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    Founding Father

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Happy New Year. As a bustling future beckons, today marks an occasion to remember the birth 139 years ago of a movie pioneer whose name looms large in Hollywood history even as he personally fell into disrepute and decline, and as the mighty studio he founded passes into new ownership in the year ahead. After a decade of building his purchase of a nickelodeon into a formidable business of theater ownership nationwide, Hungary-born William Fox (1879-1952) created the Fox Film Corporation on February 1, 1915, with studio facilities in Fort Lee, NJ, then the filmmaking capital of the burgeoning motion picture industry. For the next 15 years, he would compete with fellow moguls named Mayer, Zukor, Goldwyn and Warner in the production and distribution of filmed entertainment and newsreel infotainment for exhibition in elaborate, studio-owned movie palaces coast to coast, even pursuing breakthroughs in the development of sound-on-film technologies that would transform the industry as the 1920s ended. Due to personal injuries in an auto accident, financial setbacks and antitrust lawsuits, he would lose the reins of Fox Film Corporation in 1930 and not be on board as the studio he formed would morph into the Darryl F. Zanuck-led Twentieth Century Fox in 1935. True to the colorful tradition of power-wielding studio chiefs, he lived large, battled all comers and ran afoul of the law, dying in relative obscurity. His outsized life and formidable legacy are covered in an absorbing new book by Vanda Krefft, The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox (available here: As reviewer Chris Yogerst writes in The Washington Post: “The Hollywood studios that cultivated the golden age of movies almost never got off the ground. Blame Thomas Edison. The great inventor fought to secure royalties from anyone using a film projector, which ultimately crushed many exhibitors. But one industry pioneer fought back. He was William Fox, who used much of his own money to take down Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Co. (often referred to as “The Trust”) and to secure freedom for film exhibitors to operate without legal harassment. If not for Fox, Edison’s Trust would certainly have delayed the growth of movies. Frequently passed over as just a footnote in mainstream cinema history, Fox deserves a place among the giants who founded what we call Hollywood. With a combination of astute archival research and personal stories from Fox’s niece, Angela Fox Dunn, Krefft weaves a tale that will engage amateur movie enthusiasts and film historians.” As Twentieth Century Fox’s vast entertainment holdings are now being sold to new owners at the Walt Disney Company and assessments multiply about what this colossal absorption (reportedly on course to be concluded by 2019) all means, the 944-page tome offers a great film-buff read for cold winter nights. Collateral consumption could also include the celebratory and bountifully pictorial Twentieth Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment by Michael Troyan, Jeffrey Paul Thompson and Stephen X. Sylvester, an exhaustive 744-page history of what Fox wrought (available here: With a proud heritage of 80+ Fox titles released to date by Twilight Time and dozens ahead, we raise a New Year Birthday toast to the founding father of our feast.