On this day: Adolph Zukor is born

January 7 1873: Birth of a film giant

By Jennifer Lipman, January 7, 2011

Almost a century after it was founded, film production and distribution company Paramount Pictures remains a Hollywood giant – a level of success its Hungarian-born Jewish immigrant founder could scarcely have anticipated.

Adolph Zukor was described in his JC obituary as “a founding father of the American film industry”, an accolade that was no exaggeration. From a religious family with several rabbinic relatives, he left Riese at 15 to start a new life in New York as a furrier’s apprentice.

He worked his way up to start his own fur company, and gradually became aware and interested in the fledgling moving pictures industry, establishing what became America’s first cinema chain.

That alone would have left a mark, but in 1912 he recognised a gap in the market and launched the Famous Players Film Company to produce feature films. Several deals and mergers later, the company became Paramount Pictures.

The company nurtured stars including Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson in its early years, and remained under Zukor’s leadership until 1959 when he retired.

Zukor, who died in 1976 at the age of 103, never lost touch with his Jewish roots, eventually funding the rebuilding of the synagogue and rabbi’s house in his birthplace.

What the JC said: Many of the famous Hollywood stars have owed their success to being discovered or encouraged by Zukor. His part in developing the huge industry from tiny beginnings and in maintaining a high standard of film art was recognised by honours conferred on him in a number of countries.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 2:59pm, January 28 2011