No, seriously! If Thomas Edison hadn’t been such an egomaniacal patent hound, Hollywood would be in New York.
While there had been other attempts to create moving pictures, William Dickson, an employee of Edison’s, created the Kinetograph in 1891. The Kinetograph was the first contraption that shot moving pictures on sprocketed celluloid via an electric motor. Basically, it took pictures so fast that, when shown back on a film projector, looked like they moved.
Three years later, the Lumiére brothers of France invented their own camera and, in 1895, purchased the rights to produce celluloid film in New York. At the same time, a Polish inventor made yet another type of camera that could double as a projector. All of these devices were patented in their respective countries, so each inventor claimed that Motion Pictures was THEIR creation.
In 1908, to stop each inventor from suing and countersuing, Edison brought together nine other producers and distributors who together created the Motion Pictures Patents Company (AKA the Edison Trust). Entering an exclusive contract with Kodak film, The Trust refused to let outside filmmakers use their patented equipment or show movies in their theaters.
Naturally, the average artist didn’t agree with that, but didn’t have the power to say no. Rarely was there another game in town (if there was, the Edison Trust used ACTUAL mob connections to muscle them out), so the Edison Trust had effectively cornered the industry.
In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled these practices as unconstitutional and dissolved the trust. During those seven years, however, many film production companies had escaped Edison’s grasp by fleeing to California, where state patent laws were looser. Additionally, Trust members didn’t have underworld connections in California to enforce their rules. Among these production companies were Universal, Warner Brothers, RKO, Columbia, and Paramount.
Though Universal is America’s oldest studio, Paramount was specifically important to Hollywood history because its founders– Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn, Jesse Lasky, Adolph Zukor, and Arthur Freed–filmed studio movies out of a barn near Hollywood Blvd. and Vine Street. By 1916, Paramount was the first studio in the United States to control production, distribution, and exhibition of its pictures nationwide. Other production companies followed this business model, and every filmmaker, screen actor, and movie crew member flocked to Hollywood. There simply was nowhere else to be. These studios had snubbed Edison’s tyranny, becoming the heroes of American cinema.
107 years later, only Paramount resides in Hollywood; the rest are scattered across greater Los Angeles and exist in name only. RKO was partially absorbed by Disney, Columbia is a division of Sony, and Paramount has been smashed together with CBS under the control of Viacom. Universal, before being sold to Comcast, was owned by General Electric, a company co-founded by none other than Thomas Edison! Additionally, each member of this oligopoly is a member of the Motion Picture Association, an organization that determines what can and can’t be shown in theaters. To paraphrase Harvey Dent of The Dark Knight (trademark Warner Bros., a Warner Bros. Discovery company, spin-off of AT&T, all rights reserved): You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become acquired and merged.
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