Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12

Charles Chaplin, Entrepreneur: A United Artist

Author(s): TINO BALIO


Source: Journal of the University Film Association, Vol. 31, No. 1, CHAPLIN AND SOUND
(Winter 1979), pp. 11-21
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the University Film & Video Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20687460 .
Accessed: 17/02/2015 10:56
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

University of Illinois Press and University Film & Video Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,
preserve and extend access to Journal of the University Film Association.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Charles Chaplin, Entrepreneur:


A United Artist
TINO BALIO

In researching thehistory ofUnited Artists, I had


the good fortune to interviewCharles Chaplin at
his home in Vevey, Switzerland. The interview
took place on 10 January 1971, through thegood
offices ofArnold Picker, executive vice-president
of United Artists and theman responsible for the
company's decision to donate its pre-1951 cor
porate records to theWisconsin Center for Film
and Theater Research.1 Although Chaplin was
eighty-one years old at the time,he was still as ac
tive as ever and I looked forward to discussing
with him the inside business secrets of the com
pany he helped found along with Mary Pickford,
Griffith. I
Fairbanks, and D.W.
Douglas
prepared a whole battery of questions, ranging
TINO

BALIO

is Professor

of Communication

Arts

and

Center for Film and Theater


of theWisconsin
This
at the University ofWisconsin-Madison.
Research
The Com
from his United Artists:
article is adapted

Director

pany Built by the Stars (Universityof Wisconsin,


1976).

1The corporate records of United Artists were donated


to theWisconsin
Center for Film and
by the company
the com
in 1969. They document
Theater Research
its
to 1951
from 1919
through
operations
pany's
various
sales,
foreign sales,
departments?domestic
advertising and publicity, accounting, and legal, among
of the board of
others. The
range is broad: minutes
con
executive
directors,
correspondence,
producers'
tracts, financial journals and ledgers, litigation files, ex
returns. The
and income-tax
change correspondence,
information per
collection does not contain production
it should be noted.
taining to United Artists pictures,
as shooting schedules, scripts, budgets,
Such materials
artists'

contracts,

pany's

independent

and

artwork

producers.

to the com
belonged
The collection describes

the lifeof a film in itsUA distributionphase only.


the vastness
Despite
in the materials:

of the acquisition,

there are gaps

collection contains little about the most glorious


years of the company during the twenties. It was dis
the sales
tressing to discover that the records describing
no
releases had been discarded,
for UA's
campaigns
1. The

doubt

long ago.

numerous,
2. Materials
from the thirties are more
although far less complete than those of later years. In
there is a positive correlation between
general, however,
of the com
and the magnitude
the volume of materials
one
time.
at
any
operations
pany's

JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

fromhis motives for forming the alliance to the


causes of the near disintegration of the company
in the late forties.After lunchwith Chaplin and
members of his family, the two of us adjourned
to the study. There, seated across from one
another in frontof a crackling fireon thatdamp
and cold day, I posed my questions. Always
polite and attentive tomy earnest questioning,
3. Documents
written by
in all.
four or five dozen

the founders

number

only

is a paucity of correspondence
of the principal
in
is especially
officers. This
disappointing
and
of Joseph Schenck, who was president
chairman of the board from 1925 to 1935 and the man
of the com
most responsible for the rapid development
pany during that period.
4. There

pre-1940
the case

Nonetheless,
the company.

the corporate records trace the history of


collection contains all theminutes of

The

and stockholders'
of directors' meetings
the board
meetings. As records of the results of the meetings
motions
that were made and either passed or defeated?
an accurate chronicle
in developing
they are invaluable
do not,
of the company.
of the movements
They

nuances
of
record discussions,
arguments,
In addition, the
feelings, or friction among participants.
the firm of
until 1951,
files of UA's
legal counsel
and Raf tery, came to us intact. They
O'Brien, Driscoll,
are the heart of the collection and document virtually
every legal matter inwhich the company was involved.
however,

In addition to the corporate records, the United Art


ists Collection
the following materials:
contains
press
of United Art
books, still negatives, and photographs
50
Film Library (1913-1950):
ists releases; theWarner
silent features, 800 sound features, 1,500 short sub
jects, 300

cartoons,

scripts,

still negatives,

and press

books; theRKO FilmLibrary (1929-1954): 700 sound

200
Film Library (1931-1946):
features; theMonogram
the Ziv
sound features, still negatives, and pressbooks;
Television
2,000 episodes from 38
Library (1948-1962):
television series, shooting scripts, and still negatives;

still negatives,
and 200 Popeye
cartoons,
Eagle-Lion
Film Classics
still negatives, and starheads. Itmay seem
strange that there were no United Artists films in the
gift to go along with the corporate records, but the com
pany had none to give; UA's
pictures were owned by
the producers
tion period.

and reverted

Inquiries may
Film and Theater
Hall, University
53706.

to them after the distribu

Center
for
be sent to theWisconsin
6039 Vilas Communication
Research,
WI
of Wisconsin-Madison,
Madison,

XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

11

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Chaplin responded more than once, "I was never


interestedmuch in thewhys and wherefores. I
left that to lawyers and managers/' After which,
he would feel obliged to remindme that in his
day, he was a starof thegreatestmagnitude. I as
sured him that I realized this.Soon, though, I got
the feeling thatChaplin would have preferred to
discuss his movies rather than his company.
The interview lasted two hours and concluded
with tea. Inwrapping up thediscussion, Chaplin
toldme "I never thought of United Artists as a
money-making

scheme.

...

It was

a way

of dis

tributingmy films."Although itwas hard forme


to accept such a seemingly simple answer to
describe his thirty-sixyear association with the
company, I later discovered in examining the
four-thousand cubic feet of business records in
theUnited Artists Collection, thatChaplin's as
sessment in 1971 was right on themark.

Forming the Company

The impetus for formingUnited Artists resulted


from rumors of a merger between Adolph
Zukor's
Famous Players-Lasky Corp.,
the
world's largest producer and distributor of mo
tion pictures, and FirstNational Exhibitors Cir
cuit, thepowerful theatergroup thatorganized to
fight Zukor by financing and distributing
productions of top stars. If themerger were to ac
tually happen, the star systemwith itspayments
of astronomical salaries, would be seriously un
dermined. Chaplin and his cohorts responded by
signing an initial agreement on 15 January 1919,
and issuing a declaration of independence to the
press:

through

our

own

organization.

This new organization, to embrace the very


best actors and producers in themotion pic
ture business, is headed by the following
well-known stars: Mary Pickford, Douglas
Fairbanks,William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin
and D.W. Griffith productions, all of whom
have proved their ability tomake produc
tions of value both artistically and finan
cially.

We believe this is necessary to protect the


exhibitor and the industry itself, thus en
abling the exhibitor to book only pictures
that he wishes to play and not force upon
him (when he is booking films to please his

entertainment.2

machine-made

Hollywood was too cynical to take the revolt


seriously. "Film magnates and a number of lesser
stellarites in celluloid," said Variety, saw Adolph
Zukor behind thewhole affair in just another at
First National.3 Others
tempt to weaken
prophesied that the all-star combination would
soon be riven by jealousies and never get off the
ground. And then there came Richard Rowland's
famous wisecrack, "So the lunatics have taken
of

charge

the asylum."

A more

accurate

assess

ment, however, comes fromArthur Mayer, who


remarks, "The founders of United Artists dis
played the same brand of lunacy as Rockefeller,
Morgan,

and

du

Pont."4

Who first suggested the organization of artists


that became UA is a matter of dispute. Miss
Pickford, though, made the following explana
tion when the declaration of independence was
released: "We are on the defensive, and many
people have asked us why we didn't do this thing
long ago. The answer to that is that we were
never forced to do ituntil now. But now, with the
possibility of themerger of distributors looming
before us, a combination that threatens to
dominate the theatres of the United States, it
becomes
tion

A new combination of motion picture stars


and producers was formed yesterday, and
we, the undersigned, in furtherance of the
artistic welfare of themoving picture in
dustry, believing we can better serve the
great and growing industry of picture
productions, have decided tounite our work
intoone association, and at the finish of ex
isting contracts, which are now rapidly
drawing to a close, to release our combined
productions

audience) other program films which he


does not desire, believing that as servants of
the people we can thus best serve the peo
ple.We also think that this step ispositively
and absolutely necessary to protect thegreat
motion picture public from threatening
combinations and trusts thatwould force
them mediocre productions and
upon

necessary
to our own

for us

to organize

as a protec

interests."5

Although their fearswere laterborne out by the


Federal Trade Commission
investigation of
Famous Players-Lasky for alleged infringement
of antitrust laws, the founding of United Artists
would probably have been inevitable.6 A dis
tribution company to fullymarket and exploit
theirpictures was but thenext step for these art
ists in achieving autonomy. Take the case of
Chaplin. Starting off as a contract player inMack
Sennett's Keystone comedies in 1913 at a salary
of $150 a week, he became the top drawing-card
in the business in a mere two years. From
Keystone he went toEssanay at a salary of $1,250
a week and then in 1916 toMutual where he
commanded the princely sum of $10,000 a week.
In 1918, he signed with First National, which

2MovingPictureWorld 39 (1 February1919): 619.

^Variety, 31 January 1919, p. 58.


4Arthur Mayer,
"The Origins
of United

Films inReview 10 (1959): 390.

Artists,"

39 (1 February 1919):
5Moving Picture World
*ln re Famous
11 F.T.C.
Players-Lasky
Corp.,

(1927).

12

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

619.
187

gave him a $1 million contract; the company


would put up as production financing $125,000
for each of eight pictures and split the profits.
Although the FirstNational contractwould make
Chaplin a millionaire, he chose this deal rather
than remain with Mutual at a comparable salary
because he was provided theopportunity forgo
ing independent. As a spokesman for First
National said:
There are no conditions in that contract
which permit us to interferein the leastwith
him as a producer. He is an independent
manufacturer, owning and operating his
own producing company and the studios in
which itworks. He can take any length of
time he feels is essential to quality in his
releases.He is free to choose his own stories.
He is not harassed by telegrams and long
distance telephone calls, urging haste in the
completion of a picture tomake a certain
release date. He is entirely independent of
any

one

or

any

concern

other

of

any

character.His contractwith us provides for


distribution of his output and that, toMr.
Chaplin, is First National's only function
and part in his activities.7
Pickford, Fairbanks, and Griffith also started out
as

employees

under

contract.

With

star

status

came the right to form independent production


units, which meant more artistic control and a
share of theproducer's profits. By becoming their
own employers, they could receive all theprofits
from theirpictures. To be sure, theywould have
to provide theirown production financing, but a
distribution company managed by a topflight
salesman would certainlyminimize risks.
W.S. Hart, although in on the early planning
stages of United Artists, decided that discretion
was the better part of valor, and remained with
Famous Players-Lasky rather than take the risks
of going independent. Zukor helped him to reach
this decision by offering him $200,000 per pic
ture to stay put. The others,meanwhile, had con
ferredwith theman they hoped would preside
over the new distribution organization, William
Gibbs McAdoo. He had been head of the Federal
Railroad Board during thewar, Secretary of the
before

Treasury

that,

and was

son-in-law

of

President Wilson.
Pickford, Fairbanks, and
Chaplin had come to know McAdoo well during
the Third Liberty Loan drive when the three
toured the country selling millions of dollars
worth of bonds to support the war effort.
McAdoo declined the invitation to become UA's
president, but suggested that ifOscar Price, his
former

assistant

on

the

railroad

board,

were

named instead, he would gladly serve as counsel


for the company. This satisfied everyone;
7
Variety,

1 November

1918,

p. 42.

JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

McAdoo, in thewords of an editorial inMoving


Picture World, would bring to the company
"prestige second to thatof no other businessman
in the country."8

United Artists was a cooperative venture in every


respect.

To

the company's

finance

operations

opening exchanges, hiring salesmen, and the


like?each of the founders agreed to purchase
$100,000 of preferred stock. In return for equal
units of common stock, each agreed to deliver a
specified number of pictures to the company.
Griffithwas required to direct his, and theothers
were to play the leading roles in theirs.McAdoo
was issued a unit of stock in consideration of his
becoming general counsel.
The common stock had cumulative voting power,
enabling each of the stockholders to elect his own
representative to the board of directors. Thus,
control of themanagement and policies of the
company actually rested with the stockholders
and not the directors. To prevent the company
from slipping out of thehands of theowners, the
company was given prior right to repurchase the
common stock in the event that a stockholder
wanted to sell his interest in UA to an outside
party. To ensure complete equality among the
parties, the stockholders were prevented from
forming partnerships with each other. And to
further stimulate the cooperative spirit of the
venture and as a gesture of mutual trust, the
owners decided to adopt an unwritten law stating
thatno proposal, policy, or decision could be ef
fected without

unanimous

consent.

key feature of the distribution contracts


stipulated that each picture was to be sold and
promoted individually. Block booking was out.
In no way could one United Artists release be

used

Merit

to influence
alone

would

the sale of another UA


a picture's
determine

picture.
success

or failure.The distribution feewas set at 20 per


cent of the gross in theUnited States and 30 per
cent elsewhere. If in the future the company gave

one

owner

better

terms,

a "most

favored

nation"

clause guaranteed similar adjustments in the


other contracts. These feeswere well below what
Famous Players-Lasky and First National had
been charging because United Artists was con
ceived of as a service organization rather than an
investment thatwould return dividends. Earn
ingswould accrue to theowners as a result of the
company's securing the best possible rentals for
their pictures. With this in mind, the owners
reserved the right to approve through their
representatives in the home office all contracts
with exhibitors.
During the early years of UA's existence, its
owners delivered some of the finest pictures of

6Moving

39

Picture World

XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

13

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

(15 February

1919):

899.

their careers. The premiere UA release was


Douglas Fairbanks's His Majesty, theAmerican,
which was released on 1 September 1919. Fair
banks went on to produce such spectacular hits
as The Mark
of Zorro (1920), The Three
Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1923), and The
Thief of Bagdad (1924). Miss Pickford's best
remembered pictures were Pollyanna (1920), Lit
tle Lord Fauntleroy (1921), Tess of the Storm
Country (1922), and Rosita (1923). Griffith
delivered Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down
East (1921), and Orphans of the Storm (1922),
among others. Chaplin came throughwith the in
fluential A Woman of Paris (1923) and his
acknowledged masterpiece, The Gold Rush
(1925).

Joseph Schenck's Reorganization


Despite this record of excellence, which earned
for the company the reputation as theTiffany of
the industry,UA by 1924 was in a precarious
position. The battle for the theaterswas in full
and more

force. More

of

the country's

most

im

portant houses were falling into the hands of a


few giant concerns. These companies gave
preference to their own product with the result
thatUA found it increasingly difficult to secure
suitable exhibition outlets for its pictures. UA,
moreover, faced a product crisis. It did not have
the resources to finance motion pictures and
could not lure other stars to go the route of in
dependent production. An early demise for the
imminent

seemed

company

until

Joseph

M.

Schenck was brought in as a partner in 1924 to


replace McAdoo and Price who had long since
departed the company. Schenck was named
chairman of the board, and given authority to
reorganize the company. Schenck brought with
him under contract his wife, Norma Talmadge;
his

Constance

sister-in-law,

Buster

brother-in-law,

Keaton.

Talmadge;

and

his

To solve the problem of acquiring the necessary


pictures to sustain UA's operations, Schenck
proposed that the company provide production
financing to outside stars and producers. Chaplin
vehemently opposed the idea. Since he financed
his pictures on his own, he felt that producers
coming into the corporation should do likewise.
It took four days to convince him that ifUA did
not provide financing, itmight not get enough
product

to survive.

At

the same

time, his partners

realized the potential danger of accepting outside


capital?that control of the company could slip
into other hands. As a result, a safeguard was
placed in Schenck's contract, stating that if
financingwere to be provided toUA producers,
itwould have to be done through a separate cor
poration in which Schenck's interestwould be
larger

than

any

non-UA

party's.

Schenck ultimately formedArt Cinema Corpora


tion to finance and produce pictures forUA dis
tribution.This company was owned by Schenck
and his associates and was not a UA subsidiary.
Art Cinema took over the Hollywood studio
belonging to Pickford and Fairbanks, who were
now husband and wife, named it theUnited Ar
tistsStudio, and went intoproduction, delivering
toUA over fiftypictures. Among themwere The
Son of theShiek (1926), starringRudolph Valen
tino; The Beloved Rogue (1927), starring John
Barrymore; Evangeline (1929), starringDolores
Del Rio; and DuBarry, Woman
of Passion
(1930), starringNorma Talmadge. In addition,
three Buster
Schenck personally produced
Keaton masterpieces, The General (1927), Col
lege (1927), and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). To
furtherease the product crisis, Schenck brought
in as UA partners Gloria Swanson in 1925 and
Samuel Goldwyn in 1927.
Adding producers to the lineup was one way to
reach the break-even point; another was to
streamline the operations of the company. UA's
worldwide distribution systemwould always be
costly tomaintain because thenumber of pictures
in release would be relatively small. If Schenck
could cut the overhead, or better still,discover an
alternativemethod of distribution, the company
would begin to reap handsome profits.
Schenck lighted on such a solution after confer
ring with his brother Nick, who was then vice
president and second in command at Loew's. The
brothers realized that their companies had com
plementary problems. United Artists had the
that

prestige

Loew's

the

subsidiary,

Metro

Gold wyn-Mayer, needed to bolster its image in


had the efficient dis
the marketplace; MGM
tribution system.Why not combine, they said:
everyone's
The

doing

Schencks

it.

proposed

forming

a new

corpora

tion having the name United Artists?Metro


Go Idwyn-Mayer, Inc., with the sole function of
product. The
distributing the UA and MGM
Schencks were not contemplatingmerger per se;
United Artists would retain its corporate identity
by releasing itsproduct separately. The proposal
to transfer their assets
called forUA and MGM
to the new corporation in exchange for equal
shares of voting stock.
When thedeal was presented toUnited Artists in
November, 1925, Chaplin was the only one who
would not agree to it.Pickford and Fairbanks had
certain

reservations

at first, but

Joe Schenck

per

suaded them to trusthis judgment. Chaplin ob


jected to the duration of the contract,which tied
UA to the new corporation for fifteen years.
Should it incur losses, he would be held liable, he
feared.Also, Chaplin had littlerespect forMGM,
which he referred to in his interview as "three
weak

sisters."

14

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Chaplin remained adamant and thedeal had tobe


called off. According toVariety, Chaplin did not

want

to be

a "trust."

with

associated

The

so

called merger, it reported Chaplin as saying,


"would have been but a club forMetro-Goldwyn
to force exhibitors into line, using the 'block
booking' as a means to foist its film 'junk' on the
exhibitingmarket."9
Schenck's public explanation said "Nothing
could have been further from the facts, but
realizing our inability to dispel this impression,
we have decided that our independence and in
tegritybefore the exhibitor is paramount to any
economy we might effect in the face of adverse, if
criticism.

mistaken,

Both

companies

are

in com

plete accord with this decision."10 Schenck later


said that "the deal could have been made without
the consent of Chaplin, but when Charlie came
over tome and toldme he would be very unhap
py if the deal was made, I felt that we, as
partners, had no right tomake Charlie unhappy
and therefore called the deal off with the ap
proval ofMary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
as neither one of the threeof us wanted tomake
our

partner

unhappy."11

Once again, Chaplin had sorely tried thepatience


of his partners. Fairbanks, forone, was livid and
called Chaplin a "kicker," to which Charlie
replied thatDoug was nothing but a "jumper."
Looking back tenyears later,Schenck said that if
United Artists had amalgamated with MGM,
it
would have earned a minimum of $5 million a
year. (The company during its entire pre-1951
never

history

in one

earned

million in profits.)

year more

than $1.6

To survive the battle for the theaters,UA had no


choice but to go into the exhibition business as

well.

shut

The
out

was

company
from first-run

never

houses,

in danger
of being
which
generated

the bulk of the business; UA's quality pictures


were always in demand. But a power shift had
in

been

the negotiations
occurring
a theater
terms. As
circuit
acquired

more

first-run

houses,

its bargaining

over

rental

more

and

position

improved. It could ask for and get scaled-down

terms.

UA's requirementwould be met nicely by a small


in the larger
chain of first-run houses
metropolitan areas. But once again Chaplin stood
in theway of expansion. He did not roadshow his
pictures or rely upon first runs to reach his
audiences; therefore,he saw little reason for in
vesting in a scheme thatwould benefit the other
owners

primarily.

1925, p. 27.
9Variety, 2 December
66 (12 December
Picture World
"Moving
529.
11
to the Trustees
Letter from Joseph Schenck
20 May
1935.
Dissolution
of Art Cinema,

So without Chaplin, but presumably with his


blessings, Schenck, Pickford, Fairbanks, and
Goldwyn formedUnited Artists Theatre Circuit,
Inc., in June, 1926. This was a publicly held com
pany, also separate fromUnited Artists, whose
was

purpose

chain

of

in the

JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

or

first-run

acquire

theaters.

Schenck's success in reorganizingUnited Artists


was trifling compared to what he envisioned.
Given the forces within the industry towards
amalgamation, it was only natural for him to
propose combining the distribution company,
theatre circuit,Art Cinema, and theUA produc
tionunits intoone vertically-integratedorganiza
tion. More
surprisingly, however, was his
proposal, in January, 1929, to merge with the
Warner Bros, distribution arm as well. The new
company would be called United Artists Con
solidated.

Warner

and UA Consolidated would retain


separate identities in the merger. However, to
economize on distribution costs, theirsales forces
would operate out of common exchanges. The
UA stockholders would be asked to sign new
contracts obligating each of them to deliver two
pictures a year for an initialperiod of five years.
In so doing theywould become employees of the
company. Joe Schenck at the helm, according to
the revamped production policy, would control
costs

and

oversee

budgets.

Under

this

arrange

ment, the producers would be paid modest


salaries, but, Schenck promised, they would
stand tomake millions on increased profits and
dividends.

Warner Bros, was in themidst of solidifying its


position in the industry.By taking the lead in the
conversion

to

sound

and

as

result

of

the

phenomenal success of The Jazz Singer,Warner


went on a spending spree, the likes of which had
never

been

seen

even

in the movie

business.

It

began in September, 1928, with the purchase of


the Stanley chain of 300 theaters and a one-third
interest in First National. Now itwas looking
over theUnited Artists group.
United Artists did not become a part of the
Warner empire, nor did it subscribe to Schenck's
plan to consolidate the UA group. The extant
corporate

1925):

to construct

theaters in the major metropolitan areas. This


move forced the important theater chains to
recognize UA as a forceful competitor with the
result that these companies accommodated UA's
pictures. The United Artists Theatre Circuit is
still in existence today operating a nationwide

records

are

silent

on

these matters,

but

if reports inVariety are accurate, itwas Chaplin


again who obstructed the deal. His immediate
response was that if themerger withWarner took
place, he would withdraw from the company and
XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

15

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

distribute

on his own.12

his pictures

His

producing
Chaplin's

two

UA

pictures
record?three

But

year.
pictures

in

given
seven

years?this was as farfetched as the idea that he


in
could market his pictures worldwide
dependently. Schenck intimated that themerger
just might go through without Chaplin. Soon,
however,

and

Pickford

Fairbanks

began

to waver

when itbecame obvious thatas a resultof theun


derwriting for the consolidation, control might
pass to the banking interests, leaving them
without a voice in the company they helped
create. Schenck, thereupon, had to call off the
negotiations. United Artists would remainwhat it
was founded to be, what Chaplin doggedly in
sisted on itsbeing, a distribution company for in
dependent
Schenck's

producers.
reorganization

its

made

impact

in

1928. UA began theyear with a $1 million deficit


and ended it with a $1.6 million surplus. Its
worldwide gross thatyear came to $20.5 million,
$10 million more than the 1925 figures, when
Schenck joined the company. Net profit for 1929
came to $1.3 million. By 1932, UA had retiredall
of itspreferred stock and accumulated a surplus
of $2.5 million.
Despite the unsettling effects of theDepression,
the motion picture industry by 1932 had
stabilized. It had undergone a series of upheavals
brought about by the battle for the theaters, the

and the sound


The
revolution.
merger movement,
next sixteen years would
be an era of oligopoly.
a niche
Schenck's
in
had created
reorganization

which United Artists could function effectively.

UA During

the 1930s

12
Variety,

Korda

17 April

1929,

partner

in

the

a British

gained

inter

Special mention should be made ofWalt Disney,


who from 1932 to 1936 released his phenomenal
ly successful Mickey Mouse cartoons and Silly
Symphonies through the company. Flowers and
Trees, The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the
Hare, Three Orphan Kittens, and The Country
Cousin won for him an Academy Award each
he was

year

at UA.

Sam Goldwyn became themainstay of the com


pany by producing over 35 pictures in this
(1930),
period. Among them were Whoopee
Street Scene (1931), Arrowsmith (1932), Nana
(1934), These Three (1936), Dodsworth (1936),
and Wuthering Heights (1939). Pickford and
Fairbanks, in the meantime, retired from the
screen, although they still held stock in the com
pany. Gloria Swanson and Griffith sold out their
interests in 1932 and 1933, respectively.
Chaplin
produced only intermittently, but
delivered two smash hits, City Lights (1931) and
Modern Times (1936). Chaplin's popularity sur
vived the sensational Lita Grey divorce trial, the
and the new production styles
Depression,
brought about by the talkies.His appeal was mis
judged even by UA's sales force,which hesitated
to accept City Lights. Chaplin conceded that it
could not be released completely as a silent and
spent threemonths and $40,000 to add a musical
But

accompaniment.

not

he would

compromise

on terms.To his demand thatUA charge 50 per


cent of the gross in all first-run theaters,UA
protested thatnone of the circuitswould buy the
for

an

such

unprecedented

price.

Provoked by the company's attitude, Chaplin


decided to handle the New York engagement
himself. He rented theGeorge M. Cohan theater
a

on

four-wall

basis

ran

and

an

expensive

publicity campaign. UA's publicity for the pic


ture had been pretty stale, he recalled. "They
were running tiny ads which referred tome as
'our old friend.'Never mind telling them about
'our old friend,' I said. You're not selling chewing
gum. Talk about the picture. We've got to let
them

we're

know

in town."13

City Lights set records at the Cohan.


twelve

weeks

daily. The
average

of

Chaplin's
advertising,

with

as many

as

nine

It ran for
showings

total gross exceeded $500,000, or an


more

than

$40,000

per

week.

net after all charges, including the


came

to over

$300,000.

Theater

cir

company.
13Interview

p. 4.

who

producer

national renown in 1933 by producing The


Private Lives ofHenry VIII forUA. In 1936, UA
Walter Wanger. His
formed a production unit for
hits during thisperiod includeAlgiers (1938) and
Stagecoach (1939).

picture

During the 1930s, UA sustained its reputation by


adding several new producers to its roster.The
Caddo Corporation, headed by Howard Hughes,
released Hell's Angels (1930), The Front Page
(1931), and Scarface (1932). Reliance Pictures,
the Edward Small-Harry Goetz combination,
delivered / Cover the Waterfront (1933), The
Count ofMonte Cristo (1932), and The Last of
theMohicans
(1935). Darryl Zanuck teamed up
with Joe Schenck to form Twentieth Century
Productions in 1933 and produced 18 money
makers in two years, among them The House of
Rothschild (1934),Moulin Rouge (1932), and Les
Miserables (1935). UA signed up David O. Selz
nick in 1935, and he delivered A Star Is Born
(1937) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
(1938) , among others. That same year, UA made
Alexander

was

Korda

partners

argued that the contemplated arrangementwould


net him between $10 million and $15 million
within five years. Chaplin replied that he could
earn over $20 million working for himself by

Switzerland,

with
10 January

Charles
1971.

16

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Chaplin,

Vevey,

cuits were

eager

to play

the picture

after

the spec

tacular opening run, and United Artists had no


difficulty getting topmoney for rentals.
City Lights andModern Times were magnificent
personal achievements for Chaplin, both ar
tistically and financially. (The first grossed $2
million and the second $1.4 million.) Itmust be
noted, however, that Chaplin's contribution to
UA's cofferswas modest. United Artists as well
as Chaplin's public would have been happier if
he had delivered pictures at a faster rate than one
every

four

to five years.

Despite the impressiveness of UA's output, the


company was torn by dissension. Pickford and
Fairbanks had become inactive as producers and
Chaplin nearly so, yet the founders would not
recognize the contributions of the active partners,
most particularly Schenck and Goldwyn, by
vesting in them operating control of the com
pany. Because of this, Schenck resigned from
United Artists in 1935 and merged his Twentieth
Century production unit with Fox. And
Goldwyn, after unsuccessful takeover attempts,
departed to RKO in 1940.

Coming Apart at the Seams

During the war years, UA's fortunes declined


steadily. Korda's pictures had failed to generate
enthusiasm among U.S. exhibitorswith the result
thathe suspended production operations in 1942
and sold out his partnership in the company in
1944 for $950,000. UA opened itsdoors tomany
independent producers, some of them far below
the company's previous standards. It failed to at
tract the best of the field primarily because it
would not provide production financing on a
regular basis. The company still expected its
producers

to secure

financing

on

their own.

The

few pictures that perpetuated theUA reputation


in this period were Korda's Jungle Book (1942),
Noel Coward's InWhich We Serve (1943), Hunt
Stromberg's Lady of Burlesque (1943), Sol Les
ser's Stage Door Canteen (1943), JamesCagney's
JohnnyCame Lately (1943), Lester Cowan's The
Story of G.I. Joe (1945), and most particularly
Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1941).
Chaplin spoke on the screen for the first time in
thispicture and in two voices?as the littlebarber,
inmeek monosyllables, and as the dictator, "in
fake Teutonic gutterals and double talk, in
perfect mimicry of Hitler's mannerisms, poses,
gestures, and choleric rantings."14Chaplin began
the picture early in January, 1939. Halfway
through production, Britain declared war, and
work on the filmwas halted. As Chaplin said in
his autobiography, "I began receiving alarming
messages fromUnited Artists. They had been ad
JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

vised by theHays Office that I would run into


. . . But

trouble.

censorship

I was

to

determined

go ahead, forHitler must be laughed at/'15He


went on to remark thathad he known of the ac
tual horrors

of the German

concentration

he could not have made

camps,

the picture.

After pouring over $2 million of his own money


into the project, and shooting a half million feet
of film,he released The Great Dictator on 15 Oc
tober 1940. Reflecting Chaplin's confidence in
this picture, UA booked it to open in twoNew
York theaters, theAstor and theCapitol. Critics
and first-nightersat theopening found toomuch
grim reality in the picture and objected to the last
speech as out of place and propagandistic. But
the public as a whole loved The Great Dictator. It
had a 15-week run inNew York and grossed
nearly $5 million worldwide. This was Chaplin's
greatest success, earning him not only acclaim
but also a $1.5 million profit.
The man on whom the company pinned itshopes
in this period was David O. Selznick. He was
made a partner in 1941 to fill the production
vacuum created by the loss of Goldwyn. So that
Selznick could expand his production schedule,
United Artists took the unprecedented action of
advancing him $300,000 to acquire properties.
Selznick, however, did not deliver until 1944.
The firstpicture on his new contractwas Since
You Went Away. In 1945, he produced /'//Be
Seeing You and Spellbound. All threewere hits,
but he did not live up to expectations.
Selznick's dilatory behavior had so infuriated
Chaplin thathe instigated a lawsuit against Selz
nick in 1943 fornot living up to the termsof his
contract.With the $300,000 advance fromUA,
Selznick had purchased themotion picture rights
to The Keys of theKingdom, Claudia and Jane
Eyre, and sold them toTwentieth Century-Fox at
a big profit. Although UA's counsel claimed
Selznick had the right to expend themoney any
way he chose, Chaplin served the complaint,
nevertheless. But beyond this, the action was left
in abeyance, the strategy apparently being to
into production. Instead,
frighten Selznick
Chaplin succeeded merely in alienating Selznick.
A deeply disturbed Mary Pickford tried to con
vince Chaplin to drop the case by pointing out
the consequences of his behavior, both past and
present:

In three months United Artists will be


old?a
of
years
quarter
its formation,
Twentieth

twenty-five
tury. Since
tury, Warners

a cen
Cen

tomention

and M.G.M.,

only

a few,have come intobeing and reached un


14Theodore
Schuman,

1951),

Charlie
p. 263.

Schuster,

1964),

Huff,

Chaplin

(New

York:

15Charles
Chaplin,My Autobiography (New York:

Simon

&

XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

p. 392.

17

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

believable heights of profit and power. Even


decrepit Universal has had a re-birth and is
a

now

modern,
thriving,
M.G.M.'s

organization.

motion

picture

are

assets

today

quoted at $167,000,000. And that company


was formed by Louis B. Mayer on the
strength of his contractwith Anita Stewart
and

he was

because

able

to secure

the ser

vices of a then unknown young boy work


ing at Universal by the name of Thalberg.
Compare this to the United Artists7 con
tractswith four of thegreatest names the in
dustry has ever known. I am listing the last
year's profits, after taxes, of the above three
as

companies

follows:

Twentieth Century

$10,609,784

M.G.M.

8,555,000

down,

Charlie.

were

pictures

to

be

released

throughUnited Artists at 30% and United


Artists at 25%, the profits to be split fifty
fifty. I don't know what thatwould have
meant in the intervening years but I do
know that combined grosses of last year
alone would exceed $75,000,000 which
would have given [UA] ... a profit of
another deal
$15,000,000. There was
whereby you and Douglas were each to
receive $8,000,000 apiece for your stock
and I $7,000,000. There was the United
Artists Theatre [Circuit] stock which Joe
wanted to amalgamate with United Artists
Corporation.

Douglas
signed

You

turned

that down

also.

and I put up $100,000 apiece and


ten years'

contract

for our

tures. You did neither.

pic

Although you were not financially or con


tractually interested in the theatre, you
deprived theUnited Artists Corporation of
this tremendous asset. You will recall after
that circuit was built into a profitable
business itwas then turned over to the
West Coast Theatres to be used as a stick
against

United

Artists

producers.

. . .

It is said thatyou claim I have deserted you

in David

Selznick's

camp.

. . .

members.

I am perfectly willing to go on record in


saying David was wrong morally and
ethically in not producing and delivering
pictures to us, but I believe legally under
his contract he had the right as well as the
right to part with the assets he sold to
Century.

it not

strike you
that

Charlie,

congruous,

as being
you

are

in

suing

David for not having produced a picture


and I
for three years and yet Douglas
waited six years for the firstChaplin pic
ture?And twenty-odd years ago your pic
ture was

certainly
than David's

so,

as important,
if not more
to
is to the organization

day. Undoubtedly you, too, had reason for


not seeing fit to deliver themuch needed
product and Iwould think this factwould
give you a more tolerant attitude toward
David. True, you did not have $300,000 of
the company's money, but, on the other
hand, you were morally obligated toGrif
fith,Douglas and me to lend every possible
in

assistance

Joe Schenck had a proposition whereby all

M.G.M.'s

holder

stock

Does

the fact that never before in


Despite
motion pictures known such
have
history
prosperity,United limps along with barely
enough to meet its heavy obligations.
Why? Because therehas been nothing but
dissension for the past fifteenyears among
the owners of the company which dissen
sion spreads through themanagement and
down to the salesmen in the field.Dissen
sion which has paralyzed the activities of
the company. And now your lawsuit
against David is not the least of these cost
ly and public wrangles. I can name some of
the specific deals which you, personally,
turned

now

Twentieth

12,132,606

Warners

am

and

Nothing could be more untrue or unfair. I


am neither in his camp nor in yours, but
am first and foremost for the company's
best interests and for protectingmy rights
as a fourth owner of this potentially
attitude
powerful organization, which
should redound to the benefit of all the

precarious
I

am

starting

organization.
that

confident

without

the

interference

the
. . .

new

and

and
David,
you
and
of attorneys

those persons motivated by selfish in


terests, could get together and settle this
lawsuit. The three of us could then for
mulate some plan whereby the partners
as

a unit

thus

for our

future

policy.

vote

forming
. . .

a sound

basis

Surely you can take no pride in the truck


that we

are now

forced

to lend our name

to

and permit to pass throughUnited Artists'


channels. For myself, I am deeply embar
rassed for there is neither profit nor pride
in theUnited Artists of today.
You are the last person in themotion pic
ture industrywho should ever question my
good faith and loyalty to you. But if after
such
of
close
twenty-five years
partnership, you still don't know me,
Charlie, it is useless forme to set forth the
innumerable times I have stood loyally by
you and have closed my eyes to themany
hurts, rebuffs and humiliations I have en
dured

at your

16Letter from Mary


1943.

hand.16
Pickford

October

18

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

to Charles

Chaplin,

18

Itwas not in the original bylaws. There

Pickford waited nearly two weeks for


Chaplin's response, but none came. Thoroughly
out of patience now, she informed the board of
her intention to bring suit against United Artists.
She had to do this to safeguard her holdings in
the company, the holdings which she paid so
dearly for, she said, "not alone in timeand effort,
but in agony ofmind." Her goal was to have the
unanimous vote provision in thebylaws declared
invalid because they threatened to destroy her 25

Miss

interest

percent

was

It has always existed.


PICKFORD:
C: It has always existed and we functioned.
P: And how we functioned.
is a question of opinion, personal
opinion. You are doing verywell. So am
I.

C: That

P: Thank you.
C: I thinkwe have done very well in the
past. I think your credit shows so.
P: My credit is nothing to theUnited Art
ists. Ifmy creditwas run like thatof the
United Artists I would be penniless to
day, and that is justwhy I am going to
get relief from the courts. Ifwe can't sit
down and discuss our business like any
othermodern organization, then it is too
bad.
C:

I don't

a modern

tended it.
P:

this was

think

corporation.

ever

intended

We

never

to be
in

It is not, if itwas.

I do not agree. I think that we


ought to go into it?not at this time?but
at a laterdate, and I can prove it to you
conclusively that figures do not lie, that
our company does not do as well as

ning.

P: And I would
what I said.

like to go on record as to

C: We had it for the purpose of exploiting


our own pictures without block booking
from

P: And

other

sources.

there is no reason why it cannot

proceed.

I think that you and Douglas and


myself did verywell under the organiza
tionunder those conditions and we never
had any trouble at all about themajority

C: And

vote.

P:

Itwas something we gave each other. It

was

never

in

others.17

Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin were irrecon


cilable after this encounter. "In the future," she
informedUA's president, "any business dealings
Imay be forced to have with him will be done as
though with a total stranger."18
Chaplin reactived the suit against Selznick in
1946. Precipitating the action was Selznick's act
of turningover toRKO on a profit-sharing basis
producers, directors, players and completed
scripts forNotorious, The Spiral Staircase and
four other films.After Selznick filed a counter
an

suit,

the

bylaws

and

Mr.

Goldwyn had itput in, as you will recall.


JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

out-of-court

settlement

was

reached

whereby the company repurchased his stock for


$2 million.
Immediately following the Selznick lawsuits was
theMonsieur Verdoux debacle. More than six
years had passed since Chaplin had delivered a
picture to the company and his new work was
eagerly anticipated. But the critical reception
from thedaily press after theopening on 11 April
1947, was hostile: "It has little entertainment
weight,
sense.

or sheer non
either as somber
symbolism
... It is also
an affront to the
of
something

intelligence" (Howard Barnes in the Herald


Tribune); "The film is staged like an early talkie

with

C: Itwas an ideal proposition in the begin

it cost us dearly.

P: Then

The next meeting of the stockholders inOctober,


1943, was a spirited one indeed inwhich the fol
lowing exchange between Chaplin and Pickford
took place:

MISS

and

C: I don't think ithas cost verymuch, and I


don't know about you, but frankly, I
think I have done very well by this
organization under its present set up. I
can say I believe I had gotten themax
imumout ofmy pictures and I thinkyou
have, and I think?

in the company.

CHAPLIN: The evil of the unanimous vote


has only come up recently.

an amendment

immobile

fairly

camera,

self-conscious

dialogue, acting that looks like the late twenties


...

an

old-fashioned

production,

almost

quaint

in some of itsmoments" (Eileen Creelman inThe


Sun);

"It

is

slow?tediously

slow?in

stretches and
thus monotonous"
Crowther in theNew York Times).

many

(Bosley

Chaplin consented to a press interview the fol


lowing day to drum up support for themovie. He
confidently expected to answer questions on why
he abandoned his famous tramp to play the role
of a cynical middle-class bank clerk who hap
pened also to be a modern Bluebeard. The UA

17Transcript of the meeting of the UA Stockholders,


1943.
28 October
18Letter fromMary Pickford to Edward C. Raftery, 9
1943.
November

XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

19

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

publicity departmentwarned him to expect ques


tions on his sex life and his politics as well.
Chaplin's popularity had sunk to its all-time low,
as

a result

of

the sensational

lawsuits

involving

Joan Barry, theMann Act, and the paternity of


her child, and rising resentment over Chaplin's
so-called

stand

pro-Communist

the war.

during

The conference took place in the Grand Ball


room of the Gotham Hotel. Radio producer
George Wallach reported that "the Ballroom was
filled literally to the rafters. Every seat on the
floor was taken. People were standing in the
doorways and on the seats encircling thebalcony.
They represented every major newspaper and
and

magazine,
any and

there were

also

all minor

from

journalists
to squeeze

able

papers

in."19

After his introduction by a UA spokesman,


Chaplin told his audience to "proceed with the
was

He

butchery."

if he was

asked

a Communist,

he was asked why he had not become an


American citizen, and he was accused of being
unpatriotic. Much was made of the fact that
Chaplin advocated a second front against the
Nazis early in thewar. The press conferencewas
an excruciating ordeal for the filmmaker,who in
tended in his characterization of Verdoux "to
create a pity for all humanity under certain
drastic

circumstances?in

times

stress."20

of

After thepicture had run for a short time inNew


York, Chaplin decided to withhold it from
national release until October, to enable his new
publicity man, Russell Birdwell, to revamp the
promotion

Birdwell's

campaign.

plan

was

to

capitalize on the controversy surrounding both


Chaplin and Monsieur Verdoux by adopting the
slogan

"Chaplin

you?"

received another dose of notoriety that

Chaplin
summer

when

he

that he was
House

can

changes;

learned

Communist

the newspapers

being called to testify before the


on

Committee

which was

from

Un-American

Activities,

beginning a probe into the alleged


infiltration

in

of the motion-picture

dustry. In response, Chaplin sent the following


chairman, J. Parnell
telegram to HUAC's

Thomas:

From your publicity I noted that I am to be


by

"quizzed"

the House

Un-American

Ac

tivities Committee
in Washington
in
September. I understood I am to be your
"guest"

at

the

expense

of

the

taxpayers.

Forgive me for thispremature acceptance of


your headlined newspaper invitation. You
have been quoted as saying you wish to ask
me if I am a Communist. You sojourned for
ten days in Hollywood not long ago and
"Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur
Ver
19George Wallach,
5 (Winter
doux
Press Conference,"
Film Comment
34.
1969):
20Ibid., p. 36.

could have asked me the question ai that


time, effecting something of an economy.
Or you could telephoneme now?collect. In
order that you be completely up-to-date on
my thinking I suggest that you view
carefully my latest production "Monsieur
Verdoux." It is against war and the futile
slaughter of our youth. I trustyou will find
its humane message distasteful.While you
are preparing your engraved subpoena Iwill
give you a hint on where I stand. I am not a
a peace-monger.

I am

Communist.

Learning thatHUAC planned to take up the case


of movie
Eisler, on 25
composer Hanns
as a prelude

September,

to its full-scale

investiga

tion of Hollywood, Chaplin instructed United


Artists to open Monsieur Verdoux inWash
ington the following day. The Capitol theater
was booked for the run, but itsmanagement at
the last moment decided to "postpone"
the
UA's

engagement.

interpretation

of

the

action

was that "official Washington has been led to


believe that a big, bad wolf is running around
loose on the screen and that it should be caged
before

some

is done."21

damage

The

picture

opened on schedule, nonetheless. UA managed to


book five theaters in an attempt to blanket the
city. To Thomas and the other members of the
sent
the following
Committee,
Chaplin
invitation:

telegraphed

"I

am opening

my

attendance

records

com

edy, 'Monsieur Verdoux' on September 26th in


fiveWashington, D.C. theaters and itwould in
deed be a pleasure to have you as my guest on
opening day. Respectfully?Charles Chaplin."22
Birdwell's

ballyhoo

broke

at

the opening and elicited an avalanche of booking


requests

from across
a

expected

the country. UA
release

500-theater

confidently
after
the

run.

Washington

The HUAC hearings began on 20 October 1947,


and lasted for two weeks. Chaplin was sub
poenaed

to testify,

but

his

appearance

was

post

poned three times.Then he received a courteous


letter stating that his testimonywould not be
needed and that he could consider the matter
closed.

But

American

audiences

apparently

John E. Rankin,
agreed with HUAC-member
who that summer in Congress had called for
Chaplin's deportation. Chaplin's character was
"detrimental to themoral fabric of America"; by
deporting him, said Rankin, "he can be kept off
theAmerican screen and his loathsome pictures
can be kept from the eyes of American youth."23
There followed a hate campaign of frightening
proportions led primarily by the Catholic War

21UA News

Release,

22UA News

Release,

"Quoted

in Huff,

18 September
19 September
p. 285.

20

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1947.
1947.

Veterans and the American Legion. These and


other pressure groups succeeded in instituting
boycotts against the picture. First the Indepen
dent Theater Owners Organization inColumbus,
Ohio, representing325 theaters,called on theater
owners "to give serious thought to thematter of
withholding screen time" fromMonsieur Ver
doux.24

Then

and

Loew's

certain

of

the

Paramount affiliates refused to supply play dates.


Monsieur Verdoux had played only 2,075 dates
and had grossed a mere $325,000 when Chaplin
ordered itwithdrawn fromdistribution two years
later.Even though the picture grossed more than
$1.5 million abroad, Chaplin felt that the UA
sales forcewas responsible for its poor domestic
showing, with the result that he lost confidence
in his company.

The End and theBeginning

In 1948, the banks declared a holiday on the


financing of UA's producers. The outlay of $2
million for the repurchase of Selznick's stock,
coming three years after the repurchase of
Korda's stock fornearly $1 million, had depleted
reserves.

the company's

Thereafter,

UA

faced

an

insoluble product crisis. By the end of 1949, it


suffered a $200,000 deficit and was losing
$65,000 a week.
Pickford and Chaplin out of desperation turned
over themanagement of UA to former Indiana
Governor Paul V. McNutt and associates in July,
1950. McNutt had acquired a $5.4 million option
to buy UA in two years and operate the company
in themeantime. But after the deficit dipped to
$871,000 at the end of 1950,McNutt looked fora
graceful way out. Ready to rescue him in 1951
were Arthur B. Krim and Robert S. Benjamin,
partners in the law firmof Phillips, Nizer, Ben
jamin and Krim, specializing in the movie
business.

After

examining

the company's

books,

theymade an unprecedented proposition: If un


der theirmanagement United Artists made a
profit in any one of threeyears, theywould ac
quire the right to purchase 50 percent of theout
standing stock and operate the business until
1961.

The offerwas accepted and Krim and Benjamin


made cinema history by transforming a mori
bund company into one of themost successful in
the industry.They met the conditions of theoffer
by showing a profit for 1951.

Intermittentlyover the next several years, there


were separate discussions with Chaplin and
Pickford about selling their stock in the com
but

pany,

seemed

agreement

unattainable.

Unex

vacation.

Subse

pectedly, in February, 1955, Krim received a


telephone call fromChaplin asking for $1.1 mil
lion in cash within fivedays forhis 25 percent of
the company. Krim closed thedeal. Chaplin was
now living permanently inVevey, Switzerland,
where he had taken refuge in 1953 from the in
cessant political harassment in this country. In
1952, Attorney General JamesMcGranery had
declared the intent of theU.S. government to
for "being a
bring action against Chaplin
member of theCommunist Party."25McGranery
had made the announcement while Chaplin was
sea

at

beginning

European

quently, theAmerican Legion picketed his latest


UA release, Limelight, and forced itswithdrawal
from the Fox theaterson theWest Coast and the
Loew's inNew York. Chaplin chose not to return
to answer the charges. He handed inhis re-entry
permit inApril, 1953.
Mary Pickford also sold out her interest in 1956;
her asking price was $3 million. Krim, Benjamin,
and theirpartners now owned the company out
right.United Artists became a publicly held com
pany in 1957, and in 1967 itbecame a subsidiary
of Transamerica

Corporation.

So, the moribund United Artists that Charlie


Chaplin andMary Pickford relinquished in 1951
revived to become the pacesetter of the industry.
This happened because the new managers had a
singleness of purpose in running the company,
earned the confidence and support of the banks,
and

offered

stars,

directors,

and

The comparison between the old and the new


company is not meant to be invidious. The
achievements of Charlie Chaplin and Mary
were unique.
company
in every sense of

Pickford's

were

pioneers

UA's

the

founders

term. Their

enormous popularity as stars had stimulated the


growth of an infant industryand helped establish
film

as

an

art

strong-willed,

form

of consequence.

temperamental,

They

idiosyncratic,

24Quoted

in Terry

Hickey,

"Accusations

Against

JOURNALOF THE UNIVERSITY FILM ASSOCIATION,

were

but

eminently gifted artistswho possessed the for


titude to buck a system thatwas beginning to
pride itselfmore on efficiency and standardiza
tion than on individuality and craftsmanship.
The formation of United Artists was not only an
economic move on theirpart but also an idealistic
one.

Charles Chaplin for Political and Moral Offenses,"


FilmComment 5 (Winter1969): 53.

producers

chance to be masters of their own talent


circumstances all too often lacking in theold UA.

**New York

Times,

XXXI, 1 (Winter1979)

20 September

21

This content downloaded from 195.221.71.48 on Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:56:22 AM


All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

1952,

p. 1.