William Fox (producer)
William Fox (January 1, 1879 - May 8, 1952) was a pioneering American motion picture executive, who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915 and the Fox West Coast Theatres chain in the 1920s. Although he lost control of his movie empire in 1930, his name lives on in the names of various media ventures which are currently owned by Rupert Murdoch, most notably the Fox TV network, Fox News Channel, 20th Century Fox, and 21st Century Fox.
Fox was born in Tolcsva, Hungary and originally named Wilhelm Fuchs. His parents, Michael Fuchs and Hannah Fried, were both German Jews. The family emigrated to the United States when William was nine months old and settled in New York City, where they had twelve more children, of whom only six survived. Wilhelm worked as a newsboy and in the fur and garment industry as a youth, then later changed his name to William Fox.
In 1900, he started his own company, which he sold in 1904 to purchase his first nickelodeon. Always more of an entrepreneur than a showman, he concentrated on acquiring and building theaters. Beginning in 1914, New Jersey-based Fox bought films outright from the Balboa Amusement Producing Company in Long Beach, California, for distribution to his own theaters and then for rental to other theaters across the country. He formed the Fox Film Corporation on February 1, 1915, with insurance and banking money provided by the McCarter, Kuser and Usar families of Newark, New Jersey, and the small New Jersey investment house of Eisele and King. The company's first film studio was leased in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where many other early film studios were based at the beginning of the 20th century. He now had the capital to acquire facilities and expand his production capacity.
In 1925–26, Fox purchased the rights to the work of Freeman Harrison Owens, the U.S. rights to the Tri-Ergon system invented by three German inventors, and the work of Theodore Case to create the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system, introduced in 1927 with the release of F. W. Murnau's Sunrise. Sound-on-film systems such as Movietone and RCA Photophone soon became the standard, and competing sound-on-disc technologies, such as Warner Brothers' Vitaphone, fell into disuse. From 1928 to 1963, Fox Movietone News was one of the major newsreel series in the U.S., along with The March of Time (1935–1951) and Universal Newsreel (1929–1967).
In 1927, Marcus Loew, head of rival studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, died, and control of MGM passed to his longtime associate, Nicholas Schenck. Fox saw an opportunity to expand his empire, and in 1929, with Schenck's assent, bought the Loew family's holdings in MGM. However, MGM studio bosses Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg were outraged, since, despite their high posts in MGM, they were not shareholders. Mayer used his political connections to persuade the Justice Department to sue Fox for violating federal antitrust law. During this time, in the middle of 1929, Fox was badly hurt in an automobile accident. By the time he recovered, the stock market crash in the fall of 1929 had virtually wiped out his fortune, ending any chance of the Loews-Fox merger going through even if the Justice Department had given its blessing.
Fox lost control of the Fox Film Corporation in 1930 during a hostile takeover. A combination of the stock market crash, Fox's car accident injury, and government antitrust action forced him into a protracted seven-year struggle to fight off bankruptcy. At his bankruptcy hearing in 1936, he attempted to bribe judge John Warren Davis and committed perjury, for which he was sentenced to six months in prison. After serving his time, Fox retired from the film business. He died more or less unnoticed in 1952 at the age of 73 in New York City. No Hollywood producers came to his funeral. He is interred at Salem Fields Cemetery, Brooklyn.
In 1935, Fox Film Corporation, under new president Sidney Kent, merged with the upstart Twentieth Century Pictures to form 20th Century-Fox. (Darryl Zanuck, the driving force behind the creation of 20th Century-Fox, was married to actress Virginia Fox. This has led to some erroneous claims on Internet movie sites that Zanuck was William Fox's son-in-law. In fact, Virginia Fox and William Fox were not related.) 20th Century-Fox was itself merged into Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 1985 (and in 2013, 20th Century Fox with most of News Corporation's entertainment assets were spun out into 21st Century Fox which also use William Fox's name). News Corporation (and subsequently 21st Century Fox), 20th Century Fox's corporate parent, continues to make movies and started the Fox Network, one of the four principal commercial broadcast television networks in the United States.
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