Jew of the Week: Adolph Zukor

“Napoleon of Motion Pictures”

Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor (1873-1976) was born in Hungary, and orphaned by the time he was just 7 years old. He was raised by his uncle, the local rabbi, and once had dreams of becoming a rabbi himself. At the young age of 16, he set out on his own and immigrated to the US with just $40. He first got a job sweeping floors for $2 a week at an upholstery store, and then apprenticed as a fur-maker. He set off on his own once again when he was 20, heading to Chicago to start his own fur business with a friend. Zukor was soon a noted clothing designer, and a wealthy man. In 1903, he partnered with his cousin to open an arcade. Of all the entertainment at his arcade, Zukor was most fascinated by movies, and decided to focus his efforts on the new medium. By 1912, he founded his own film distribution company, ‘Famous Players’, which soon premiered the first feature-length film in America. By 1919, Zukor had sole control of his company, later to be known as Paramount Pictures, and owned hundreds of theatres across the country. He also made it the first company to both produce films and distribute them, as well as show them at its own theatres, making Paramount a revolutionary film industry giant. Zukor personally signed some of Hollywood’s earliest stars, though he himself was not a fan of the spotlight, and was a humble, modest businessman. At one point, his Publix movie theatre chain had over 2000 screens across the country, and was showing over 60 new Paramount flicks each year. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit the film industry hard, and Paramount went bankrupt. Despite no longer being the company’s president, Zukor helped to save Paramount, and continued to play a critical role in the company until 1959, when he officially retired. He remained on the board as an honourary chairman until his passing at the age of 103 – of natural causes, while taking a nap. (He once said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”) Zukor continues to be remembered as the greatest of Hollywood pioneers, and has been called ‘the Napoleon of motion pictures’, and ‘the true founding mogul of Hollywood’.

Words of the Week

Creativity is intelligence having fun.
– Albert Einstein