Hollywood Renegades Archive

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The Movie Theater Chains of the Media Giants

Hollywood Studios Get Back into the Theater Business

The studios in Hollywood before 1950 controlled massive theater chains, until the Supreme Court Paramount decision in the late 1940s forced the studios to sell their exhibition holdings. However, most of the major studios of eventually found ways to reenter the exhibition business when theater-owning restrictions were relaxed in the 1980s. It is interesting that many of the descendants of the grand old studio theater monopolies are today controlled by the major studios.

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen


Cineplex Odeon (Universal)

The Paramount Theatres went through one such transformation that brought the remnants of the old chain back to the major studios. ABC Broadcasting decided to get out of the theater business in the 1970s, and sold off United Paramount to several separate buyers. In 1974 a high-ranking ABC-Paramount manager Henry Plitt purchased the northern tier of the circuit, which he renamed the Plitt Theatres. The Plitt chain later became part of the Cineplex Odeon Corporation. In 1986, Universal Studios Inc. purchased 49 percent of Cineplex Odeon.

Loews-Cineplex (Sony/Columbia)

Around 1985, years after Loew's Inc. was forced to sell Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the Loews Theatre chain was purchased by TriStar Pictures, the new studio formed by Columbia, CBS, and Home Box Office in 1983. TriStar subsequently merged with Columbia Pictures Entertainment to became the media arm of the soft-drink conglomerate, the Coca-Cola Company. In 1989 Coca-Cola sold Columbia Pictures Entertainment, along with its 1,000-screen Loews chain, to the Sony Corporation. When Loews and Cineplex Odeon merged in 1998, with over 2,700 combined screens, 51 percent of the chain was owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and 26 percent by Universal.

 

CLICK HERE for the History of the Loews-Cineplex Theaters

 

Movie exhibitor, Ted Mann.

Mann Theatres (Warner Bros. & Paramount)

Rhonda Fleming in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (Selznick).

Twentieth Century-Fox's former theater division, the National Theatres went through several owners, and even produced its own films for a time. The circuit became known as the Mann Theatres when Ted Mann, the husband of former Selznick contract performer Rhonda Fleming, took over the National General Corporation, and continued to produce and exhibit pictures. In 1973 he also acquired the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which he renamed Mann's Chinese. In 1986, Warner Bros. and Paramount became joint owners of Cinamerica Limited Partnership, the parent company of Mann Theatres and Festival Theaters in the west, and Trans-Lux Theatres in the east.

National Amusements (Viacom/Paramount)

Even after Paramount Pictures was taken over by Gulf+Western and was transformed into Paramount Communications, the media giant still operated Famous Players Ltd., the formidable Canadian theater chain. Paramount also came in close contact with National Amusements, one of the largest privately-held movie circuits in the country, which controlled Viacom Inc. In 1994, Viacom purchased Paramount Communications, creating one of the premiere entertainment conglomerates in the world.

Sol Lesser - independent filmmaker who at various times in his career served as indy producer, distributor, and exhibitor.

Pacific Theaters (Walt Disney Company)

The Disney studio, after it went on to become a major distributor, also got involved in the theater business. SIMPP producer Sol Lesser sold his independent theater chain Principle Theatres in 1959 to the Pacific Drive-In Theatres Corp., which decided to use the Principle movie houses to expand into four-wall theaters. Pacific Theatres affiliated itself with several historic landmarks including the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. In the late 1980s, the chain also became closely associated with the Walt Disney Company, which bought a controlling interest in part of the Pacific circuit. Pacific screens like the El Capitan, a former Paramount movie palace across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the Crest, an art deco style prestige movie house in the Westwood Village district of Los Angles, were purchased by Disney to serve as flagship theaters for Disney's new road-show releases.


SOURCES:

ABC sells Paramount theaters: Goldenson, Beating the Odds, p. 231.
Cineplex Odeon and Loew's Theatres information: "Company History," Loews Cineplex Entertainment: www.leowscineplex.com.
Warrner and Paramount interest in Mann Theatres: Matthew Doman, "WB, Par to Aid Drowning Mann," HR, October 4, 1999, pp. 1, 6. The two studios started to drift away from exhibition in 1997, but by 1999 stepped back in during Mann Theatre's receivership.
Progressive and Pacific Theatres: "Sol Lesser, 90, Predated Nearly All Industry Pioneers; 117 Features," Variety, September 24, 1980, p. 4.

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