How a Handful of Immigrants Created the Movie Industry


Gary Hoover traces the history of the motion picture industry from its founding over a century ago, focusing on the rise of the great studios in the 1920s and 1930s, including Paramount, Loew’s/Metro-Golden-Mayer, 20th Century-Fox, and Warner Bros. He tells a story of leaders, technologies, and changing times, and touched on the era of the great picture palaces where the movies were shown. He also connected this history to the leading movie companies of today.

A few factoids for your next game of Trivial Pursuit –

  • Thomas Edison invented film sprockets, the holes on either side of film to keep it on the roll as it turned. Edison was also a key participant in the Motion Picture Patents Trust which controlled the production and projection of early film in the US.
  • Eastman Kodak figured out how to put a photosensitive film on cellulose, thus enabling photography and motion pictures.
  • Sarah Bernhardt, a famous actress from the English stage, was one of the first actors to be in a long version movie. Adolf Zukor, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and founder of Paramount Pictures, purchased the rights to distribute this French film in the United States for $35,000.
  • Mary Pickford was the first “movie star,” a concept developed by Adolf Zukor. The Motion Picture Patents Trust was against promoting individuals because they would want too much money. They were right. Pickford made over $100,000 a year in the 1920s.Al Jolson starred in the first successful movie with sound, The Jazz Singer, produced by Warner Bros. in 1927.
  • Austin’s beloved Paramount Theatre was one of the first theatres built by Austrian-born architect John Eberson. Eberson went on to develop the idea of the atmospheric theatre, with twinkly stars in the ceiling. (I suggest the Majestic and Aztec theatres in San Antonio for this experience.)
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Mentioned in this Article

Gary Hoover

Entrepreneur and Mentor Hoover's World

Gary Hoover, former entrepreneur-in-residence at McCombs School of Businesss, began his entrepreneurial journey at an early age. He grew up in...

About the Author

Gayle Hight

Special Projects Marketing Manager, aka Texas Enterprise's "The Connector", McCombs School of Business

With a BS and MBA degrees from UT Austin, and on McCombs' staff for the past 18 years, Gayle knows UT. She is staff writer and special events...


#1 What a great lot of history

What a great lot of history and perspective Hoover fits into an hour! This is the best intro to the history of the film biz I've ever seen.