top of page
[on being a studio head] It's better than being a pimp. ~ Harry Cohn, 1939
I know my brother is an ass...what the hell am I supposed to do? You can't escape family! ~ Joe Cohn, 1950 [commenting on Harry]
You ever hear that song by Air Supply?? Making Love Out of Nothing At All?? Well...Jack and Harry Cohn made a kickass studio outta Nothing At All!! In the history of Hollywood - this studio came up from ruin - with a BEAMING light!!
Columbia Pictures holds a very bright spot in my childhood.. For as a kid, I was in NEED of the 'learnings of life,' & must say I found it defined through the Columbia Pictures 1984 film, Hardbodies!! Outside of what was learned in my 8 year old eyes & hearing the cowboy sing.. 'I don't fuck fossils for free (no man)'... I learned the birds & the bees in CLARIFYING, STUNNING, DETAIL!! Not to mention - learning how to be multi-lingual & flip someone off in 48-different languages!! "Thanks Rag!!"
The Cohn Brothers were an odd and unlikely team to build a top-notch studio for the day to say the least...but they did, and here is their story!
Jack Cohn was born October 27th, 1889 in New York City, New York...Harry Cohn was born July 23, 1891 in New York City, New York...(like it or not). The boys were born into a middle-working-class German-Jewish family in New York City. Jack was described as the calm easy going one, while Harry is described in most recollections as quote ... "the biggest prick to ever walk in Hollywood!" THEY say bigger than that of Jack Warner's - which I think is popoodlyguck!!
Basically, Harry followed in Jack's footsteps from an early age. After Jack left the advertising bizz, to jump on Carl Laemmle's (i love him.. Carl Laemmle - founder of Universal Pictures) bandwagon into the film industry, Harry was quick to follow. Harry had a habit of going from job to job ... probably from his pricknessessess.
Anywaay... Carl Laemmle's then company was called IMP (or Independant Motion Pictures). The company lived up to it's name and at the time, there were none like it. Each film stamped with approval! Partly due, (I am guessing) to the fact that no one could afford Edison's Trust extravagant prices. Carl (I love him), took a liking to Jack's creativeness and do-it to-it kind of attitude. Jack was quickly placed in charge of 'IMP's short subject/newsreel department', which then comprised all of it's output. IMP was fastly changing into a larger scale production company. It began just as the news broke of another couple of film entrepreneurs, the Warner brothers, & William Fox, winning a SCOTUS ruling against Edison's Trust.
Carl (I love him), then moved the company out west permanently, and named the growing studio, Universal Pictures. The Cohn brothers, of course, followed, with their own dreams in tote!
Jack was placed in charge of cutting Universal Pictures very first feature, a $57,000 gamble called Traffic in Souls that premiered in 1913. It would have a whopping return of $450,000...a sweet amount of dough for the time of 1913. It was about this time that Jack convinced Uncle Carl (I love him), to hire an old friend from his days in the advertising business, Joe Brandt, a lawyer who would prove instrumental in the brothers' affairs over the next dozen or so years. With Universal's formation in Hollywood, Jack ultimately remained in New York and recommended his brother Harry for a job within the studio walls of Hollywood. Since Carl Laemmle, (I love him), was an staunch believer in hiring family (practically all his relatives were employed there), it wasn't hard to get him to bring Harry into Universal, who then became Carl's personal secretary. Bless Carl's soul! (I love him!)
By 1924, Jack had grown anxious to make his own way out in the free and fledgling movie business & enlisted Harry and Brandt, to form their own production company as CBC (Cohn-Brandt-Cohn) Film Sales. The company, at first, had a reputation for making low-budget, low-class films and some of the other pioneers jokingly nicknamed CBC "Corned Beef and Cabbage."😂 Harry Cohn managed the company's film production in Hollywood, while his brother, Jack, managed its finances from New York. In those days - the MONEY for films being made in Hollywood.. Came from New York. So, in essense.. The financial side of the film industry was in New York - whilst the production side was in California.. The relationship between the two brothers was not always good, and Brandt, finding the partnership stressful, eventually sold his third of the company to Harry. With Brandt now gone, Jack and Harry renamed the company, Columbia Pictures. (Nowadays the studio is occupied by Sunset/Gower Pictures)..
Even with the new name, Columbia was unable to shake off its image as a poverty-row studio until 1934, when director Frank Capra's (one of the greatest directors ever to walk earth IMO), Columbia comedy It Happened One Night swept the Academy Awards. Then another hit, The Jolson Story. With two hits back to back..exhibitors who formerly wouldn't touch the Columbia product with a ten foot pole, now wanted to shake their hand and became steady clients. Columbia expanded its scope to offer moviegoers a regular program of economically made features, short subjects, serials, travelogues, sports reels, and cartoons. Columbia would release a few "class" productions each year (Lost Horizon, Holiday, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gilda, All the King's Men, etc.), but Columbia depended on it's popular "budget" productions to keep the company on it's feet. When Harry Cohn ruled Columbia Pictures, the studio never ended a production year in the red. He was brash (to say the LEAST!) but ran an entertaining, & successful ship!!
Harry lived HERE in this heavenly house, wanna see some inside shots of his heaven on earth??
and the older Jack lived HERE. Jack was a GREAT family man...Harry preferred to race!
Harry Cohn respected talent above any personal attribute, but he made sure his employees knew who was boss. The always blunt and outspoken Harry could yell and swear at actors and directors in his office all afternoon, and greet them cordially at a dinner party that evening. His office was cush!! Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, who worked for Cohn for 23 years, accurately recalled that Cohn was "a real Jekyll-and-Hyde-type guy... socially, he could be very charming." Cohn's brash, loud, intimidating style has become Hollywood legend and rumored to have been portrayed in various movies. The roles played by Broderick Crawford in All The King's Men and Born Yesterday, both Columbia pictures, are supposedly based on Cohn.
On the morning of December 7, 1956, Jack Cohn was complaining of pains in his chest. He went to the hospital..but doctors could find nothing, however, they did keep him overnight. During the night the chest pains worsened and Jack lapsed into a coma. Suddenly, <knock, knock><guess who?> it was Harry. Harry would make amends with the coma-dosed Jack... The next morning..Jack died. An autopsy revealed that a blood clot was to blame. Click here to leave virtual flowers and sign the guestbook.
Harry would spiral downward without Jack. Harry retired to his heavenly home, and stay outta sight for most of the next year. He thought a vacation would do him good..and jetted to Arizona in early February of 1958. It was to be his last trip. On February 1958 - Harry Cohn died of a sudden heart attack in Phoenix. He was the subject of the famous quote from Red Skelton, who remarked of his well-attended funeral, "It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."
Harry Cohn was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Click here to visit his grave, leave your comment, and leave your NON-wilting, virtual flowers.
Would you like to see Harry's John Hancock? au'ight den!
Nowadays... Columbia Pictures is going STRONG as ever, & owned IN FULL by SONY Pictures..
bottom of page