Harry Cohn

Last updated

Harry Cohn
Harry Cohn Oscar 1938 cropped.jpg
Harry Cohn, circa 1938
Born(1891-07-23)July 23, 1891
DiedFebruary 27, 1958(1958-02-27) (aged 66)
Occupation Film producer and production director of Columbia Pictures Corporation
Years active1919–1958
Spouse(s)
Rose Barker
(m. 1923;div. 1941)

(m. 1941)
Relatives Leonore Annenberg (niece)

Harry Cohn (July 23, 1891 – February 27, 1958) was the co-founder, president, and production director of Columbia Pictures Corporation. [1]

Contents

Life and career

Cohn was born to a working-class Jewish family in New York City. [2] His father, Joseph Cohen, was a tailor from Germany, and his mother, Bella Joseph, was from Pale of Settlement, Russian Empire. [3] [4] After working for a time as a streetcar conductor, and then as a song plugger for a sheet music printer, [5] he got a job with Universal Pictures, where his brother, Jack Cohn, was already employed. In 1919, Cohn joined his brother and Joe Brandt to found CBC Film Sales Corporation. The initials officially stood for Cohn, Brandt, and Cohn, but Hollywood wags noted the company's low-budget, low-class efforts and nicknamed CBC "Corned Beef and Cabbage." Harry Cohn managed the company's film production in Hollywood, while his brother managed its finances from New York. The relationship between the two brothers was not always good, and Brandt, finding the partnership stressful, eventually sold his third of the company to Harry Cohn, who took over as president, by which time the firm had been renamed Columbia Pictures Corporation.

Most of Columbia's early work was action fare starring rock-jawed leading man Jack Holt. Columbia was unable to shake off its stigma as a Poverty Row studio until 1934, when director Frank Capra's Columbia comedy It Happened One Night swept the Academy Awards. Exhibitors who formerly wouldn't touch Columbia product became steady customers. As a horizontally integrated company that only controlled production and distribution, Columbia had been at the mercy of theater owners. Columbia expanded its scope to offer moviegoers a regular program of economically made features, short subjects, serials, travelogues, sports reels, and cartoons. Columbia released a few "class" productions each year ( Lost Horizon , Holiday , Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , The Jolson Story , Gilda , All the King's Men , etc.), but depended on its popular "budget" productions to keep the company solvent. During Cohn's tenure, the studio always turned a profit.

Cohn did not build a stable of movie stars like other studios. Instead, he generally signed actors who usually worked for more expensive studios (Wheeler & Woolsey, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Lamour, Mickey Rooney, Chester Morris, Warren William, Warner Baxter, Sabu, Gloria Jean, Margaret O'Brien, etc.) to attract a pre-sold audience. Columbia's own stars generally rose from the ranks of small-part actors and featured players (Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks, Julie Bishop, Lloyd Bridges, Bruce Bennett, Jock Mahoney, etc.). Some of Columbia's producers and directors also graduated from lesser positions as actors, writers, musicians, and assistant directors.

Cohn was known for his autocratic and intimidating management style. When he took over as Columbia's president, he remained production chief as well, thus concentrating enormous power in his hands. He respected talent above any personal attribute, but he made sure his employees knew who was boss. Writer Ben Hecht referred to him as "White Fang." An employee of Columbia called him "as absolute a monarch as Hollywood ever knew." It was said "he had listening devices on all sound stages and could tune in any conversation on the set, then boom in over a loudspeaker if he heard anything that displeased him." Throughout his tenure, his most popular moniker was "King Cohn."

Moe Howard of the Three Stooges recalled that Cohn was "a real Jekyll-and-Hyde-type guy... socially, he could be very charming." Cohn was known to scream and curse at actors and directors in his office all afternoon, and greet them cordially at a dinner party that evening. There is some suggestion that Cohn deliberately cultivated his reputation as a tyrant, either to motivate his employees or simply because it increased his control of the studio. Cohn is said to have kept a signed photograph of Benito Mussolini, whom he met in Italy in 1933, on his desk until the beginning of World War II. (Columbia produced the documentary Mussolini Speaks in 1933, narrated by Lowell Thomas). Cohn also had a number of ties to organized crime. He had a long-standing friendship with Chicago mobster John Roselli, and New Jersey mob boss Abner Zwillman was the source of the loan that allowed Cohn to buy out his partner Brandt. Cohn's brash, loud, intimidating style has become Hollywood legend and was reportedly portrayed in various movies. The characters played by Broderick Crawford in All The King's Men (1949) and Born Yesterday (1950), both Columbia pictures, are allegedly based on Cohn, as is Jack Woltz, a movie mogul who appears in The Godfather (1972).

In his own way, Harry Cohn was sentimental about certain professional matters. He remembered the valuable contributions of Jack Holt during Columbia's struggling years, and kept him under contract until 1941. Cohn hired the Three Stooges in 1934 and, according to Stooge Larry Fine, "he thought we brought him luck." Cohn kept the Stooges on his payroll until the end of 1957. Cohn was fond of what he termed "those lousy little 'B' pictures," and kept making them, along with two-reel comedies and serials, after other studios had abandoned them.

According to biographer Michael Fleming, Cohn forced Curly Howard of the Stooges to keep working after suffering a series of minor strokes, which possibly contributed to a further deterioration of Howard's health and his eventual retirement and early death, though some people speculated that this was not true. [6]

Personal life

Cohn expected, or at least asked for, sex from female stars in exchange for employment (although similar stories were connected to many producers in Hollywood at the time). [7] [8] Harry Cohn's relationship with Rita Hayworth was fraught with aggravation. Hayworth's biography If This Was Happiness, describes how she refused to sleep with Cohn and how this angered him. [9] However, because Hayworth was such a valuable property Cohn kept her under contract because she made money for him. During the years they worked together, each did their best to irritate the other despite their lengthy work relationship which produced good results. Cohn wanted to groom Mary Castle as Hayworth's successor. When Joan Crawford was subjected to Cohn's advances after signing a three-picture contract with Columbia, she quickly stopped him by saying "Keep it in your pants, Harry. I'm having lunch with Joan and the boys [Cohn's wife and children] tomorrow." [10]

According to writer Joseph McBride, Jean Arthur quit the business because Cohn used to attack actresses. [11]

In a BBC documentary, Sammy Davis Jr - The Kid in the Middle, along with the titular star's episode of TVOne's Unsung Hollywood , it was disclosed that Cohn, in order to end Kim Novak's relationship with a black man, had mobsters threaten Sammy Davis, Jr. with blinding or having his legs broken if he did not marry a black woman within 48 hours.

Cohn was married to Rose Barker from 1923 to 1941, and to actress Joan Perry (1911–1996) from July 1941 until his death in 1958. His niece was Leonore "Lee" Cohn Annenberg, the wife of billionaire publishing magnate Walter Annenberg of Philadelphia. Her father was Maxwell Cohn, brother of Harry and Jack Cohn.

Death

Cohn suffered a sudden heart attack in February 1958 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, shortly after having finished dinner, and died in an ambulance en route to St. Joseph's Hospital.

Cohn's well-attended funeral was the subject of the famous (perhaps apocryphal) quote attributed to Red Skelton: "It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it." [12] He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood.

Related Research Articles

The Three Stooges American comedy team

The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970, best known for their 190 short subject films by Columbia Pictures that have been regularly airing on television since 1958. Their hallmark was physical farce and slapstick. Six Stooges appeared over the act's run : Moe Howard and Larry Fine were mainstays throughout the ensemble's nearly 50-year run and the pivotal "third stooge" was played by Shemp Howard, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard again, Joe Besser and "Curly" Joe DeRita.

Jack L. Warner Canadian-American film executive (1892–1978)

Jack Leonard Warner was a Canadian-American film executive who was the president and driving force behind the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. Warner's career spanned some 45 years, its duration surpassing that of any other of the seminal Hollywood studio moguls.

The year 1958 in film in the US involved some significant events, including the hit musicals South Pacific and Gigi, the latter of which won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film studio and production and distribution company that is a member of the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, a division of Sony Entertainment's Sony Pictures Entertainment, itself a subsidiary of the Japanese multinational conglomerate Sony.

Kim Novak American actress

Marilyn Pauline "Kim" Novak is an American retired film and television actress.

Rita Hayworth American actress, dancer and director (1918-1987)

Margarita Carmen Hayworth was an American actress and dancer. She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars, appearing in 61 films over 37 years. The press coined the term "The Love Goddess" to describe Hayworth after she had become the most glamorous screen idol of the 1940s. She was the top pin-up girl for GIs during World War II.

Charley Chase Actor, comedian, director, writer

Charles Joseph Parrott, known professionally as Charley Chase, was an American comedian, actor, screenwriter and film director best known for his work in Hal Roach short film comedies. He was the elder brother of comedian/director James Parrott.

Moe Howard American actor and comedian

Moses Harry Horwitz, known professionally as Moe Howard, was an American actor and comedian, best known as the leader of the Three Stooges, the farce comedy team who starred in motion pictures and television for four decades. That group originally started out as Ted Healy and His Stooges, an act that toured the vaudeville circuit. Moe's distinctive hairstyle came about when he was a boy and cut off his curls with a pair of scissors, producing a ragged shape approximating a bowl cut.

Shemp Howard American actor and comedian

Samuel Horwitz, known professionally as Shemp Howard, was an American actor and comedian. He was called "Shemp" because "Sam" came out that way in his mother's thick Litvak accent. He is best-known as the third Stooge in the Three Stooges, a role he played when the act began in the early 1920s (1923–1932), while it was still associated with Ted Healy and known as "Ted Healy and his Stooges"; and again from 1946 until his death in 1955. During the fourteen years between his times with the Stooges, he had a successful solo career as a film comedian, including series of shorts by himself and with partners, and reluctantly returned to the Stooges as a favor to his brothers Moe and Curly.

Charles Vidor was a Hungarian film director. Among his film successes are The Bridge (1929), The Tuttles of Tahiti (1942), The Desperadoes (1943), Cover Girl (1944), Together Again (1944), A Song to Remember (1945), Over 21 (1945), Gilda (1946), The Loves of Carmen (1948), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), The Swan (1956), The Joker Is Wild (1957), and A Farewell to Arms (1957).

Edward Bernds

Edward Bernds was an American screenwriter and director, born in Chicago, Illinois.

Screen Gems Film studio of the United States of America

Screen Gems, Inc. is an American film production and distribution studio that is a division of Sony Pictures' Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, a subsidiary of Japanese multinational conglomerate, Sony. It has served several different purposes for its parent companies over the decades since its incorporation. The label currently specializes in genre films, mainly horror.

<i>The Loves of Carmen</i> (1948 film)

The Loves of Carmen is a 1948 American drama romance film directed by Charles Vidor. The film stars Rita Hayworth as the gypsy Carmen and Glenn Ford as her doomed lover Don José.

Jules White

Jules White was a Hungarian-born American film director and producer best known for his short-subject comedies starring The Three Stooges.

Sunset Gower Studios

Sunset Gower Studios is a 14-acre (57,000 m2) television and movie studio at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood, California. Established in 1912, it continues today as Hollywood's largest independent studio and an active facility for television and film production on its twelve soundstages.

Hugh McCollum was an American film producer best known for his credits on Three Stooges short subject comedies.

Virginia Van Upp American screenwriter

Virginia Van Upp was an American film producer and screenwriter.

<i>The Three Stooges</i> (2000 film)

The Three Stooges is an American biographical television film about the slapstick comedy team The Three Stooges directed by James Frawley. This television film was entirely shot in Sydney, Australia. It was broadcast on ABC on April 24, 2000.

Samuel J. Briskin American film producer

Samuel J. Briskin was one of the foremost producers of Hollywood's Golden Age, who was the head of production during his career of 3 of the "Big 8" major film studios of its Golden Age: Columbia Pictures (twice), Paramount Pictures, and RKO Pictures. In the late 1950s he would also serve briefly on the board of directors of another major, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. During World War II, Briskin served in the army's Signal Corps as a film producer, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war he co-founded Liberty Films with Frank Capra. They were later joined by William Wyler and George Stevens. The studio only produced two films, but both are now considered classics: It's a Wonderful Life and State of the Union. All three of his brothers were also film producers, as well as one of his sons, and his sister was married to the eventual Chairman of Columbia, where Briskin spent the last decade of his life as a vice-president and head of production until his death in 1968 from a heart attack.

Cohn-Brandt-Cohn (CBC) Film Sales Corporation was an American film studio that was founded on June 19, 1918 by brothers Harry and Jack Cohn and their friend Joe Brandt. The studio released its first feature film More to Be Pitied Than Scorned on August 20, 1922. Brandt was the president of CBC Film Sales, handling sales, marketing and distribution from New York along with Jack Cohn, while Harry Cohn ran production in Hollywood. CBC Film's early productions were low-budget short subjects: "Screen Snapshots", the "Hall Room Boys", and the Chaplin imitator Billy West. The start-up CBC leased space in a Poverty Row studio on Hollywood's famously low-rent Gower Street. Among Hollywood's elite, the studio's small-time reputation led some to joke that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage". The studio's last film to be released was Innocence on December 1, 1923. The Cohn brothers renamed the CBC Film Sales as Columbia Pictures on January 10, 1924, in hopes to improve its image.

References

  1. Obituary Variety , March 5, 1958.
  2. Actors Directors from Germany, Austria, Switzerland – German-Hollywood Connection Archived July 20, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. Russo, Gus (December 12, 2008). Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN   9781596918986 . Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  4. Dick, Bernard F. The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN   0813133548 . Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  5. Thomas, Bob (1967). King Cohn - The Life and Times of Harry Cohn . G. P. Putnam's Sons. p.  96. ISBN   978-1893224070.
  6. Fleming, Michael (2002) [1999]. The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. New York: Broadway Publishing. p. 49. ISBN   0-7679-0556-3.
  7. Kashner, Sam. "The Forbidden Love of Kim Novak and Sammy Davis, Jr". Vanity Fair (March 1999). Novak even managed to evade Cohn’s casting couch—considered the most notorious in Hollywood.
  8. Blakemore, Erin (October 1, 2017). "This Tinseltown Tyrant Used Sexual Exploitation to Build a Hollywood Empire". HISTORY. Retrieved December 5, 2019. As the head of Columbia Pictures from 1919 to 1958, Cohn expected sex in exchange for a chance at stardom. And as one of the most influential figures in Tinseltown, he usually got it.
  9. Braudy, Susan (November 19, 1989). "What We Have Here is a Very Sad Story". The New York Times . Retrieved April 8, 2015. According to Ms. Leaming, Harry Cohn... 'developed an obsession' with the beautiful young woman. But in a rare, explicit show of strength, Hayworth refused her husband's order to sleep with 'the notoriously crude movie mogul.'
  10. Blottner, Gene (December 28, 2011). Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. McFarland. p. 7. ISBN   9780786486724.
  11. http://www.danspapers.com/2017/12/danny-peary-two-cheers-for-hollywood-joseph-mcbride/
  12. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/12/06/want/. Retrieved October 28, 2019.

Sources