Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Outfoxed

I just read Vanda Krefft's The Man Who Made The Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox.

I've always been fascinating by the early days of the cinema, so I'd heard of Fox, but I knew him for one basic reason: he was the power-mad mogul who founded Fox Studios but then tried to buy MGM's theatres in 1929 and lost everything due to the Depression.  It was a cautionary tale, but Krefft's book tells the full story.

And I mean full.  The book, all in, is over 900 pages, and goes into mind-numbing detail about how Fox was destroyed.  Even so, that's only part of the story.  Much of it is about how Fox grew up poor and pulled himself (and his family--his father was not much of a provider) up by his bootstraps, and how he got into the movie business when it wasn't yet respectable and built one of the biggest studios in the silent era.

It tells about the producers he hired, and the big-name directors--John Ford, Raoul Walsh, F. W. Murnau--as well as the major stars who kept the studio afloat--Theda Bara, Tom Mix, Janet Gaynor and so on.

Fox, working in New York, oversaw the productions, but his heart seemed to be more in purchasing theatres, keeping costs down (when necessary), and steering a course that kept his business profitable.  In the early days, he had to fight off the Edison Trust (which owned patents and tried to shut down filmmakers who didn't go along with them) and then later, other moguls who wanted to swallow up film companies.  Fox studios was special, in that it was the only one of the majors in those days that was fully independent, not owing anything to Wall Street bankers.

Fox was also far-seeing when it came to technology.  He invested heavily in developing sound films.  Though Warner Brothers is famous for introducing sound with The Jazz Singer, they used sound-on-disc, which never caught on.  It was Fox's sound-on-film that became the industry standard.

When Marcus Loew died--the guy who founded Loews, Inc, which ran MGM--Fox (and others, such as Paramount's tough Adolph Zukor) saw the possibility of buying the corporation's cinemas and becoming the big guy on the block.  But his timing was off, and he found himself with a huge white elephant when the stock market crashed.

What follows, in the book, is hundreds of pages in excruciating detail of the fallout. (Actually, if you like reading about business, and not movies, this might be the fun part.)  It took months of painful back-and-forth negotiations, but Fox, who'd built his company up from nothing, was forced out, and replaced by money people who knew nothing of movies and ran the studio into the ground.

I always sort of figured that Fox died soon after, having nothing to live for.  Actually, he died in 1952, so he got to think about this disaster for years. In fact, the 1930s was a time of serious mental deterioration for Fox, as he couldn't get over how his life's work had been taken from him. To add insult to injury, a 1937 warehouse fire destroyed most of the films his studio made in the silent era, which is why so little is known of the early Fox output.  (The later Fox films, after the studio was merged with Twentieth Century Films and run by Darryl Zanuck, are still available, thank goodness.)

Litigation over various issues continued into the 1930s and Fox--a man who'd always prided himself on his high-mindedness--got into trouble for bribing judges in one of his court cases and ended up spending some time in prison.  But Krefft's profile is sympathetic.  And I assume generally accurate--if the guy was just a swindler, how do you explain the decades when he ran a legitimate, thriving film business?

I don't know how many will read this book, since the climax--Fox's fall--is hard to get through.  But maybe it will help put William Fox, who tended to stay behind the scenes, back up there with other big names as one of the founders of Hollywood.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Cara Menggunakan Pupuk Organik Cair said...

thank you for sharing

1:24 AM, July 19, 2018  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An appropriate namesake for FOX

6:19 AM, July 19, 2018  

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