Film historian Dick (City of Dreams, 1997) uses Paramount Pictures to illustrate the evolution of the motion-picture industry from Thomas Edison to Michael Eisner.
Paramount was started by Adolph Zukor, a Hungarian immigrant who loved dime novels and began his career in New York City as a two-dollar-a-week upholsterer. By the time he died (in 1976, at 103), he could look upon the film industry as one of his children. Dick knows his Hollywood history, and so we learn of the 1912 origin of the famous Paramount logo (mountain and stars), revisit the Fatty Arbuckle sex scandal, and follow the acting career of Ronald Reagan. The dominance of the studios really lasted only into the 1950s, says the author: “Hollywood’s golden Age had quickly turned to silver and was starting to rust.” He examines the competition (and then the cooperation) with television and cable, and he ends with an analysis of the corporate-merger mania that emerged in the 1980s and continues to dominate. “No longer do projects originate at a studio,” notes the author; “they come from production companies to which the studio plays host, financing their films in whole or in part.” The principal strength of the volume is Dick’s ability to humanize (and, in some cases, to demonize) the generally faceless studio and corporate executives whose names range from the unknown to the renowned. George Weltner joined Paramount in 1922 and stayed his entire career; Charles G. Bluhdorn arrived in 1966 from Gulf + Western (which had gobbled up Paramount). Barry Diller and Don Simpson and Frank Mancuso and David Kirkpatrick—all are important players at whom Dick points his camera. Far more familiar names played at Paramount, too, including Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg. The author sometimes stretches analogies to the snapping point (allusions to Shakespeare and Roman history sometimes intrude more than illuminate), but by and large he strikes just the right tone.
At times breezy, at times complex, always erudite and entertaining. (24 pages b&w photos)