The company is the result of a 1935 merger of two entities, Fox Film Corporation founded by William Fox in 1915, and Twentieth Century Pictures, begun in 1933 by Darryl F. Zanuck, Joseph Schenck, Raymond Griffith and William Goetz. William Fox, a pioneer in creating the theater "chain", began producing films in 1914. In 1917 he introduced Theda Bara, one of the most popular screen actresses of the time. Always more of an entrepreneur than a showman, Fox concentrated on acquiring and building theaters; pictures were secondary. With the introduction of sound Fox acquired the rights to a German sound-on-film process which he dubbed "Movietone" and in 1926 began offering films with a music-and- effects track. The following year he began the weekly "Fox Movietone News" feature, which ran until 1963. The growing company needed space, and in 1926 Fox acquired three-hundred acres in the open country west of Beverly Hills and built "Movietone City", the best-equipped studio of its time.
When rival Marcus Loew died in 1927, Fox offered to buy the Loew family's holdings; Loew's Inc. controlled more than two-hundred theaters as well as the MGM studio (whose films are currently distributed internationally by Fox -- see below). When the family agreed to the sale, the merger of Fox and Loew's Inc. was announced in 1929. But MGM studio-boss Louis B. Mayer, not included in the deal, fought back; using political connections, he called on the Justice Department's anti-trust unit to block the merger. Fate favoured Mayer; Fox was badly injured in a car crash and by the time he recovered the 1929 stock market crash had taken most of his fortune, putting an end to the Loew's merger.
Over-extended and close to bankruptcy, Fox was stripped of his empire and even ended up in jail. Fox Film, with more than five-hundred theatres, was placed in receivership; a bank-mandated reorganisation propped the company up for a time, but it was clear a merger was the only way Fox Film could survive.
- Twentieth Century Pictures foundation
Twentieth Century Pictures was an independent Hollywood motion picture production company created in 1932 by Joseph Schenck, the former president of United Artists, Darryl F. Zanuck from Warner Brothers
, William Goetz from Fox Films, and Raymond Griffith. Financial backing came from Schenck's older brother Nicholas Schenck and the father-in-law of Goetz, Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM Studios. Company product was distributed by United Artists, and was filmed at various studios.
Zanuck was named president and Goetz served as vice-president. Successful from the very beginning, their 1934 production, The House of Rothschild was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. In 1935, they produced the classic film Les Miserables, from Victor Hugo's novel, which was also nominated for Best Picture. That same year, they merged with the financially strapped Fox Film Corporation to create 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. which eventually dropped the hyphen in 1985, around the same time the studio was taken over by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation
- Twentieth Century/Fox merger
Two years later, Joe Schenck and Fox management agreed to a merger. Although Twentieth Century was the senior partner in the merger, it was still a dwarf compared to Fox. With this in mind, observers of this mouse-and-elephant combination expected that the new company would be called "Fox-Twentieth Century." However, the new company was called Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, which began trading on May 31, 1935. (The hyphen was dropped in 1985.) Schenck and Zanuck retained their roles as chief executive and head of production, respectively.
Aside from the theater chain and a first-rate studio lot, Zanuck and Schenck felt there wasn't much else to Fox. The studio's biggest star, Will Rogers, died in a plane crash weeks after the merger. Its leading female star, Janet Gaynor, was fading in popularity. Promising leading men James Dunn and Spencer Tracy had been dropped because of heavy drinking. Zanuck quickly signed young actors who would carry Twentieth Century-Fox for years: Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda, ice-skater Sonja Henie, and Betty Grable. And also on the Fox payroll he found two players whom he would build into the studio's leading assets, Alice Faye and seven-year-old Shirley Temple.
Favoring popular biographies and musicals, Zanuck built Fox back to profitability. Thanks to record attendance during World War II, Fox passed RKO and mighty MGM to become the third-most profitable studio. While Zanuck went off for eighteen months' war service, junior partner William Goetz kept profits high by emphasizing light entertainment; the studio's—indeed the industry's—biggest star was creamy blonde Betty Grable. But when Zanuck returned in 1943 he intended to make Fox's output more serious-minded. During the next few years, with pictures like Wilson, Gentleman's Agreement, The Snake Pit, Boomerang and Pinky, Zanuck established a reputation for provocative, adult films. Fox also specialized in adaptations of best-selling books and Broadway musicals, including the Rodgers and Hammerstein films, beginning with the musical version of State Fair in 1945, and continuing on years later with Carousel in 1956, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. They also distributed, but did not make, the Cinemascope version of Oklahoma! and the 1958 film version of South Pacific.
After the war, audiences drifted away, and the arrival of television hastened the process. Fox held on to its theaters until a court-mandated divorce; they were spun off as Fox National Theaters in 1953. That year, with attendance at one-half 1946's level, Fox gambled on an unproven gimmick. Noting that the two movie sensations of 1952 had been Cinerama, which required three projectors to fill a giant curved screen, and "Natural Vision" 3-D, which got its effects of depth by requiring the use of polarized glasses, Fox mortgaged its studio to buy rights to a French anamorphic projection system which gave a slight illusion of depth without glasses. In February, 1953, Zanuck announced that henceforth all Fox pictures would be made in CinemaScope. To convince theater owners to install this new process, Fox agreed to help pay conversion costs (about $25,000 per screen); and to ensure enough product, Fox gave access to CinemaScope to any rival studio choosing to use it. Seeing the box-office for the first two CinemaScope features, The Robe and How to Marry a Millionaire, Warners, MGM, Universal and Columbia quickly adopted the process.
CinemaScope brought a brief up-turn in attendance, but by 1956 the numbers again began to slide. That year Darryl Zanuck announced his resignation as head of production. Officially attributed to burn-out, rumors persisted that his wife had threatened divorce (in community-property California) after discovering Zanuck's affair with actress Bella Darvi. Zanuck moved to Paris, setting up as an independent producer; he did not set foot in California again for fifteen years.
- Production and financial problems
His successor, producer Buddy Adler, died a year later. President Spyros Skouras (who had succeeded Schenck in 1942) brought in a series of production executives, but none had Zanuck's success. By the early 1960s Fox was in trouble. A remake of Theda Bara's Cleopatra had begun in 1959 with Joan Collins in the lead; as a publicity gimmick producer Walter Wanger offered one million dollars to Elizabeth Taylor if she would star; Taylor accepted, and costs for Cleopatra began to escalate.
Meanwhile, another remake—this one of the 1940 Cary Grant hit My Favorite Wife was rushed into production in an attempt to turn over a quick profit to help keep Fox afloat. The unoriginal romantic comedy, titled Something's Got to Give paired Fox's most bankable star of the 1950's - Marilyn Monroe - with Dean Martin, but with a troubled star and belligerent director (George Cukor) causing delays on a daily basis, it quickly descended into a costly debacle. As Cleopatra's budget passed the ten-million dollar mark, Fox sold its back lot (now the site of Century City) to Alcoa in 1961 to raise cash. After several months of very little progress, Marilyn Monroe was fired from Something's Got to Give, although somewhat controversially Elizabeth Taylor's highly disruptive reign on the Cleopatra set continued unchallenged.
With few pictures on the schedule, Skouras wanted to rush Zanuck's big-budget war epic The Longest Day into release as another source of quick cash. This offended Zanuck, still Fox's largest shareholder. After it became clear that Something's Got to Give would not be able to progress without Monroe in the lead (Martin had refused to work with anyone else), Skouras finally relented and re-signed her. But days before filming was due to resume, she was found dead at her Los Angeles home and the unfinished scenes from Something's Got to Give were shelved. They wouldn't see the light of day for nearly 40 years.
At the next board meeting Zanuck spoke for eight hours, convincing directors that Skouras was mis-managing the company and that he was the only possible successor. He was installed as chairman; then named his son Richard Zanuck as president. This new management group seized Cleopatra and rushed it to completion, shut down the studio, laid off the entire staff to save money, axed the long-running Movietone Newsreel and made a series of cheap, popular pictures that luckily restored Fox as a major studio. The biggest boost to the studio's fortunes came from the tremendous success of The Sound of Music (1965), a handsomely produced adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, which became one of the all-time greatest box office hits.
Zanuck stayed on as chairman until 1971 but his last years saw several expensive flops, resulting in Fox posting losses from 1969 to 1971. Following his removal, and after an uncertain period, new management brought Fox back to health. Under president Dennis Stanfill and production head Alan Ladd, Jr., Fox films connected with modern audiences. Stanfill used the profits to acquire resort properties, soft-drink bottlers, Australian theaters, and other properties in an attempt to diversify enough to offset the boom-or-bust cycle of picture-making.
- Rupert Murdoch
With financial stability came new owners, and in 1978 control passed to the investors Marc Rich and Marvin Davis. Three years later, Rich sold his shares to Rupert Murdoch's Australian media group, News Corporation. In 1984, Davis sold his half of Fox to News Corp., giving Murdoch's company complete control. To run the studio, Murdoch hired Barry Diller from Paramount; Diller brought with him a plan which Paramount's board had refused: a studio-backed, fourth free to air commercial television-network.
But to gain FCC approval of Fox's purchase of Metromedia's television holdings (once the stations of the old DuMont network), Murdoch had to become an American citizen. He did so in 1985, and in 1986, the new Fox Broadcasting Company took to the air. Over the next twenty years the network and owned-stations group have expanded to become extremely profitable for News Corp. The film studio has prospered too, although Fox has backed away from its reputation for literary adaptations and adult themes to concentrate on "popcorn" movies such as the Star Wars trilogies (1977-1983 and 1999-2005), and others.
Since January 2001, this company has been the international distributor for MGM/UA releases, and as of 2006, the worldwide video distributor for the MGM/UA library. In the 1980s, Fox -- through a joint venture with CBS, called CBS/Fox Video, had distributed certain UA films on video, thus UA has come full circle by switching to Fox for video distribution.