Adolph Zukor was born January 7, 1873 in Ricse, Hungary, which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In 1889, at the age of 16 just before his family emigrated to the United States, he promised Mella Baumoel, a girl almost 4 years older than he, that he would send for her one day and they would be married. The reality, however, was that they would never speak again.
When the Jewish Zukor family landed in New York, Adolph began working in an upholstery shop and then landed an apprenticeship at a furrier.
Two years later, Adolph began designing his own fur pieces and selling them himself.
Then in 1893, he left for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and ended up starting a fur business there he called “Zukor’s Novelty Fur Company.”
While in Chicago, Adolph met Lottie Kaufman and married her in 1897. They had two children, a son Eugene and daughter Mildred.
In early 1901, he moved his fur business back to New York City.
Adolph was only 5’5” tall, and in late 1901 he stood on his tiptoes in front of a penny arcade peepshow machine and viewed his first movie, a two-minute reel called “Fun in a Boarding House.”
This fascination with film would soon change his life.
By 1903, Adolph had become wealthy and even had an apartment in New York City’s wealthy German-Jewish section at 111th Street and Seventh Avenue.
Motion Picture Industry
Also in 1903, Adolph became involved in the motion picture industry when his cousin, Max Goldstein, approached him for a loan so he could invest in a chain of Edisonia Hall exhibition theaters owned by Mitchell Mark of Buffalo, New York. The idea was to exhibit the various inventions of Thomas Edison including the phonograph, the Vitascope, the Kinetoscope and other such devices.
Adolph Zukor not only loaned his cousin money, he also insisted on forming a partnership with Mitchell Mark and Marcus Loew to open a Vitascope Theatre in New York City because he felt that movies would appeal to working class immigrants.
As a result, in 1904 the small group of investors opened the Automatic Vaudeville Company on 14th Street in New York City featuring Thomas Edison’s marvels.
They then founded the People’s Vaudeville Company to showcase one-reeler films as well as live variety shows.
By 1905, Marcus Loew split off and formed his own Loews Theatres before eventually founding Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1924.
On May 8, 1912, Adolph Zukor established the Famous Players Film Company.
Then on the night of July 12, 1912, he made entertainment history when he daringly offered the premiere of “Queen Elizabeth,” staring Sarah Bernhardt. The movie lasted only 40 minutes, but it has been considered the first feature-length film to be shown in America.
His primary goal was to bring noted stage actors to the screen.
By mid-1913, Famous Players had completed five films, and Zukor was on his way to success.
Then he converted an armoury on 26th Street in Manhattan into Chelsea Studios, a movie studio that is still in use today.
The studio soon evolved into Famous Players-Lasky with co-producer Jesse L. Lasky and then Paramount Pictures.
With Paramount, Adolph revolutionized the film industry by organizing production, distribution, and exhibition within a single company.
In addition to directing and producing, Adolph Zukor served as president of Paramount Pictures until 1936 when he became chairman of the board.
In 1918, Adolph moved to New City, Rockland County, New York, where he purchased three hundred acres of land from Lawrence Abraham, heir to the A&S Department Stores. Abraham had already built a sizable house, a nine-hole golf course and a swimming pool on this property. Two years later, Zukor bought an additional five hundred acres, built a night house, guest house, movie theater, locker room, greenhouses, garages, staff quarters and hired famed golf architect A.W. Tillinghast to build an eighteen hole championship golf course. Today, Zukor’s estate is a private country club known as the Paramount Country Club.
He retired from Paramount Pictures in 1959 and thereafter assumed Chairman Emeritus status, a position he held up until his death June 10, 1976 at the age of 103 in Los Angeles.
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