Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1910), the first part of Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, a seven-part series scheduled to premiere on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 8 pm (ET/PT) on Monday, Nov 1, is an exceptional piece of business history. Chronicling Hollywood by tracing its origins to the inventors, immigrants, Jews, salesmen and businessmen who were its creators, men such as Thomas Edison (who perfected a device called the Kinetoscope that made pictures move), Auguste and Louis Lumière, Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, Marcus Loew, Carl Laemmle, William Fox, the four Warner brothers, and others during the Industrial Revolution, this 60-minute documentary, narrated by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), takes the viewer back 100 years and introduces the exciting new art form that would change the world.
Peepshow Pioneers covers Edwin S. Porter’s film for Mr. Edison, The Great Train Robbery (1903), one of the first films to tell a complete story, and how, in 1905, enterprising Zukor and Loew united to establish theaters to show movies, called Nickelodeons (combining the price of seeing a movie, a nickel, and the Greek term for theater). The prospective consumer was among the poor and the emergent middle class, a new phenomenon which American capitalism was creating for the first time in man’s history, not the titled, the intellectuals and the wealthy. Much like Pixar founder and Walt Disney board member Steve Jobs and Apple are revolutionizing personal technology, Mr. Edison built relationships with investors and manufacturers, including Eastman Kodak, establishing the Motion Picture Patents Company (which the government forced out of business) and demanding royalties from filmmakers. Some chose to compete with Mr. Edison, including Laemmle, who formed his own production company and created Universal Pictures.
This first installment of A History of Hollywood: Moguls and Movie Stars, written and produced by Jon Wilkman, who began his career making CBS News documentaries, working with Walter Cronkite and creating programs for HBO, NBC, and the History Channel, is appropriately reverential of, if not always sufficiently thorough about, Hollywood’s incredible history of capitalism, arts and entertainment. Using rare and never-before-seen footage, including an early film featuring gun-toting Annie Oakley and moving pictures of men departing for the Spanish-American War, and important places in filmmaking history, such as New Jersey, New York, and Pittsburgh, the writing and the pictures are astonishing. I haven’t been this excited about watching a larger-than-life story unfold on television since Alex Haley’s Roots. Among those interviewed are various film scholars, studio mogul descendants, and historians, including, in later parts, TCM host Robert Osborne.
Additionally, and underscoring the cable channel’s commitment to quality programming, TCM is currently touring a related exhibit which features unique memorabilia, including an Oscar for Casablanca, a costume worn by Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music (1965), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939), a red jacket worn by Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953), a vest and coat worn by Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik (1921), an original bound script from Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), a signed check from MGM to John Gilbert, the highest paid star in the silent film era, a vintage camera from the silent film era and a demonstration of a zoetrope, a precursor to motion pictures. The TCM exhibit appears in Denver (Nov. 4-6, during Denver Film Festival) and San Francisco (Nov. 11-12) at the Embarcadero Center and concludes in Los Angeles (Nov. 18-20) at The Grove.