First National

First National was an association of independent theater owners in the United States that expanded from exhibiting movies to distributing them, and eventually to producing them as a movie studio. It later merged with Warner Bros.

The First National Exhibitors' Circuit was founded in 1917 by the merger of 26 of the biggest first run cinema chains in the United States of America, eventually controlling over 600 cinemas, more than 200 of them so-called "first run" houses (as opposed to the "second run" neighborhood theaters to which films moved when their first run boxoffice receipts dwindled).

First National was the brainchild of Thomas L. Tally, who was reacting to the overwhelming influence of Paramount Pictures, which dominated the market. In 1912, he thought that a conglomorate of theaters throughout the nation could buy and/or produce and distribute their own films. Tally was soon partnered with West Virginian James Dixon Williams, and they formed First National Exhibitors Circuit. Among the more than two dozen exhibitors who attended the first meeting held in New York on April 25, 1917, were Frederick Dahnken of the Turner and Dahnken Circuit in San Francisco, Harry O. Schwalbe of Philadelphia, Samuel L. Rothapfel of New York, Earl H. Hulsey of Dallas and Nathan H. Gordon of Boston.

Between 1917 and 1918, they made contracts with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, the first million-dollar deals in the history of film.

Paramount was threatened by First National's financial power and its control over the lucrative first run theaters and decided to enter the cinema business as well. With a $10 million dollar investment, they built their own chain of first run houses after a secret plan to merge with First National failed. Ironically, this led to the foundation of United Artists by Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford and Chaplin, and to the loss of First National's biggest stars.

First National Exhibitors' Circuit was reincorporated in 1919 as Associated First National Pictures, Inc. and its subsidiary Associated First National Theatres, Inc., with 5,000 independent theater owners as members. ["New Incorporations", "The New York Times", November 18, 1919, p. 25.] ["Picture Plays and People", "The New York Times", February 1, 1920, p. XX4.]

In the early twenties, Paramount attempted a hostile takeover, buying several of First National's member firms.

Associated First National Pictures expanded from only distributing films to producing them in 1924, and changed its corporate name to First National Pictures, Inc. ["New Incorporations", "The New York Times", May 6, 1924, p. 36.] It built its 62-acre (0.25 km2) studio lot in Burbank in 1926. ["First National Properties", "The Wall Street Journal", May 21, 1926, p. 16.] The Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America and the Independent Producers' Association declared war in 1925 on what they termed a common enemy — the "film trust" of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and First National, which they claimed dominated the industry by not only producing and distributing motion pictures, but by entering into exhibition as well. ["Theatre Owners Open War on Hays", "The New York Times", May 12, 1925, p. 14.]

With the success of "The Jazz Singer" and "The Singing Fool", Warner Bros. purchased a majority interest in First National in September 1928. [Warner Bros. held 42,000 shares of common stock out of 72,000 outstanding shares, while Fox Pictures held 21,000 shares, and 12,000 shares were publicly held. "Warner Buys First National", "The Wall Street Journal", September 27, 1928, p. 3. Fox sold its shares of First National to Warner Bros. in November 1929. "Fox Holdings in First National Pictures Sold", "The Washington Post", November 4, 1929, p. 3.] Warner Bros. acquired access to the First National's affiliated chain of theaters, while First National acquired access to Vitaphone sound equipment. But the trademarks were kept separate, and films by First National continued to be credited solely to "First National Pictures" until 1936. Although both studios produced "A" and "B" budget pictures, generally the prestige productions, costume dramas, and musicals were made by Warner Bros., while First National specialized in modern comedies, dramas, and crime stories.

In July 1936, stockholders of First National Pictures, Inc. (primarily Warner Bros.) voted to dissolve the corporation and distribute its assets among the stockholders, in line with a new tax law which provided for tax-free consolidations between corporations. ["Film Concern Dissolves", "The New York Times", July 12, 1936, p. F1.]

From 1941 to 1958, most Warner Bros. films bore the combined trademarks "A Warner Bros.-First National Picture." ["American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures", volumes F4 and F5.]

In 2002, Warner Bros. sold the name's rights to Ryan Kugler of Distribution Video & Audio (DV&A), a company specializing in acquiring excess inventory and close-out properties. The resurrected First National Pictures name will be used to brand no-frills digital releases of children's, documentary, and special interest titles.

Notable First National productions

Made before the merger with Warner Bros.

* "So Big" (1924)
* "Irene" (1926)
* "Camille" (1926)
* "Her Wild Oat" (1927)
* "The Divine Lady" (1929)
* "The Dawn Patrol" (1930)
* "Kismet" (1930)
* "Five Star Final" (1931)
* "Little Caesar" (1931)
* "Cabin in the Cotton" (1932)
* "Doctor X" (1932)
* "The Dark Horse" (1932)
* "Silver Dollar" (1932)
* "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" (1932)
* "Two Seconds" (1932)
* "Union Depot" (1932)
* "Convention City" (1933)
* "The Little Giant" (1933)
* "The World Changes" (1933)
* "Wonder Bar" (1934)


External links

* [ A History of First National Pictures]
* [ About Us] Accessed October 8 2005
* [ Press Releases] Accessed October 8 2005

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