Harry Cohn is consider by many to be the man that built Hollywood. The studio executive was the head of Columbia Pictures for over three decades, during which time he shaped the face of the industry for years to come. Many of Harry’s contributions to the industry haven’t been especially positive. For one thing, Harry is the man often credited with popularizing the idea of offering actresses roles in movies in exchange for sexual favors. Though Harry was an incredibly successful businessman, he was a much-maligned figure in his industry.
After years of mistreating everyone that he came into contact with at his studio, Harry Cohn passed away in 1958. The studio executive died of a sudden heart attack. Though having a hated figure in the industry, his funeral apparently packed full of stars celebrating his death. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Harry Cohn built Hollywood, and everyone hated him for it.
Harry Cohn Early Life
Harry Cohn was born on July 23, 1891, in New York City. He was the middle child of his family and had four siblings. The family was not wealthy whatsoever, with Harry’s father barely managing to provide for them all as a tailor. The middle of five children, Harry often found himself forced to act aggressively in order to get any attention. The area of New York that Harry grew up in also wasn’t the greatest. This was another thing that helped harden the young boy.
Harry found that he enjoyed making his way on the streets better than he enjoyed pursuing a formal education. He left school for good at the age of only 14. At which point he tried out a variety of jobs before deciding that he wanted to get into vaudeville. He teamed up with his friend Harry Ruby, and the two formed a vaudeville act in 1910. At the time, Harry Cohn was only 19 years old. The act proved a success, and Harry subsequently also got into the business of publishing and promoting songs. It was during this time period that Harry became interested in short films; believing they would be a good method of song promotion.
How Columbia Picture Established?
Soon after developing his initial interest in film, Harry Cohn found himself in Hollywood. His brother had experience there as a low-level producer at Universal Pictures. Harry teamed up with his brother, and they left Universal in 1919 to form their own production company. The company eventually became known as Columbia Pictures. Harry became known throughout Hollywood for his aggressive business tactics early on, though they brought him plenty of success.
The studio that would known as Columbia Pictures started out making incredibly low-budget short films that not received very well critically. However, they proved profitable. Once the profits started rolling in, the studio decided it was time to develop it’s very first feature film. That feature film was named More to Be Pitied Than Scorned, and released in 1922. The film was a commercial success. Proving to the world that the burgeoning studio was soon going to be a major contender in the industry.
Throughout the early 1920s, the studio that was soon going to come to be known as Columbia Pictures made nearly a dozen feature films. All of them proved commercially successful. Harry had started the studio alongside his brother Jack, as well as their lawyer friend, Joe Brandt. Though the burgeoning studio was proving successful, Joe wasn’t satisfied with the way things were going and wanted out. In 1924, Joe sold his studio shares to Harry, leaving just the two Cohn brothers.
Columbia Pictures Studio
When Harry Cohn secured Joe Brandt’s studio shares, he officially changed it’s name to Columbia Pictures. With this increased stake in the studio, Harry was even more determined to make sure it was going to become one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. Thanks to his ruthless business tactics, Harry soon made this a reality. Many credit Harry with shaping the Hollywood system that we know today, though that’s not especially a good thing. As soon as Harry got power, he used it for his own corrupt ends.
One of the tactics that Harry Cohn used to grow the fledgling Columbia Pictures was to buy up struggling studios and put all their old talent to work. He is also credited with introducing the world to a variety of stars that went on to become household names. Some of the many notable stars that started out as newcomers in the industry. Of course, with the help of roles from Harry Cohn include Rita Hayworth, James Stewart, and Gary Cooper. Despite the success that they would go on to receive; none of these celebrity figures had a particularly positive personal experience with the man.
Of all of the Hollywood figures that hated Harry Cohn, Rita Hayworth stands as one that hated him more than most. Harry had a penchant for using his Hollywood clout to get sexual favors from actresses that worked for his studio, and Rita Hayworth was one of the actresses that he was most aggressive about pursuing. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Columbia Pictures Success Reputation
Although Columbia Pictures had first come onto the Hollywood scene with the reputation of producing low-budget short films; it eventually became known as one of the biggest studios in the industry. According to many, the moment that the studio entered the big leagues was when it signed on director Frank Capra in 1928. The director was already a big deal in the industry. And he went on to bring a great deal of both critical and commercial success to the studio with films like That Certain Thing and The Younger Generation.
In 1933, director Frank Capra secured the increasingly notable Columbia Pictures it’s first nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars. The nomination came for the film Lady for a Day. To get Frank Capra, Harry had to give the director more creative freedom than the competing studios, which resulted in the director making better features.
In 1934, Frank Capra directed the film It Happened One Night. The film became Columbia Pictures’ biggest success so far. Earning a total of five Academy Awards, two of which were the awards for Best Picture and Best Director. Frank went on to direct numerous other successful films for the studio, which only grew in prominence over the remaining 1930s. Through the 1940s and into the 1950s, Columbia Pictures continued making hit films under Harry Cohn’s infamously watchful eye. Harry was so protective of his studio that he was known to keep equipment around all of his sets so that he could listen in to what others were saying about him. If they said something bad, he would pop in on the intercom in order to surprise and punish them.
Columbia Pictures Film Academy Award
In the 1950s, Columbia Pictures produced From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and On the Waterfront. All of which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture the respective year they released. Harry’s tenure as head of the studio wouldn’t last through the decade, as he would pass away in 1958. Though Harry certainly changed the face of Hollywood during his three decades running Columbia Pictures, he was no hero.
Harry Cohn was married two times throughout his lifetime. His first marriage lasted from 1923 to 1941, and his second marriage lasted from 1941 until his 1958 death. Though Harry was married for the majority of time that he was running Columbia Pictures. He was incredibly unfaithful to his wives. Not only was he unfaithful to his wives, but he was also a sexual predator who preyed upon actresses.
Harry Cohn as the Dictator of Columbia Pictures
Harry Cohn considered himself to be the dictator of Columbia Pictures, and that meant that anything that he said was the law of the land. This was true when it came to business decisions, but also when it came to romantically pursuing those under his employ. If you wanted to stay at Columbia Pictures, you had to do what Harry asked of you, even if that meant performing sexual favors.
Some of the most infamous horror stories regarding Harry Cohn stem from his involvement with actress Rita Hayworth. It was Harry who signed the star during her early days in Hollywood, and he did so with the expectation that Rita was going to sleep with him. However, it turned out that Rita had other ideas. When it became apparent to Harry that Rita wasn’t going to perform sexual favors in return for her contract with the studio, Harry Cohn did everything in his power to make the actress’s life a living hell.
Though Rita Hayworth was one of Harry Cohn’s most notable victims, she certainly wasn’t the only actress at Columbia Pictures that the studio executive harassed during his time in charge. There were a few stars that worked with Columbia Pictures during Harry’s tenure and had enough of their own clout in the industry to turn his sexual advances down. Among those stars are Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. Sadly, the majority of women that showed up to audition for Harry Cohn were not so lucky.
Harry Cohn Death
Soon before his death, Harry had become obsessed with actress Kim Novak. The obsession led to Harry putting a mob hit out on Kim’s boyfriend, who just so happened to be Sammy Davis Jr. Several months after the incident, Harry Cohn ironically passed away himself. The studio executive died of a heart attack in February of 1958. At the time of his death, Harry was 66 years old. Although the figure was justly maligned, his funeral was apparently very packed.
Harry Cohn may be the man that made Hollywood what it is, but it’s questionable whether or not that’s a good thing! Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that the man who created Columbia Pictures was a notorious sexual predator, and that he made Rita Hayworth’s life a living hell? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!