Harry Cohn (July 23, 1891 – February 27, 1958) was the co-founder, president, and production director of Columbia Pictures Corporation.
Cohn was born to a working-class Jewish family in New York City. His father, Joseph Cohen, was a tailor from Germany, and his mother, Bella Joseph, was from Pale of Settlement, Russian Empire. After working for a time as a streetcar conductor, and then as a song plugger for a sheet music printer, he got a job with Universal Pictures, where his brother, Jack Cohn, was already employed. In 1919, Cohn joined his brother and Joe Brandt to found CBC Film Sales Corporation. The initials officially stood for Cohn, Brandt, and Cohn, but Hollywood wags noted the company's low-budget, low-class efforts and nicknamed CBC "Corned Beef and Cabbage." Harry Cohn managed the company's film production in Hollywood, while his brother managed its finances from New York. 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 Cohn, who took over as president, by which time the firm had been renamed Columbia Pictures Corporation. Most of Columbia's early work was action fare starring rock-jawed leading man Jack Holt. Columbia was unable to shake off its stigma as a Poverty Row studio until 1934, when director Frank Capra's Columbia comedy It Happened One Night swept the Academy Awards. Exhibitors who formerly wouldn't touch Columbia product became steady customers. As a horizontally integrated company that only controlled production and distribution, Columbia had been at the mercy of theater owners. Columbia expanded its scope to offer moviegoers a regular program of economically made features, short subjects, serials, travelogues, sports reels, and cartoons. Columbia released a few "class" productions each year (Lost Horizon, Holiday, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Jolson Story, Gilda, All the King's Men, etc.), but depended on its popular "budget" productions to keep the company solvent. During Cohn's tenure, the studio always turned a profit. Cohn did not build a stable of movie stars like other studios. Instead, he generally signed actors who usually worked for more expensive studios (Wheeler & Woolsey, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Lamour, Mickey Rooney, Chester Morris, Warren William, Warner Baxter, Sabu, Gloria Jean, Margaret O'Brien, etc.) to attract a pre-sold audience. Columbia's own stars generally rose from the ranks of small-part actors and featured players (Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks, Julie Bishop, Lloyd Bridges, Bruce Bennett, Jock Mahoney, etc.). Some of Columbia's producers and directors also graduated from lesser positions as actors, writers, musicians, and assistant directors. Cohn was known for his autocratic and intimidating management style. When he took over as Columbia's president, he remained production chief as well, thus concentrating enormous power in his hands. He respected talent above any personal attribute, but he made sure his employees knew who was boss. Writer Ben Hecht referred to him as "White Fang." An employee of Columbia called him "as absolute a monarch as Hollywood ever knew." It was said "he had listening devices on all sound stages and could tune in any conversation on the set, then boom in over a loudspeaker if he heard anything that displeased him." Throughout his tenure, his most popular moniker was "King Cohn." Moe Howard of the Three Stooges recalled that Cohn was "a real Jekyll-and-Hyde-type guy... socially, he could be very charming." Cohn was known to scream and curse at actors and directors in his office all afternoon, and greet them cordially at a dinner party that evening. There is some suggestion that Cohn deliberately cultivated his reputation as a tyrant, either to motivate his employees or simply because it increased his control of the studio. Cohn is said to have kept a signed photograph of Benito Mussolini, whom he met in Italy in 1933, on his desk until the beginning of World War II. (Columbia produced the documentary Mussolini Speaks in 1933, narrated by Lowell Thomas). Cohn also had a number of ties to organized crime. He had a long-standing friendship with Chicago mobster John Roselli, and New Jersey mob boss Abner Zwillman was the source of the loan that allowed Cohn to buy out his partner Brandt. Cohn's brash, loud, intimidating style has become Hollywood legend and was reportedly portrayed in various movies. The characters played by Broderick Crawford in All The King's Men (1949) and Born Yesterday (1950), both Columbia pictures, are allegedly based on Cohn, as is Jack Woltz, a movie mogul who appears in The Godfather (1972). In his own way, Harry Cohn was sentimental about certain professional matters. He remembered the valuable contributions of Jack Holt during Columbia's struggling years, and kept him under contract until 1941. Cohn hired the Three Stooges in 1934 and, according to Stooge Larry Fine, "he thought we brought him luck." Cohn kept the Stooges on his payroll until the end of 1957. Cohn was fond of what he termed "those lousy little 'B' pictures," and kept making them, along with two-reel comedies and serials, after other studios had abandoned them. According to biographer Michael Fleming, Cohn forced Curly Howard of the Stooges to keep working after suffering a series of minor strokes, which possibly contributed to a further deterioration of Howard's health and his eventual retirement and early death, though some people speculated that this was not true.
Cohn expected, or at least asked for, sex from female stars in exchange for employment (although similar stories were connected to many producers in Hollywood at the time). Harry Cohn's relationship with Rita Hayworth was fraught with aggravation. Hayworth's biography If This Was Happiness, describes how she refused to sleep with Cohn and how this angered him. However, because Hayworth was such a valuable property Cohn kept her under contract because she made money for him. During the years they worked together, each did their best to irritate the other despite their lengthy work relationship which produced good results. Cohn wanted to groom Mary Castle as Hayworth's successor. When Joan Crawford was subjected to Cohn's advances after signing a three-picture contract with Columbia, she quickly stopped him by saying "Keep it in your pants, Harry. I'm having lunch with Joan and the boys [Cohn's wife and children] tomorrow."According to writer Joseph McBride, Jean Arthur quit the business because Cohn used to attack actresses.In a BBC documentary, Sammy Davis Jr - The Kid in the Middle, along with the titular star's episode of TVOne's Unsung Hollywood, it was disclosed that Cohn, in order to end Kim Novak's relationship with a black man, had mobsters threaten Sammy Davis, Jr. with blinding or having his legs broken if he did not marry a black woman within 48 hours. Cohn was married to Rose Barker from 1923 to 1941, and to actress Joan Perry (1911–1996) from July 1941 until his death in 1958. His niece was Leonore "Lee" Cohn Annenberg, the wife of billionaire publishing magnate Walter Annenberg of Philadelphia. Her father was Maxwell Cohn, brother of Harry and Jack Cohn.
Movies & TV shows
There's That Woman Again
Bill Reardon, a private detective, is working on a case involving stolen items from a local jewelry store. The case takes a different turn when Bill's prying wife wants to help catch the crook.
Walter Craig's wife, who is an upper-class woman obsessed with control, material possessions and social status, has a difficult relationship with domestic service and family members because of her beh...
A woman returning to her island birthplace finds herself drawn to a voodoo cult.
Tycoon J.L. Higgins controls his whole family, but one of his sons- in-law, Dan Brooks and his daughter Alice are fed up with that. Brooks quits his job as manager of J.L.'s paper box factory and devo...
It Happened One Night
A reporter and a heiress are stuck with each other when the bus leaves them behind at one of the stops while they travel to New York.
Mussolini Speaks is a 1933 documentary film highlighting the first 10 years of Benito Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister of Italy. The film, narrated by U.S. radio broadcaster Lowell Thomas, includes ...
So This Is Africa
Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey play a couple of broke, hungry vaudevillians who are holed up in a hotel room with a few (tame) lions. They are hired by a movie producer who wishes to send them and th...
Socially-conscious banker Thomas Dickson faces a crisis when his protégé is wrongly accused of robbing the bank, gossip of the robbery starts a bank run, and evidence suggests Dickson's wife had an af...
Attorney for the Defense
A lawyer is haunted by a previous case in which he manipulated evidence and convicted an innocent man.
A New York policeman helps a hungry and penniless young woman start life anew by arranging to get her a job in "The Follies".
Behind the Mask
A Secret Service agent (Jack Holt) nabs a scalpel-happy doctor who runs drugs in caskets.
On the cruise to Cuba, Lulu Smith fell in love with Bob Grover. When he tells her he is married, she breaks off the relationship. Bob becomes a rising politician when he learns that Lulu has a baby bu...
A waitress falls in love with a wealthy young man and has to fight her mother to find happiness.
The Miracle Woman
After an unappreciated minister dies, his daughter loses her faith in God, and opens a fake temple with a con man. Is it possible for the love of a blind aviator to restore her faith and happiness?
Anne Schuyler is an upper-crust socialite who bullies her reporter husband into conforming to her highfalutin ways. The husband chafes at the confinement of high society, though, and yearns for a crea...
Ten Cents a Dance
A taxi dancer with a jealous husband is falling in love with a wealthy client.
The Guilty Generation
The children of feuding gangsters fall in love and fight to escape their parents' notoriety.
The Good Bad Girl
A woman's former association with a gangster threatens to destroy her marriage to an upstanding young man.
A West Point graduate (John Wayne) jilts his girlfriend (Laura La Plante) but runs into her later at an Army outpost.
The Criminal Code
After young Robert Graham commits a murder while drunk and defending his girlfriend, he is prosecuted by ambitious Mark Brady and sentenced to 10 years. Six years later, Brady becomes the prison warde...
Soldiers and Women
Captain Clive Branch, United States Marine Corps, is stationed at a Marine base in Haiti, and is having affairs with two women, Brenda Ritchie and Helen Arnold, each of whom is married to a Marine Cap...
John Meadham, in charge of a West Africa trading post, wire the home office in London that he is tired and worn out, and they need to send a replacement to take over. The company sends a stiff upper-l...
Ladies of Leisure
Kay Arnold is a gold digger who wanders from party to party with the intention of catching a rich suitor. Jerry Strong is a young man from a wealthy family who wants to become an artist. The relations...
The Last of the Lone Wolf
In the Lone Wolf series, the first to have a soundtrack, the jealousies of the King and the coquettish Queen are chronicled. The King plans a large ball and demands that the woman wear a token when he...
The Lone Wolf's Daughter
Michael Lanyard, a reformed cracks-man, adopts Adrienne, the daughter of an old friend, and goes to Southampton to attend a party celebrating her engagement to Bobby Crenshaw, the son of a wealthy soc...
The College Coquette
Betty Forrester, a college flirt who is determined to attract Harvey Porter, the school coach, starts playing around to make him jealous. Her roommate, Doris Marlowe, is a naive girl who falls madly i...
Constance Bannister enters into a trial marriage contract with Dr. Thorvald Ware and finds happiness with him. She defies his wishes by dancing at a charity ball in a revealing costume, however, and h...
The owner of a border town gambling saloon falls in love with a young girl. He throws her out of town when she has an affair with another person. She married his younger brother in order to get reveng...
In a banana republic, way south of the Texas border, a dumb-Dora American girl, Norma (Olive Borden), lets her ruby-red lips promise more than she is willing to deliver, and she finds herself a prison...
The Desert Bride
Captain Maurice de Florimont (Allan Forrest), a French Army intelligence officer, is captured by Arab nationalists while on an espionage mission. His sweetheart Diane Duval (Betty Compson) is also tak...
Eve, a beautiful young nightclub dancer, turns down a string of wealthy and powerful suitors for Robert, a poor but ambitious young man. What Eve doesn't know is that Robert is the son of a wealthy bu...
The Matinee Idol
The famous matinee idol and blackface comedian, Don Wilson, heads out of town to escape adulation. There, calling himself Harry Mann, he accidentally joins a traveling acting troupe, and falls in love...
The Scarlet Lady
Silent film drama...
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