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Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (CPII) is an Americanmarker film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanesemarker conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies in the world, a member of the so-called Big Six. It was one of the so-called Little Three among the eight major film studios of Hollywood'smarker Golden Age.

The studio, founded in 1919 as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales by brothers Jack and Harry Cohn and Joe Brandt, released its first feature film in August 1922. It adopted the Columbia Pictures name in 1924 and went public two years later. In its early years a minor player in Hollywood, Columbia began to grow in the late 1920s, spurred by a successful association with director Frank Capra.

With Capra and others, Columbia became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. In the 1930s, Columbia's major contract stars were Jean Arthur and Cary Grant (who was shared with RKO Pictures). In the 1940s, Rita Hayworth became the studio's premier star and propelled their fortunes into the late 1950s. Rosalind Russell, Glenn Ford, and William Holden also became major stars at the studio.

In 1982, the studio was purchased by Coca-Cola; that same year it launched TriStar Pictures as a joint venture with HBO and CBS. Five years later, Coca-Cola divested Columbia, which merged with Tri-Star. After a brief period of independence, the combined studio was acquired by Sony in 1989.


The early years

The predecessor of Columbia Pictures, Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales, was founded in 1919 by Harry Cohn, his brother Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt.

Brandt was president of CBC Film Sales, handling sales, marketing and distribution from New York along with Jack Cohn, while Harry Cohn ran production in Hollywoodmarker. Many of the studio's early productions were low-budget affairs; the start-up CBC leased space in a Poverty Row studio on Hollywood's Gower Street. Among Hollywood's elite, the studio's small-time reputation led some to joke that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage."

Reorganization and new name

Following a reorganization, partner Brandt was bought out, and Harry Cohn took over as president. In an effort to improve its image, the Cohn brothers renamed the company Columbia Pictures Corporation in 1924. In an industry rife with nepotism, Columbia's was particularly notorious. The humorist Robert Benchley called it the Pine Tree Studio "because it has so many Cohns."

Columbia's product line consisted mostly of moderately budgeted features and short subjects including comedies, sports films, various serials, and cartoons. Columbia gradually moved into the production of higher-budget fare, building a reputation as one of Hollywood's more important studios.

Helping Columbia's climb was the arrival of an ambitious director, Frank Capra. Between 1927 and 1939, Capra constantly pushed Cohn for better material and bigger budgets. A string of hits he directed in the early 1930s, particularly Lady for a Day and the Oscar-winning It Happened One Night, solidified Columbia's status as a major studio. Other Capra-directed hits followed, including the original version of Lost Horizon, with Ronald Colman, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which made James Stewart a major star.

Columbia couldn't afford to keep a huge roster of contract stars under contract, so they usually borrowed them from other studios. At MGM, Columbia was nicknamed "Siberia", as Louis B. Mayer would use the transfer to Columbia as a way to punish his less obedient stars. In the 1930s they signed Jean Arthur to a long-term contract, and after The Whole Town's Talking (1935), Arthur became a major comedy star. Cary Grant signed a contract in 1937 and soon after it was altered to a non-exclusive contract shared with RKO.

Short subjects

At Harry Cohn's insistence the studio signed The Three Stooges in 1934. Rejected by MGM (which kept straight-man Ted Healy but let the Stooges go), the Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia between 1934 and 1957. Columbia's short-subject department employed many famous comedians, including Buster Keaton, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde, and Hugh Herbert. Almost 400 of Columbia's 529 two-reel comedies were released to television in the late 1950s; to date, only the Stooges and Keaton subjects have been released to home video.

In the early 1930s Columbia distributed Walt Disney's famous Mickey Mouse cartoons. In 1934 the studio established its own animation house, under the Screen Gems brand; Columbia's leading cartoon series were Krazy Kat, Scrappy, The Fox and the Crow, and (very briefly) Li'l Abner. In the late 1940s Columbia agreed to release animated shorts from United Productions of America; these new shorts were more sophisticated than Columbia's older cartoons, and many won critical praise and industry awards.

According to Bob Thomas's book King Cohn, studio chief Harry Cohn always placed a high priority on serials. Beginning in 1937 Columbia entered the lucrative serial market, and kept making these episodic adventures until 1956, after other studios had discontinued them. The most famous Columbia serials are based on comic-strip or radio characters: Mandrake the Magician, The Shadow, Terry and the Pirates, Captain Midnight, The Phantom, Batman, and Superman, among many others.

Columbia also produced musical shorts, sports reels (usually narrated by sportscaster Bill Stern), and travelogues. Its "Screen Snapshots" series, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Hollywood stars, was a Columbia perennial; producer-director Ralph Staub kept this series going through 1958.


In the 1940s, propelled in part by their film's surge in audiences during the war, the studio also benefited from the popularity of its biggest star, Rita Hayworth. Columbia maintained a long list of contractees well into the 1950s: Glenn Ford, Penny Singleton, William Holden, Judy Holliday, The Three Stooges, Ann Miller, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Doran, Jack Lemmon, Cleo Moore, Barbara Hale, Adele Jergens, Larry Parks, Arthur Lake, Lucille Ball, Kerwin Mathews, and Kim Novak.

Harry Cohn monitored the budgets of his films, and the studio got the maximum use out of costly sets, costumes, and props by reusing them in other films. Many of Columbia's low-budget "B" pictures and short subjects have an expensive look, thanks to Columbia's efficient recycling policy. Cohn was reluctant to spend lavish sums on even his most important pictures, and it wasn't until 1943 that he agreed to use three-strip Technicolor in a live-action feature. (Columbia was the last major studio to employ the expensive color process.) Columbia's first Technicolor feature was the western The Desperadoes, starring Randolph Scott and Glenn Ford. Cohn quickly used Technicolor again for Cover Girl, a Hayworth vehicle that instantly was a smash hit, released in 1944, and for the fanciful biography of Frederic Chopin, A Song to Remember, with Cornel Wilde, released in 1945. Another biopic, 1946's The Jolson Story with Larry Parks and Evelyn Keyes, was started in black-and-white, but when Cohn saw how well the project was proceeding, he scrapped the footage and insisted on filming in Technicolor.

In 1948 the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. anti-trust decision forced Hollywood motion picture companies to divest themselves of the theatre chains that they owned. Columbia, which did not own theaters, was now on equal terms with the largest studios, and soon joined the ranks of the "Big Five" studios.

Screen Gems

In 1946, Columbia dropped the Screen Gems brand from its cartoon line, but retained the Screen Gems name for various ancillary activities, including a 16 mm film-rental agency and a TV-commercial production company. In 1948, Columbia adopted the Screen Gems name for its television production subsidiary. Screen Gems became a major producer of situation comedies for TV, beginning with Father Knows Best. The Donna Reed Show, The Partridge Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Monkees followed. In 1960, company became a publicly traded company under the name Screen Gems, Inc. when Columbia spun off 18% stake. In 1957, after it's parent company Columbia dropped UPA, Screen Gems entered a distribution deal with Hanna-Barbera Productions which produced classic TV cartoon shows as The Flintstones, Ruff and Reddy, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest and The Jetsons and others while Screen Gems distributes until 1967 when Hanna-Barbera was sold to Taft Broadcasting.


By 1950 Columbia had discontinued most of its popular series films (Boston Blackie, Blondie, The Lone Wolf, The Crime Doctor, Rusty, etc.) Only Jungle Jim, launched by producer Sam Katzman in 1949, kept going through 1955. Katzman contributed greatly to Columbia's success by producing dozens of topical feature films, including crime dramas, science-fiction stories, and rock-'n'-roll musicals. (For details about these Columbia releases of the 1950s, see the Wikipedia entry on Sam Katzman.) Columbia kept making serials until 1956 and two-reel comedies until 1957, after other studios had discontinued them.

As the larger studios declined in the 1950s, Columbia took the lead, continuing to produce 40-plus pictures a year, offering adult fare that often broke ground and kept audiences coming to theaters. A good example of a ground-breaking Columbia film was its adaptation of the controversial James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity, released in 1953, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Columbia also won the next year (1954) with another hard-hitting story, On the Waterfront. The studio won Best Picture again in 1957, when it released The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker with William Holden and Alec Guinness.

Columbia also released the made-in-England Warwick Films by producers Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli as well as many films by producer Carl Foreman who resided in England. Columbia also distributed some films made by Hammer.

After Harry Cohn's death

Columbia president and production director Harry Cohn died in February 1958.

By the late 1960s, Columbia had an ambiguous identity, offering old-fashioned fare like A Man for All Seasons and Oliver! along with the more contemporary Easy Rider and The Monkees. After turning down releasing Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions James Bond films, Columbia hired Broccoli's former partner Irving Allen to produce the Matt Helm series with Dean Martin. Columbia also produced a James Bond spoof, Casino Royale (1967), in conjunction with Charles K. Feldman, which held the adaptation rights for that novel.

In 1968, Columbia Pictures Corporation merged with its subsidiary Screen Gems and was renamed Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. Nearly bankrupt by the early 1970s, the studio was saved via a radical overhaul: the Gower Street studios were sold and a new management team was brought in. While fiscal health was restored through a careful choice of star-driven vehicles , the studio's image was badly hurt by the David Begelman check-forging scandal. Begelman eventually resigned (later ending up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), and the studio's fortunes gradually recovered.

From 1971 until the end of 1987, Columbia's international distribution operations were a joint venture with Warner Bros., and in some countries, this joint venture also distributed films from other companies (like EMI Films and Cannon Films in the UK). Warners pulled out of the venture in 1988 to join up with Walt Disney Pictures.

In 1974, Columbia retired the Screen Gems name from television, renaming its television division Columbia Pictures Television.

1980s: Coca-Cola and Tri-Star

With a healthier balance-sheet, Columbia was bought by Coca-Cola in 1982, after having considered buying the struggling Walt Disney Productions. Studio head Frank Price mixed big hits like Tootsie, The Karate Kid, and Ghostbusters with many costly flops. In 1985, Columbia acquired Norman Lear and Jerry Perenchio's Embassy Pictures Corporation (included Embassy Television and Tandem Productions), mostly for its library of highly successful television series such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Expanding its television franchise, Columbia also bought Merv Griffin Enterprises the following year.

To share the increasing cost of film production, Coke brought in two outside investors whose earlier efforts in Hollywood had come to nothing. In 1982, Columbia, Time Inc.'s HBO and CBS announced, as a joint venture, "Nova Pictures"; this enterprise was to be renamed Tri-Star Pictures. CBS dropped out of the venture in 1984. Three years later, HBO also dropped out, and Tri-Star expanded into the television business with its new Tri-Star Television division. In December 1987, Tri-Star Television was folded into Columbia Pictures Television. In 1986, Columbia recruited British producer David Puttnam to head the studio. He held the position for only one year.

The volatile film business made Coke shareholders nervous, and following the box-office failure, Ishtar, Coke spun-off its entertainment holdings in 1987. The new stand-alone company, Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc., brought Tri-Star fully into the fold in December 1987, creating Columbia/Tri-Star. Puttnam was succeeded by Dawn Steel, the first woman to run a Hollywood motion picture studio. Other small-scale, "boutique" entities were created: Nelson Entertainment, a joint venture with British and Canadian partners, Embassy Pictures (which had been separated from the TV unit), Triumph Films, jointly owned with French studio Gaumont, and is now a low-budget label, and Castle Rock Entertainment.

The Sony years to present

The Columbia Pictures empire was sold in 1989 to electronics giant Sony, one of several Japanese firms then buying American properties. Sony then hired two producers, Peter Guber and Jon Peters to serve as co-heads of production when Sony also acquired Guber-Peters Entertainment (included Barris Industries) for $200 million. Guber and Peters had just signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros; to extricate them from this contract, Sony ended up paying hundreds of millions of dollars, gave up a half-interest in its Columbia House Records Club mail-order business, and bought from Warner the former MGM studio in Culver City which Warners had acquired in its takeover of Lorimar in 1990. Sony spent $100 million to refurbish the rechristened Sony Pictures Studiosmarker. Guber and Peters set out to prove they were worth this fortune, but though there were to be some successes, there were also many costly flops. Peters resigned in 1991, to be followed soon after by Guber.


The entire operation was reorganized and renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) in 1991, and at the same time, TriStar (which had officially lost its hyphen) relaunched its television division. Publicly humiliated, Sony suffered an enormous loss on its investment in Columbia, taking a $2.7 billion write-off in 1994. John Calley took over as SPE president in November 1996, installing Amy Pascal as Columbia Pictures president and Chris Lee as president of production at TriStar. By the next spring, the studios were clearly rebounding, setting a record pace at the box office. In 1998, Columbia and TriStar merged to form the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group (a.k.a. Columbia TriStar Pictures), though both studios still produce and distribute under their own names. Pascal retained her position as president of the newly united Columbia Pictures, while Lee became the combined studio's head of production.

In 1994, Columbia Pictures Television and TriStar Television were integrated into Columbia TriStar Television (CTT), including the rights to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!. In 1994 as well, the television library expanded when Susan Stafford sold Barry & Enright Productions, which included the post-scandal Jack Barry Productions (excluding those owned by NBC), to CTT. The company also purchased Stewart Tele Enterprises. In 1997, Columbia Pictures ranked as the highest grossing movie studio in the United States with a gross of $1.256 billion. In 1999, Sony Pictures Entertainment relaunched the Screen Gems brand as a horror and independent film distribution company and TriStar Television was folded into CTT. Two years later, CPT was folded into CTT as well.

In the 1990s, Columbia announced plans of a rival James Bond franchise, since they owned the rights of Casino Royale and were planning to make a third version of Thunderball with Kevin McClory. MGM and Danjaq, LLC, owners of the franchise, sued Sony Pictures in 1997, with the legal dispute ending two years later in an out-of-court settlement. Sony traded the Casino Royale rights for $10 million, and the Spider-Man filming rights. The superhero has since become Columbia's most successful franchise, with the first movie coming out in 2002 and having since since gained two sequels, with plans for two more.


In the 2000s, Sony broadened its release schedule by creating Sony Pictures Classics for arthouse fare, and by backing Revolution Studios, the production company headed by Joe Roth. In 2002, Columbia TriStar Television was renamed Sony Pictures Television. Also in 2002, Columbia broke the record for biggest domestic theatrical gross, with a tally of $1.575 billion, coincidentally breaking its own record of $1.256 billion set in 1997, which was raised by such blockbusters as Spider-Man, Men in Black II and xXx. The studio was also the most lucrative of 2004, with over $1.338 billion dollars in the domestic box office with movies such as Spider-Man 2, 50 First Dates and The Grudge, and in 2006, Columbia, helped by such blockbusters as The Da Vinci Code, The Pursuit of Happyness and Casino Royale, not only finished the year in first place, but it reached an all time record high sum of $1.711 billion, which is still an all-time yearly record for any studio.

The Columbia logo

Columbia's logo, a lady carrying a torch and draped in the American flag (representing Columbia, a personification of the United Statesmarker), has gone through five major revisions.

The logo originally appeared in 1924. This version had no clouds, and had rays emanating from the torch in a flickering style of animation. The "Torch Lady" wore a headdress, and above her were the words "A Columbia Production" written in an arch.

In 1936, the logo was changed: the "Torch Lady" now stood on a pedestal, wore no headdress, and the single word "Columbia" appeared in chiseled letters behind her. The animation was improved so that the torch now radiated light instead of the more artificial-looking rays of light projecting from the torch. There were several variations to the logo over the years—significantly, a color version was done in 1943 for The Desperadoes, and the flag became just a drape with no markings—but it remained substantially the same for 40 years. 1976's Taxi Driver was one of the last films to use the "Torch Lady" in her classic appearance.

In 1976, Columbia experimented with a new logo. Visual effects pioneer Robert Abel was hired by the studio for this logo's animation. It began with the familiar lady with a torch. Then, the camera zoomed in on the torch, and the torch-light rays then formed an abstract blue semicircle depicting the top half of the rays of light, with the name of the studio appearing under it. This logo was first used on The Who's Tommy and then used on a regular basis starting with Murder by Death. The television counterpart used only the latter part of the logo, and the semicircle was orange (it sometimes looks red, due to variations in the laboratory development process, but according to Columbia Pictures Entertainment's official logo color coding for their various divisions, it was meant to be orange ).

The Torch Lady returned in 1981, replacing this "sunburst" logo. The words "Columbia Pictures" now straddled the Torch Lady, who was less detailed in appearance. The shape of the lady's body was described as resembling a bottle of Coca-Cola (which owned Columbia at the time).

The current logo was created in 1993, when the logo was repainted digitally by New Orleans artist, Michael Deas, who was commissioned to return the lady to her "classic" look. There was a CinemaScope version and a 1.85:1 in 1993. The animation starts with a bright light, which zooms out to reveal the torch and then the lady. Deas used Jenny Joseph, a homemaker and mother of two children, as a model, but used a composite for the face.


The first model for the logo is unknown, and Columbia have said that they have no record or documentation. Women who have been said to be the Torch Lady include:

  • Claudia Dell: Bette Davis made a passing remark in her 1962 autobiography about "Little Claudia Dell, whose image was used as Columbia Pictures' signature for years".
  • (Frances) Amelia Bachelor, a Texas-born model and minor actress, in a 1987 article in People magazine, recounted modeling for the logo after having been asked by Harry Cohn in 1936.
  • Jane Bartholomew: A February 26, 2001 article in the Chicago Sun-Times (page 5), said "she was one of several extras ordered by Columbia boss Harry Cohn to pose as Miss Liberty", and "is certain the icon was based on her likeness".
  • Evelyn Venable: It has also been reported that the model for the (1936–1976) logo was Evelyn Venable.
  • It has been mistakenly rumored that Annette Bening was the model for the (1993–) logo. As a play on this urban legend, on What Planet Are You From? (2000), the Columbia logo was superimposed with Annette Bening's face.
  • Jenny Joseph: A homemaker and mother of two, she was the model for the logo that has been used since 1993, as confirmed by the painter Michael Deas.

Selected filmography

Further reading


  1. It Happened With One Movie: A Studio Transformed, a November 1999 article from The New York Times by People magazine's film critic Leah Rozen
  2. Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward; (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts, p. 60, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 0899501818
  3. "A Strong Debut Helps, as a New Chief Tackles Sony's Movie Problems", New York Times, May 26, 1997.
  4. "Sony Hitches TriStar to Col", Variety, March 31, 1998.
  5. .
  6. Everything You Wanted To Know About American Film Company Logos But Were Afraid To Ask, Hollywood Lost and Found
  7. Columbia Pictures at the Closing Logos Group Wiki
  8. Robert Abel and Associates
  9. Michael Deas, Columbia Pictures Logo, oil on panel, 18 x 32.
  10. The Story Behind Hollywood Studio Logos
  11. Hail, Columbia! Mystery solved, Roger Ebert, October 31, 2004.
  12. The Lonely Life: An Autobiography‎ - Page 127
  13. Amelia Bachelor at the BFI Film and TV database
  14. Obituaries Ba–Bd
  15. Jane Bartholomew Possible Model for Columbia Pictures' Miss Liberty Logo, Photo by Tim Boyle/Newsmakers
  16. at the Internet Movie Database
  17. Logoredux, TCM Classic Movies

See also

External links

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