The 20th Century Fox drums, the ferocious roar of the Metro Goldwyn Meyer lion, and the rest of the signatures of movie companies across the nation and globe all have Paramount Pictures to thank. The first majorly distributed films began much like many blockbusters today, even 103 years later. Glowing stars encompassing a majestic snow capped mountain, an immediate sign that, until recently (ex: Ben-Hur), that this movie will be worth the $20 you spent at the snack bar. But, what’s the story behind Paramount’s stars and mountain? Why is it so iconic and where did it come from?
The Man: W. W. Hodkinson
A lot can happen in 103 years. Two World Wars, changing climates, and somehow the beginning and end of the Cubs title drought, all graced this past century. But if you look all the way back to the year 1907, the landscape of American culture was about to shift in a brand new direction.
At the youthful age of 26, W.W. Hodkinson began his first film exchange in Ogden, Utah. Within a few short years — seven to be exact — Hodkinson revolutionized the film industry by starting one of the first major movie production companies: Paramount Pictures. Through his new system of film companies acting as distributors, funding independent filmmakers to create and providing the ability to get that product out to the masses, Hodkinson was a huge success, earning him the unofficial title as “The Man Who Invented Hollywood.”
Paramount, mount, mountain… I always thought it was pretty obvious that the only logo that would make sense was a mountain. Myself, along with almost every casual movie fan I know, paid no mind to where it was or what significance it had. In all honesty, these intros are really just a reminder for me to turn my phone off (really on silent with the brightness turned down).
However this specific mountain held a special place in Hodkinson’s heart. As a special ode to his hometown, Hodkinson chose to jot down Ben Lomond Mountain, a prominent landmark of Ogden. Over time, Paramount has moved to a much larger representation of Ben Lomond, even possibly switching its inspiration to Peru’s Artesonraju.
The stars that surround the mountain represent the 24 actors who first signed on with Paramount Pictures. Since the inception of the logo in 1914, the number has been reduced to 22, even though it isn’t clear why. Some of the original stars included the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Marlene Dietrich, starring in classic films such as The Sheik and Shanghai Express.
It wasn’t until the Supreme Court’s 1948 Paramount Decree that got stars out of exclusive contracts with production companies, but the stars in the logo remain as a throwback to the times when companies had complete control over their employees.
Paramount has come out with some of America’s favorite movies over their century in the limelight. Forrest Gump, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and my personal favorite, Coming to America (honorable mention: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie) have all come out of film’s first studio.
However, for all the success Paramount has had, things didn’t go so well for its founder. Although a genius in the film industry, Hodkinson wasn’t the savviest of negotiators. In 1916, just two years after its founding, two of Hodkinson’s partners — producers Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor — had combined to become majority shareholders and took over Paramount for themselves. The behind-the-scenes drama in the early days of Paramount would turn out to be a fitting ending for a man called “Mr. Hollywood.”