A long time ago in a state far, far away… and at least sixty years before Scientology took over, Hollywood was invented by Canadians.
Mary Pickford, who starred in 248 movies between 1909 and 1950 as well as co-founding United Artists Studios, was a Canadian. So was Jack Warner who, along with his four brothers, founded Warner Brothers Studio, and then there was Louis B. Mayer who, along with his brother (also a Canadian), founded MGM Studios. Funny how no one offers this as proof that Canadians rule the world.
By 1930, three of the six major studios were either founded, owned outright, or run by Canadian immigrants to the Unites States.
Admittedly, calling the Mayer brothers “Canadian” might be a bit of a stretch. Louis was born in 1884 in the Ukraine, immigrated to Rhode Island, then, when Louis was ten, the family moved to New Brunswick where they were embraced in the Canadian ethos of equality and understanding… no, wait, Louis and his siblings were beaten up nearly every day by the locals, because they were Jewish.
In 1904, at the age of nineteen, he managed to get out of New Brunswick, with all of his teeth still where they were supposed to be. And went into business for himself, eventually owning five movie theatres across New England.
In 1916 Louis moved into the movie distribution business, and created Metro Pictures Corporation. Two years later he formed the Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation. After a series of mergers the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio was formed. Very early on, Louis was actually screwed out of an ownership position, instead he became MGM’s studio boss for close to thirty years.
“As a studio boss, Louis B. Mayer built MGM into the most financially successful motion picture studio in the world and the only one to pay dividends throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s…” — Wikipedia: Louis B. Mayer
By 1936, Mayer was actually the highest paid person living in the United States… obviously the tools he developed in his early boyhood while living in New Brunswick, like dodging bottles, came in handy.
It’s a lot harder to understand how Jack Warner and Mary Pickford have been referred to as Americans, because they were actually born in Canada.
Jack was born in London, Ontario in 1892. But the Warner family moved to the United States two years later. In 1910, Jack got into the movie business with his four brothers, and in 1918 they formed Warner Brothers.
Later, in 1950, in one of the greatest over the top moments of excessive douchebaggery in the industry’s history, Jack actually deceived his brothers into selling their Warner Brothers shares to him by creating a proxy company, then urging his brothers to sell to the proxy, giving Jack complete control over the movie studio.
Warner was quite possibly the first “Hollywood bastard”, because he also cheated on his wife, married the new girl and disowned his son when he objected, even refusing to later attend his funeral.
In 1947, Warner also “named names” (so did Mayer) at the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), thereby crushing the careers of at least a dozen screenwriters, and giving respectability to McCarthy’s “Red under every bed” fantasies.
Warner was also a staunch supporter of Richard Milhouse Nixon, and he supported the Vietnam War until the end.
But then, thankfully, there was the near-angelic Mary “Canada’s Sweetheart” Pickford. Mary was born Gladys Marie Smith in 1892, in Toronto, which is still technically part of Canada.
Her road to Hollywood was more pedestrian than Jack or Louis’ was. Mary started acting as a child in Toronto, and ended up as part of a travelling troupe working her way across the United States.
In 1913 she signed with the studio which would soon become Paramount Pictures. Her movies were constantly among the top grossing films of their time, and back then they were pumping out about ten a day. She was considered the most recognizable woman in the world, as well as the most powerful woman in the movie world, as a human being she was second only to Charlie Chaplin.
In 1919, Mary, along with Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith — one of the greatest directors of all time — formed the United Artists film studio. The studio, they believed, would give them greater decision making ability in their careers as writers, directors and actors.
As with most businesses started by artists, this was almost immediately a financial failure. The group was out of money and ideas by 1924, and Griffith had left the group.
United Artists flailed around for two decades, then in 1941 Mary, along with Chaplin, Orson Welles, David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, and others, formed the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers as a way to regain control over their product from the studio system — re: Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner.
At the time the studios controlled everything from the production, to the distribution and exhibition of films… including the theatres themselves. So, if you were an independent producer there was no chance your film could be exhibited.
In 1942 the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mary and her rabble-rouser’s, and the studio system was effectively shot in the heart.
Mary sold her shares in United Artists in 1956.
So… Canada’s influence on the creation of Hollywood:
1. MGM, for decades, was the most powerful movie studio in North America thanks to a guy who, as a child and living in Canada, was regularly beaten up by Canadian bigots and anti-Semites.
2. Warner Brothers was created and run by Canadian brothers, who gave us Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, and free campaign services for Nixon.
3. United Artists, started out as the anti-studio movie studio but is currently a subsidiary of MGM (which is in bankruptcy proceedings).
So Canadians were instrumental in creating the Studio System, and then responsible for breaking that same system down and giving actors, directors, writers, grips and best boys control over where they worked. Basically, like baseball and hockey players in later decades, the Talent became free agents.
This eventually allowed ambitious, but not necessarily overly talented people, such as Tom Cruise*, to receive $25 million per movie up front, as well as a substantial slice of the movie’s residuals… which, in 2006, gave Tom the freedom and finances to purchase a substantial stake in United Artists Studios.
…yeah, you’re welcome world.
*Tom, by the way, lived in Ottawa, Canada, for a few years, leaving at the age of twelve when his mother divorced his father. I’m not sure if Tom was ever beaten up by Canadian anti-Scientologists.