Marcus Loew

Marcus Loew

Marcus Loew (May 7, 1870 – September 5, 1927) was an American business magnate and a pioneer of the motion picture industry who formed Loews Theatres and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).


Born into a poor Jewish family in New York City, he was forced by circumstances to work at a very young age and thus had little formal education. Nevertheless, beginning with a small investment from money saved from menial jobs, he bought into the penny arcade business. Shortly after, in partnership with Adolph Zukor and others, Loew acquired a nickelodeon and over time he turned Loew's Theatres into the most prestigious chain of movie theaters in the United States.

By 1905, Marcus Loew was on his own and his success eventually necessitated that he secure a steady flow of product for his theaters. In 1904, he founded the People's Vaudeville Company, a theatre chain which showcased one-reeler films as well as live variety shows. In 1910, the company had considerably expanded and got the name Loew's Consolidated Enterprises. His associates included Adolph Zukor, Joseph Schenck, and Nicholas Schenck. In 1919, Loew reorganized the company under the name Loew's, Inc. In the early 1920s, Loew purchased Metro Pictures Corporation. A few years later, he acquired a controlling interest in the financially troubled Goldwyn Picture Corporation which at that point was controlled by theater impresario Lee Shubert. Goldwyn Pictures owned the "Leo the Lion" trademark which at the time was inconsequential to the importance of its studio property in Culver City, California. Without Samuel Goldwyn, the Goldwyn studio lacked capable management. With Loew's assistant Nicholas Schenck needed in New York City to help manage the large East Coast movie theater operations, Loew had to find a qualified executive to take charge of this new Los Angeles entity.

Loew found himself faced with a serious dilemma: his merged companies lacked a central managerial command structure. Film production had been gravitating toward southern California since 1913, while he himself was loath to relocate west. He also wisely recognized his limitations; he was not a hands on movie mogul, rather he was a theater owner and took immense pride in owning the largest chain of the grandest movie palaces in the United States. Loew's new conglomeration of companies had mired themselves in several costly troubled productions (among them, Ben-Hur (1925), and tangled contractual dealings with Erich von Stroheim, whose cost overruns doomed any production he was associated with) that threatened to bring the entire venture to its knees.

Loew recalled meeting a film producer named Louis B. Mayer and through due diligence, learned that he had been operating a successful, if modest, studio in east Los Angeles. Mayer had been making low budget turgid melodramas for a number of years, marketing them primarily to women. Since he rented most of his equipment and hired most of his stars on a per-picture basis, Loew wasn't after Mayer's brick and mortar business; he wanted Mayer. What Loew didn't fully realize is that a tremendous amount of Mayer's success was due to his Chief of Production, a former Universal Pictures executive, Irving Thalberg. Nicholas Schenck was dispatched to cut a deal that, incredibly didn't include Thalberg. Mayer, to his credit, insisted that Thalberg remain with the company and after tense negotiations, Loew caved.

In April 1924, Metro-Goldwyn Pictures was formed. Loew, Mayer, and Thalberg set about to create the world's premier film studio (which had previously been Universal Studios), with Thalberg taking immense pleasure in overtaking his former employer on every production level. Thalberg's career at Universal had been marred with a failed romance with Carl Laemmle's daughters and a recognition that his future at the paternalistic studio had hit a wall. Mayer and Thalberg scored an almost immediate coup by signing Universal star Lon Chaney to Metro's first non-inherited production He Who Gets Slapped (1924).

Mayer's company folded into Metro Goldwyn with two notable additions: Mayer Pictures' contracts with key directors such as Fred Niblo and John M. Stahl, and up-and-coming actress Norma Shearer, later married to Thalberg. Mayer would eventually be rewarded by having his name added to the company. Loews Inc. would act as MGM's financier and retain controlling interest for decades.

While immediately successful, Loew never got to see the powerhouse that MGM was to become. He died three years later of a heart attack at the age of 57 in Glen Cove, New York. He was interred in the Maimonides Cemetery in Brooklyn.

For his very significant contribution to the development of the motion picture industry, Marcus Loew has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1617 Vine Street. To this day, the Loew name is synonymous with movie theaters.

Further reading

  • Robert Sobel, The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Business Tradition (Weybright & Talley, 1974), chapter 7, "Marcus Loew: An Artist in Spite of Himself" ISBN 0-679-40064-8

External links

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