Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

QUESTION:  Which is not the name of a major American movie studio?
A). Universal
B). United
C). 20th Century Fox
D). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

So yes, the 1928 film Underworld has triggered a significant discussion since we debuted the subject last week. Talk of the actors and the director lead us quite directly to the studio without which the film would have never been produced. Paramount Pictures.  Everything and everyone has a story - and Paramount has its own. One thing people today forget is that, like all the companies that produced the cars we drive every day, the film studios often have stories that stretch around one hundred years. Paramount is one of fifth oldest film companies that remain in existence today, and the second oldest in the United States (Universal beat it out by - no kidding - eight days). 

Paramount Pictures was formed on May 8, 1912 and went by the name of Famous Players Film Company. Just about two years later they changed their name to Paramount, after a film distribution company purchased by Famous Players' founder, Adolph Zukor. Zukor contracted twenty-two famous 'stars' to work exclusively for Paramount, including such notables as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino (these original twenty-two are still honored with stars on the Paramount logo to this day). Zukor created something of a monopoly in film - producing and distributing his films in a theater chain owned by the company. Anti-trust suits were thrown at him, which eventually compelled Zukor to break up the company. He did remain in control, though, and continued to retain many of the most famous actors of each respective era, while also embracing new technology. Talkies became Paramount's bread and butter during the late-20's and into the 30's. Fleischer's Studios rivaled Disney in their cartoon creations such as Popeye and Betty Boop.  Like all companies, Paramount had its ups and downs over the years, and has survived a number of buyouts and downsizings. In 1994, the media megapower Viacom bought them up, and twelve years later they bought out the Dreamwork's Animation Studios. Paramount continues to make engaging films to this day, all thanks to the vision of one man: Adolph Zukor. 

ANSWER:  B). United.  That's a major airline instead.

Evelyn Brent

QUESTION:  After which of the following was the dance "the foxtrot" named?
A). A "foxy" lady strutting her stuff
B). Vaudeville actor Harry Fox
C). The mammal, the fox, and its agility and speed
D). A racehorse named Fox

Last week, the American Treasure Tour blog spent some time discussing a classic silent-era gangster film called Underworld. We also talked about its two male leads: George Bancroft and Clive Brook. We saved our female lead for today: Evelyn Brent. So many of the heartthrobs of yesterday have been forgotten today, but during the height of their popularity they evoked passions just like modern actors do for their fans today. Evelyn Brent had a natural beauty to her. In fact, that beauty is what led to her career in front of the camera. Born Mary Elizabeth Briggs in 1901, the Tampa, Florida native's mother passed away when she was just a girl. Raised by her father, she moved to New York City as a teenager and attended Normal School. That's where men and women, but mostly women, were educated in the art of education. She intended a life as a school teacher. Brent never taught, though. One day, she visited Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the World Film Studio. She was noticed by studio workers and two days later she got work as a paid extra. She was only fourteen years old when she made her film debut in 1915's The Shooting of Dan McGrew. She never looked back. After World War I, she visited London, and stayed a few years, acting on stage and screen. When she returned to the States in 1922, she hooked up with Paramount Pictures and achieved nationwide success. 

She starred in three films for Josef von Sternberg, including 1927's Underworld and the next year's The Last Command. Her career peaked by the end of the decade, but she still maintained popularity through the '30's and '40's, transitioning easily into talkies. By 1950, older than most female actors by that time, she became an actor's agent and remained in the business behind the scenes. With a resume of around 120 films, she did fairly well in the industry. It may very well be time to resurrect her career, and celebrate the artistry of Evelyn Brent!

ANSWER:  B). Vaudeville actor Harry Fox

Clive Brook

Clive Brook.jpg

QUESTION:  Which of the following Clive's is also an actor?
A). Palmer
B). Davis
C). Barker
D). Owen

As we continue our exploration of the cast and creators of the 1927 film Underworld following our in depth and thought provoking expose of George Bancroft yesterday, we are led into the sordid land of the second male lead in this highly-regarded gangster film: Clive Brook.  That sordid land (which really isn't sordid at all, we just like writing sordid. Sordid.  Funny word when you think about it.) is Great Britain, and Clive Brook was born there in 1887. The son of an opera singer and violinist, Brook served his country in World War I in the Artists' Rifles. After the war, he entered the theater and silent film in his native land, and did well enough to justify a move to Hollywood to become a contract player for Paramount Pictures. 

Between 1924 and 1935, Brook made a name for himself in American film, smoothly transitioning from silent to talking pictures. In the former category was, of course, Underworld. In the latter, his (arguably) best performances were in Shanghai Express, co-starring with Marlene Dietrich and as the famous British sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Brook's time in Hollywood was not especially pleasant for him. In the wake of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, fear swept through the country that the children of high-profile celebrities might be kidnapped. Brook hired armed guards to take his daughters Faith and Lyndon (future actors themselves) to school, and he slept with a revolver under his pillow. He saw Hollywood as a luxurious prison, a gilded cage, and left as soon as he could justify it to himself. Upon his return to England, he continued his film career before ultimately devoting himself to the theater. He lived until 1974 and lies in rest in Covent Garden.

ANSWER:  D). Clive Owen.  Clive Palmer is a politician. Clive Davis is a music producer. Clive Barker is a novelist.


QUESTION:  The 1927 film Underworld depicts life in the depths of criminal action in the city. Whose actions are told in the 21st century Underworld franchise?
A). Gnomes and trolls in the underground world of the forest
B). Humans in a dystopian future after nuclear war destroyed the world above
C). Vampires and werewolves fighting each other
D). The sew shop employees where the world's undergarment industries are headquartered

In our Music Room here at the American Treasure Tour, we celebrate the history of film through posters and headshots. Today's blog is dedicated to a film that was released in 1927, but it almost never happened. It was the end of the silent film era. The Jazz Singer would be released that year, the first film with sound.  Movies were already a big deal by the Twenties and one of the most popular form of entertainment in the nation.

Released on August 20, 1927, Underworld had been written off by its distributor Paramount Pictures before it even reached the theater. It was written by Ben Hecht, then altered by other writers. Hecht was unhappy with the changes and tried to get his name removed from the credits.  Paramount considered the film to be sloppy.  Then, the original director, Arthur Rossen, was fired and replaced with Josef von Sternberg, who was only thirty-three at the time and not yet established in Hollywood. The film is about gangsters and a criminal love triangle. (It is available on video through the Criterion Collection, so we don't want to spoil anything here.) Upon its completion, Paramount decided they would give it a release in exactly one movie theater - in New York City. Fortunately, people saw it and liked it so much that it became a hit and Paramount was compelled to give it wider distribution. The movie garnered an Academy Award for Ben Hecht - the first movie ever to win a writing award - and has gone on to be regarded as one of the best gangster films ever made. How's that for a disappointment?

ANSWER:  C). Vampires and werewolves fighting each other.

Louise Brooks - Actor in Beggars of Life

QUESTION:  During the height of her popularity as an actress, Louise Brooks attended numerous functions at the famous San Simeon, known also as the Hearst Castle.  Who was the owner of the residence?
A)  Patty Hearst
B)  Patrick Hearst
C)  William Hearst
D)  Sal Hearst

During the 1920's, America offered dramatic change in the lives of women - they gained the right to vote through a Constitutional Amendment, cigarette smoking became socially acceptable (maybe not such a great thing, really), and fashion now allowed women to dress comfortably - the corset was finally a thing of the past. Louise Brooks, star of the 1928 film Beggars of Life, became a model for the flapper during the decade of the Twenties. Born near Wichita, Kansas in 1906, she was a natural on the dance floor by her teen years, and pursued a career on stage. She was in the chorus of the Ziegfield Follies in 1925 when she caught the eye of Paramount Pictures' producer Walter Wanger, who convinced her to sign a five year contract. (1925 was a big year for Brooks - she was also noticed by comedian Charlie Chaplin, with whom she had a brief affair.)  

Beggars of Life - Poster.jpg

Brooks became one of the most popular actresses of the late-20's. By the time she starred in Beggars for Life, her name had become closely associated with the carefree flapper mentality sweeping the nation. Her famous short "bob" haircut was emulated by young women everywhere, and she could pretty much the films in which she starred. She socialized with all the most famous actors in Hollywood, and married the established British director A. Edward Sutherland in 1926. They stayed together only two years. Really, the only problem was that Brooks hated acting and the world of Hollywood. When her contract with Paramount ended, she moved to Germany to act for G.W. Pabst. Then, a few random movies aside, she was done. She was thirty-six years old when she resorted to becoming a high-priced ball girl for wealthy New Yorkers. Fortunately, she got out of that and turned to writing; her memoirs, about Hollywood, and about Germany between the wars. By the time she passed away in 1985, she had been out of the film industry for almost fifty years.

ANSWER:  C)  William Hearst, also known as William Randolph Hearst.  Patty was his equally famous granddaughter.

The Seeburg Family, Part 1 - May 8, 2014

Hello, American Treasure Tour blog fans!  We just want you to know that we pay attention to your requests as best we can - some days, they come in too rapidly to acknowledge right away, but we will get to them.  Andy from Pennsylvania recently wrote that she is, "...fascinated by the information we provide about the records in the Music Room and the 'Faces of the Tour' series. But I would love if you could spend a little time talking about the nickelodeons!"  Well, Andy, how could we possibly say no to such a sincere request from one of our fans?

The United States is aptly described as a nation of immigrants.  People have traveled to the land of opportunity from all over the world in the hopes of making a better life for themselves and their families.  One such person was Justus P. Sjoberg.  Born in Sweden in 1861, Sjoberg's father had been a successful merchant until he hit on hard times.  His ambitious son moved to Chicago in the hopes of making a new start, changing his name to Seeburg along the way.  He obtained an apprenticeship at the Smith & Barnes Piano Factory, and learned the ropes of the trade before taking jobs at a progression of piano-manufacturing companies - Markette, C.S. Smith, and then Cable - before starting his own company in the early aughts o the 20th century, the J.P. Seeburg Company.  He initially sold electric pianos from the Republic Building in the famous Chicago Loop, and did very well for himself.  Stay tuned for more on the Seeburgs tomorrow.  Same nickelodeon time, same nickelodeon channel....


Who in the following list of Swedish Americans was NOT born in Sweden?

a)  Maud Adams

b)  Ingrid Bergman

c)  Greta Garbo

d)  Kirsten Dunst

e)  Ann-Margret

Answer Below


The history today section of our blog serves to keep things in perspective.  Today, we are part of events that will be tomorrow's history.  Generally, Americans think of our history as starting in 1609, when English settlers claimed land near the eastern tip of Virginia for their king, and named it Jamestown in his honor.  Europeans had been here long before then, and Native Americans much longer even than that.  On this day in 1541, one Spaniard found something only seen by the natives before him:  The conquistador Hernando de Soto laid eyes upon the mighty Mississippi River, the first European to do so.  He named it Rio de Espiritu Santo.  He could not have known that he would be dead slightly over one year later.  It is believed that his soldiers weighted down his body and sank him in the very same river, in an effort to conceal his passing from the natives.  He had not been especially nice to them, and the Spaniards hated the idea of what might become of it.

On this day in 1912, three men - Adolph Zukor, Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman - united and formed the Famous Players Film Company, which set out to produce feature-length films at a time when most movies were short.  Their company took off and received quite a bit of attention.  They saw great opportunity in the film business, merged with other companies, arranged for national distribution of their films, and incorporated under the name of Paramount Pictures.  Then, they hired actors and turned them into celebrities, actors like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino.  They became the biggest names of the silent era mostly because of Paramount's efforts.  Paramount is still around today, and remains one of the five oldest - and top-grossing - film companies in the world.  They clearly did something right!


There are only forty-three days a year when we get to celebrate the birth of a president of the United States, and we are happy to do just that today, because it has been 130 years since Harry S Truman was born in a modest home in Lamar, Missouri.  Truman was one of the least likely men to ever achieve the highest office of the land - he was a farm boy with eyesight so bad he was refused entrance to West Point Military Academy.  He had to secretly memorize the eye chart so that he could get accepted into the Missouri National Guard and fight in World War I. After the war, Truman became involved in politics, while managing to avoid scandals.  That was his main appeal when he was selected as Franklin Roosevelt's third vice president.  After FDR's death early in his fourth term, Truman took the reigns of government and did surprisingly well, despite the harsh criticism he received from his opponents.  Honestly, there's just too much to say about this fascinating man.  We could make him the subject of an entire blog posting. Instead, we will acknowledge his birthday and call it a day.

We celebrate another birthday today, that of Eric Hilliard Nelson. Born in 1940, Eric, more familiarly known as Ricky, was destined to a life in the spotlight by his famous parents: the accomplished band organ leader Ozzie Nelson and his singer wife Harriet.  Together with older-brother David, the Nelsons made a name for themselves nationally first on radio, from 1944 to 1952, then on television, in the sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which aired between 1952 and 1966.  During this time, Ricky became something of a pop music icon, singing a number of very successful songs including "Hello, Mary Lou," "I'm Walkin'", and "Travellin' Man." Nelson's love of music carried him through much of his postOzzie and Harriet career.  He toured often, despite his hatred of the travel.  Refusing to ride in a bus between destinations, he took a small luxury plane.  Tragically, he died in that plane in 1985 at the age of 45.

QUOTE:  Just believe in what you're doing and keep doing it. - Ricky Nelson

Answer:  d)  Kirsten Dunst.  She was born in glorious New Jersey!  All the other beautiful women listed were actually born in Sweden.