Tag Archives: Great Depression

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

Jew of the Week: William Fox & Joseph Schenck

William Fox

Wilhelm Fried (1875-1952) was born in Hungary to German-Jewish parents that soon immigrated to the U.S. Growing up in New York City, Fried worked in various odd jobs in the fur and garment industry, and even as a newspaper boy. In 1904, having renamed himself William Fox, he purchased a “Nickelodeon” – the earliest kind of movie theatre (often just a converted store front) that showed short films for five cents (hence the term nickelodeon). In 1915 he founded Fox Film Corporation, which originally focused more on building theatres and studios than producing movies. In 1929, Fox attempted to buy out a major share in fellow company MGM. However, a scandal ensued and Fox’s opponents convinced the Justice Department to investigate him for violating anti-trust laws. At the same time, Fox was severely injured in a horrific car accident. Immediately after this, the stock market crashed (sparking the Great Depression). The combination of these three events drove Fox into total bankruptcy, and by 1930 he lost all control of his company. During his bankruptcy hearing several years later, Fox attempted to bribe the judge, and was thus sent to six months in prison. He never returned to the film industry, and died quietly with no Hollywood producers at his funeral.

Joseph Schenck

Fox Film would be taken over by Joseph Michael Schenck (1878-1961), a fellow Jew, born in Russia. Like Fox, Schenck’s family immigrated to New York City. While working at the concession stand of Fort George Amusement Park, Schenck saw the potential of film, and saved up money, together with his brother, to buy Palisades Amusement Park in 1909. Soon after, the brothers parted and Joseph headed to Hollywood for a fresh start. He rose to become president of United Artists (a company co-founded by Charlie Chaplin). He later founded his own company – 20th Century Pictures – in 1933, together with Darryl Zanuck. Two years later, they took over Fox Film to create ’20th Century Fox’. This giant production company is behind such classics as Star Wars, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, the Simpsons, Family Guy, the X-Files and countless other hits

Words of the Week

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.
Pirkei Avot 2:4

Jews of the Week: Nathan Rosen & Brian Podolsky

Podolsky and Rosen

Nathan Rosen (1909-1995) was born in Brooklyn and studied at MIT during the Great Depression. While still young, he published several famous papers, including ‘The Neutron’, which predicted the structure of the nucleus a year before it was discovered. Between 1935 and 1945 he was Albert Einstein’s personal assistant at Princeton. Together, they discovered (mathematically) a “bridge” connecting distant areas of space – now called a wormhole. With Einstein’s encouragement, Rosen moved to the nascent State of Israel and joined Haifa’s Technion in 1953. He later served as President of Ben-Gurion University, founded the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Physical Society of Israel, and the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation. Aside from all this, he is most famous for coming up with the well-known “EPR Paradox” together with Einstein and a fellow Jewish scientist named Podolsky (hence “EPR”).

Boris Yakovlevich Podolsky (1896-1966) was born in Russia to a poor Jewish family which immigrated to the U.S. in 1913. He served in the US Army and worked as an electrical engineer before returning to school and earning a PhD from Caltech. In 1933 he was given a fellowship at Princeton, which led to his collaboration with Einstein and Rosen on the EPR Paradox. Interestingly, some have suggested that Podolsky was a Soviet spy, codenamed “Quantum”, and helped the Soviets start their nuclear program during World War II. His major legacy, however, is in the great work he did on solving various complex physics problems of the day.

Words of the Week

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.
– Albert Einstein