Universal and Columbia were two of the big seven studios in Hollywood during the Golden era and the ONLY two which didn’t have their own chain of Theaters.

Hi everyone.  Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again with some Hollywood History.

MGM, Warners, RKO, 2oth Century Fox, and Paramount not only had major studios but their own theatre chains in which to book their product.  Universal and Columbia had to rely on independent theater owners and bookers.  Thus their product was of a different sort.

In the 1930s and early 40s each of the major studios produced about 50 films a year (or one a week).  In addition there were films by Independent producers such as Walt Disney, Sam Goldwyn, Walter Wanger and others. Also in the mix,  poverty row studios which turned out B or C product.

All the majors developed their own stars.  But when stars were on the rise, or decline, or not on good terms with the “major 5,” they often wound up at Columbia or Universal.

The joke of the time was that everyone would eventually wind up at Universal.  That’s not to say the studio didn’t have its own roster of stars.  There was Deanna Durbin,  Abbott and Costello, Yvonne De Carlo and Maria Montez.

Let’s linger for a moment on Maria Montez, the highly popular Latino star of the early Forties with luscious, sit-up-and-take-notice good looks (yup, there she is above).

She came from the Dominican Republic, and was dubbed “the Caribbean Cyclone.” Such adventure movies as 1941’s Raiders of the Desert and That Night in Rio, and 1942’s Arabian Nights were her specialties as an actress with limits, and proved very popular. Her second husband was French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont.  Montez died early, in Paris at the age of 39.

The mention of Yvonne DeCarlo brings to mind a Tony Curtis anecdote — contained in his American Prince: A Memoir  published in 2008 — about an incident that occurred during the actor’s teen heart-throb early days as a Universal contract player.  Curtis found himself in New York in a chauffered limousine, and spotted the still struggling actor acquaintance, Walter Matthau, standing on a street corner.

Curtis ordered the limo to pull up right next to where Matthau was standing.  Down rolled the back window, and Curtis barked out — “I fucked Yvonne DeCarlo.” He then rolled up the window, and continued on his journey.

Back to Universal. Really top names, such as Charles Boyer, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Loretta Young, were usually signed for one or two picture deals.  And other studios lent out stars to Universal to give them exposure.  It might be said that MGM used Universal to build the career of Ava Gardner.

The studio was known for its Horror Films. It’s Deanna Durbin musicals, Abbott and Costello comedies and Montez/Jon Hall color fantasies.

So, as a quintessential film factory of the 1940s, did Universal manage to produce any films which have stood the test of time and might be considered Classics?

A few.  Two of Hitchcock’s.  Shadow of a Doubt (a marvelous picture featuring wonderful performances by Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright. Hitchcock always touted the movie as his personal favorite); and Saboteur were done on loan out from David O. Selznick.  Fritz Lang’s Scarlett Street starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea is worth a look.

In late 1946 the studio merged with International Pictures and became known as Universal -International.   Under that banner it produced several pictures over the next few years that deserve mention: The Killers (1946) Brute Force (1947) A Double Life (1948) The Naked City (1948) and Winchester 73 (1950).  All might be considered classics.


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