introduced the Boss Radio variation of the top 40 format. The restrictive programming style was soon adopted by many of RKO's other stations and imitated by non-RKO broadcasters around the country. RKO's FM station in New York pioneered numerous formats under a variety of call letters, including WOR and WXLO ("99X"); in 1983, as WRKS ("98.7 Kiss FM"), it became one of the first major stations to regularly program rap music.

The company's television stations, for the most part non–network affiliated, were known for showing classic films (both RKO productions and many others) under the banner of "Million Dollar Movie", launched by New York's WOR-TV in 1954. [For the early history of "Million Dollar Movie" and WOR's film programming, see Segrave (1999), pp. 40, 48; "News of TV and Radio; 'Studio One' Returns for the Winter Season", "New York Times", September 19, 1954 (excerpted [http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/million_dollar_movie/ online] ); "WOR-TV Acquires 10 Selznick Films; It Pays Record $198,000 for 'Package'—Will Be Shown on 'Million Dollar Movie' Discord Theme of Show", "New York Times", February 25, 1956; "2 Feature Films Bought By WOR-TV; Station Adds 'Champion' and 'Home of the Brave' to its 'Million Dollar Movie,'" "New York Times", June 16, 1956.] In summer 1962, RKO General and Zenith Electronics initiated what became the first extended venture into subscription television service: through early 1969, Hartford, Connecticut's WHCT-TV aired movies, sports, classical and pop music concerts, and other live performances without commercials, generating income from descrambler installation and weekly rental fees as well as individual program charges. However, RKO General's most notable legacy is what may be the longest licensing dispute in television history. It began in 1965, when General Tire was accused of obliging vendors to buy advertising with one of its stations if they wanted to keep their contracts. More than two decades' worth of legal actions ensued, eventually forcing GenCorp (the parent company since 1983 of both General Tire and RKO General) to sell off its broadcast holdings under FCC pressure. RKO General exited the media business permanently in 1991.

The new RKO Pictures

Beginning with 1981's "Carbon Copy", RKO General became involved in the coproduction of a number of feature films (and one TV movie) through a newly created subsidiary, RKO Pictures Inc. Collaborating on an average of about two pictures per year, RKO frequently worked with major names—including Jack Nicholson ("The Border" [1982] ) and Meryl Streep ("Plenty" [1985] )—but met with little success. In 1986, "Half Moon Street" became the first RKO solo production in almost three decades; more solo ventures, including the Vietnam War drama "Hamburger Hill", appeared the next year, but production ended as GenCorp underwent a massive reorganization following an attempted hostile takeover. The company's flagship tire division was sold to Germany's Continental Tire. With RKO General dismantling its broadcast business, RKO Pictures Inc., along with the original RKO studio's trademark, remake rights, and other remaining assets, was spun off and put up for sale. After a bid by RKO Pictures' own managers failed, it was acquired in 1987 by Wesray Capital—under the control of former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon and Ray Chambers—and linked with their Six Flags amusement parks to form RKO/Six Flags Entertainment Inc. ["Wesray in Deal for RKO Studio", "New York Times", September 18, 1987 (available [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DEFD8173FF93BA2575AC0A961948260 online] ); [http://sec.edgar-online.com/1995/09/27/00/0000950131-95-002671/Section6.asp EDGAR Online—Playboy Enterprises International Inc. Proxy Statement] SEC form DEF 14A filing dated September 27, 1995. Retrieved 8/13/06.]

In 1989, RKO Pictures was spun off yet again and a majority interest in it was acquired by its present owners: actress and Post Cereals heiress Dina Merrill and her husband, producer Ted Hartley, who merged it with their Pavilion Communications to form the present RKO Pictures LLC. ["Pavilion Buys Stake in RKO", "New York Times", September 1, 1989 (available [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE4D81438F932A3575AC0A96F948260 online] ); [http://www.josephdisante.com/article.aspx?pg=Ted%20Hartley "Ted Hartley...and the Rebirth of RKO Studios"] detailed 1999 article by Joseph DiSante based on interview with Hartley. Retrieved 7/26/06. Note that while the article refers to Hartley–Merrill's "RKO Pictures Inc.", SEC filings establish that the company is, at least currently, structured as an LLC.] Hartley and Merrill announced that the new RKO Pictures, which had ceased producing films while under Wesray control, would return to moviemaking full-time. With the inaugural RKO production under their leadership, "False Identity" (1990), the company also stepped into the distribution business. In 1992, the new RKO made its first significant contribution to cinema, distributing the well-regarded independent production "Laws of Gravity", directed by Nick Gomez. For the next five years, however, the company neither produced nor distributed a single film as Hartley and Merrill sorted out the ownership rights of RKO's vast library. RKO Pictures reemerged in 1998 with "Mighty Joe Young", a remake of a 1949 RKO movie that was itself something of a "King Kong" redux. During the current decade, the company has been involved as a coproducer on TV movies and modestly budgeted features at the rate of about one annually. In 2002, RKO produced a stage version of the 1936 Astaire–Rogers vehicle "Swing Time", under the title "Never Gonna Dance". Infobox_Company
company_name = RKO Pictures LLC
company_type = Limited liability company (LLC)
foundation = 1989
location = L.A. Office: 1875 Century Park East, Suite 2140, Los Angeles, CA 90067
N.Y. Office: 3 East 54th Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10022
key_people = Ted Hartley (Chairman and CEO)
Dina Merrill (Vice Chairman)
Aaron Ray (Chief Strategy Officer)
Kevin Cornish (VP of Development)
num_employees =
industry = Motion pictures
products =
revenue =
operating profit =
divisions = Roseblood Movie Co. (50%)
RKO Distribution
homepage = [http://www.rko.com www.rko.com]
In 2003, RKO Pictures entered into a legal battle with Wall Street Financial Associates (WSFA) concerning a Short Form Acquisition Agreement dated that March 3. Hartley and Merrill, the majority interest holders in RKO, claimed that the owners of WSFA fraudulently induced them into signing an acquisition agreement by concealing their "cynical and rapacious" plans to acquire RKO Pictures with the intention only of dismantling it. WSFA sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting RKO's majority owners from selling their interests in the company to any third parties. [ [http://www.entlawdigest.com/search.cfm?IssueID=84 Entertainment Law Digest] summary of "New Filing—RKO Acquisition": RKO Pictures v. Wall Street Financial Associates, LLC; L.A. Superior Court SC077345. Complete filing available at [http://www.entlawdigest.com/story.cfm?storyID=2806 ELD, July 2003] . Retrieved 8/8/06.] The WSFA motion was denied in July 2003, freeing RKO to deal with another potential purchaser, InternetStudios.com. In 2004, that planned sale fell through when InternetStudios.com apparently folded. [ [http://www.secinfo.com/d113j2.1S1.htm Internetstudios Com Inc 10QSB] SEC small business quarterly report filing dated June 30, 2004. For more on InternetStudios.com see [http://www.stocklemon.com/articles/02_14_03.html StockLemon Report on InternetStudios] . Both retrieved 7/22/06.] At present, the company's minimal involvement in new film production continues to focus on its remake rights: "Are We Done Yet?", based on "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948), was released in April 2007. Later in the year, RKO launched a horror division, Roseblood Movie Company, announcing that it would concentrate on "youth driven, moderately budgeted" films. [ [http://www.rko.com/profile.cfm RKO Today] RKO Pictures LLC official website. Retrieved 12/3/07.] Remakes of RKO's classic Val Lewton–produced pictures are apparently under consideration. [ [ RKO Pictures: Reader/Intern] EntertainmentCareers.net, September 18, 2007. Retrieved 12/4/07.]

The RKO library

Today, RKO Pictures LLC is the owner of all the trademarks and logos connected with RKO Radio Pictures Inc., as well as the rights concerning stories, screenplays (including 800 to 900 unproduced scripts), remakes, sequels, and prequels connected with the RKO library. [ [ "Dina Merrill on Mrs. Johnson"] 2002 A&E interview with Merrill. Retrieved 8/14/06; [http://www.usna.com/News_Pubs/Publications/Shipmate/2001/2001_04/Hartley.htm Ted Hartley ’46] U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation biographical essay. Retrieved 8/17/06.]

The television, video, and theatrical distribution rights, however, are in other hands: The U.S. and Canadian TV—and, consequently, video—rights to the bulk of the RKO film library were sold at auction in 1971 after the holders, TransBeacon (a corporate descendant of C&C Television), went bankrupt. The auctioned rights were split between United Artists and Marian B. Inc. (MBI). In 1984, MBI created a subsidiary, Marian Pictures Inc. (MBP), to which it transferred its share of the RKO rights.

Two years later GenCorp's subsidiaries, RKO General and RKO Pictures, repurchased the rights then controlled by MBP. [ [http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=2nd&navby=case&no=964195 FindLaw—U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Saltzman v CIR] ruling in docket nos. 96-4195, 96-4203—argued October 3, 1997; decided December 11, 1997. Retrieved 8/10/06. Note that the association of the corporate name "Marian Pictures Incorporated" with the acronym "MBP" is per this legal document.] In the meantime, United Artists had been acquired by MGM. In 1986, MGM/UA's considerable library, including its RKO rights, was bought by Turner Broadcasting for its new Turner Entertainment division.

During RKO Pictures' brief Wesray episode, Turner acquired many of the distribution rights that had returned to RKO via MBP, as well as both the theatrical rights and the TV rights originally held back from C&C for the cities where RKO owned stations.

In 1995, Turner Broadcasting was merged into Time Warner, which controls and distributes the bulk of the RKO library today, though RKO Pictures retains the copyright. [See [http://www.secinfo.com/dsVQy.95sw.htm Turner Broadcasting System Inc DEFM14A] SEC merger/acquisition proxy solicitation filing dated September 17, 1996. Retrieved 8/17/06.] As for RKO's primary release deals, the Disney pictures originally distributed by the studio are controlled by the Walt Disney Company. Rights to the Goldwyn features released by RKO, which had been held by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, are now controlled by MGM.

International rights

Ownership of the major European TV and video distribution rights to RKO's library is divided on a virtual country-by-country basis: In the UK, many of the RKO rights are currently held by Universal Studios. [ [http://dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=59519 "The Val Lewton Horror Collection: Introduction"] essay on new digital video release, December 12, 2005 (see "The DVDs"); part of the "DVD Times" website. Retrieved 8/17/06.] In 1981, RAI, the public broadcasting service, acquired the Italian rights to the RKO library, which it now shares with Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest. ["L'Universale—La Grande Enciclopedia Tematica", vol. 2 (Milan: [Garzanti] Libri S.p.A., 2003–4), p. 986; [http://www.ibc.regione.emilia-romagna.it/approf/bencomunicati/Mattucci.htm "Un satellite per la cultura"] 2002 statement by Luigi Mattucci, president of RAISat; part of the "Emilia-Romagna IBC" website. Retrieved 8/18/06.] In France, the rights are held by Ariès. [ [http://www.dvdfr.com/news/840_dossier_em_-_interview__dans_la_tete_des_editions_montparnasse.html "Interview: Dans la tête des Editions Montparnasse"] interview with Renaud Delourme, head of company handling French RKO DVD releases, November 22, 2000; part of the "DVDFr" website; [http://www.dvdrama.com/news.php?3720 "DVD RKO: Interview des Editions Montparnasse"] 2001 interview with two EM professionals; part of the "DVDrama" website; [http://www.objectif-cinema.com/interviews/275.php "La gazette du doublage: Laurence Sabatier, Responsable technique des Editions Montparnasse"] 2002 interview with EM professional; part of the "Objectif Cinéma" website. All retrieved 8/18/06.]

The German rights were acquired in 1969 by KirchGruppe on behalf of its KirchMedia division. When KirchMedia went bankrupt in 2002, two proposed sales of its assets—first to publisher Heinrich Bauer Verlag, then to American media mogul Haim Saban—both fell through. Saban finally took control of Kirch's broadcast arm, ProSiebenSat.1, in August 2003, arranging a deal to buy majority ownership the following year.

ProSiebenSat.1 presently leases the German broadcast rights to KirchMedia's former library holdings (including the RKO films) from two concerns: EOS Entertainment's Beta Film, which purchased many of the rights in 2004, and Kineos, a joint venture created in 2005 by Beta Film and KirchMedia, now run by its creditors. [ [http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/TaurusHolding-GmbH-amp;-Co-KG-Company-History.html TaurusHolding GmbH & Co. KG—Company History] detailed history of KirchGruppe under the name it adopted in 2002; part of the "Funding Universe" website; [http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/nclub/stories/s529302.htm "German Film and TV Giant KirchMedia Collapses"] interview with media journalist Julie Rigg, October 4, 2002; part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation—Radio National/"Night Club" website; [http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_30/b3843136_mz034.htm "KirchMedia: Opportunity Lost"] "BusinessWeek Online", July 28, 2003; [http://www.advanced-television.com/2003/News_archive/august4-11.html#sabenlands "Saban's Lands KirchMedia at Last"] "Advanced-Television.com", August 6, 2003; [http://en.prosiebensat1.com/imperia/md/content/link_download/Finanzberichte/englisch/en_q3_2003.pdf ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG Interim Report] quarterly financial statement dated September 30, 2003 (see p. 6); [http://www.advanced-television.com/2004/news_archive_2004/Sep20_24.htm#sabana "Saban Takes Majority Stake in Restructured ProSiebenSat.1"] "Advanced-Television.com", September 21, 2004; [http://www.dlapiper.com/global/media/detail.aspx?news=421 "DLA Piper Advises KirchMedia GmbH & Co. KGaA in the Sale of the National Film Library"] DLA Piper press release dated May 13, 2005; [http://www.medienforum.nrw.de/medienforum/mf2006en.nsf/index/CMSEE8D1E19A812A5E9C1257163003A7369?OpenDocument Jan Mojto] CV of EOS Entertainment chief dated May 21–24, 2005; part of the "18th medienforum.nrw" website. All retrieved 8/18/06.]

The RKO logo

Most Radio Pictures Inc. and RKO Radio Pictures Inc. films produced between 1929 and 1957 have an opening logo displaying the studio's famous trademark, the spinning globe and radio tower, nicknamed "The Transmitter." Orson Welles called it, "My favorite among the old logos, not just because it was so often a reliable portent.... [I] t reminds us to listen." [Quoted in Thomson (1997), p. 170.] Instead of the Transmitter, many Disney films released by the studio originally appeared with colorful versions of the RKO closing logo as part of the main title sequence. For decades, re-releases of these films had Disney/Buena Vista logos plastered over the RKO insignia, but the originals have been restored in many recent DVD editions. [Culhane (1999), passim; [http://hollywoodlostandfound.net/stories/studiologos/page4.html The RKO Logo] essay by Rick Mitchell; part of "Hollywood: Lost and Found" website. Retrieved 10/22/06.] The Hartley–Merrill RKO Pictures has created a new version of the Transmitter, which was first used theatrically for the 1998 "Mighty Joe Young" remake. The original closing logo, revived in 2001 for "Ritual", the remake of "I Walked with a Zombie", is also a well-known trademark, a triangle enclosing a thunderbolt.


Note: The standard history and reference guide to the studio's films, "The RKO Story", by Richard B. Jewell, with Vernon Harbin (New York: Arlington House/Crown, 1982)—and not [http://www.imdb.com IMDb.com] —is used as the final arbiter of whether specific films made between 1929 and 1957 were RKO solo productions, coproductions, or completely independent productions. Official year of release is also per "The RKO Story", not IMDb.


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External links

RKO Radio Pictures history

* [http://www.vitaphone.org/rko.html The Early Sound Films of Radio Pictures] comprehensive listing of RKO (and FBO sound) features through 1935, with stars and release dates—see also [http://www.vitaphone.org/pathe.html The Early Sound Films of Pathé] for the RKO-Pathé films of 1931–32; both part of "Vitaphone Video Early Talkies" website
* [http://cinematreasures.org/chain/133/show=all RKO Theater Chain] list of classic movie houses belonging to RKO chain; part of "Cinema Treasures" website

RKO Pictures LLC

* [http://www.rko.com/ RKO Pictures] the Hartley–Merrill company's website
* [http://www.rkodistribution.com RKO Distribution] RKO Distribution
* [http://www.tedhartley.com Ted Hartley] personal website of RKO Pictures LLC's chairman and CEO
* [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m5072/is_27_24/ai_91092302/print "Flight of Fancy"] Hartley interviewed by Darrell Satzman, "Los Angeles Business Journal", July 8, 2002
* [http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=print_story&articleid=VR1117892311&categoryid=3 "Newman Helms Doc"] article by Michael Fleming on planned Hartley documentary, "Variety.com", September 11, 2003

RKO library and logos

* [http://www.film-center.com/ccrko16m.html C&C RKO 16 mm Prints] extensive discussion of RKO preservation and rights issues, by David Chierichetti; part of "eFilmCenter" website
* [http://hollywoodlostandfound.net/stories/studiologos/page4.html The RKO Logo] essay by Rick Mitchell; part of "Hollywood: Lost and Found" website
* [http://members.fortunecity.com/teamfx2000/media/logodescription/misc/rko.htm RKO Pictures Logos] detailed, quirky descriptions by Nicholas Aczel and Sean Beard

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