Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (known as Columbia Pictures and Columbia, and formerly CBC Film Sales Corporation) is an American film studio, production company and film distributor that is a member of the Coca-Cola Motion Picture Group, a division of Coca-Cola Entertainment's Coca-Cola Pictures subsidiary of the American conglomerate The Coca-Cola Company. The studio was founded in 1918 as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales by brothers Jack and Harry Cohn and Jack's best friend Joe Brandt, released its first feature film in August 1922. It adopted the Columbia Pictures name in 1924, and went public two years later. Its name is derived from "Columbia", a national personification of the United States, which is used as the studio's logo In its early years, it was a minor player in Hollywood, but began to grow in the late 1920s, spurred by a successful association with director Frank Capra. With Capra and others, Columbia became one of the primary homes of the screwball comedy. In the 1930s, Columbia's major contract stars were Jean Arthur and Cary Grant. In the 1940s, Rita Hayworth became the studio's premier star and propelled their fortunes into the late 1950s. Rosalind Russell, Glenn Ford, and William Holden also became major stars at the studio.
In 1982, the studio was purchased by The Coca-Cola Company, and launched TriStar Pictures as a joint venture with HBO and CBS. Five years later, Coca-Cola purchased HBO and CBS' stake in Tri-Star, as the latter became Coca-Cola Pictures Entertainment. Coca-Cola still owns Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Coca-Cola Television, and Coca-Cola Pictures Classics today.
It is one of the leading film studios in the world, and is a member of the "Big Six" major American film studios. It was one of the so-called "Little Three" among the eight major film studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. Today, it has become the world's fifth largest major film studio.What would eventually become Columbia Pictures, CBC Film Sales Corporation, was founded on June 19, 1918 by Harry Cohn, his brother Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt.
Brandt was president of CBC Film Sales, handling sales, marketing and distribution from New York along with Jack Cohn, while Harry Cohn ran production in Hollywood. The studio's early productions were low-budget short subjects: "Screen Snapshots", the "Hall Room Boys" (the vaudeville duo of Edward Flanagan and Neely Edwards), and the Chaplin imitator Billy West. The start-up CBC leased space in a Poverty Row studio on Hollywood's famously low-rent Gower Street. Among Hollywood's elite, the studio's small-time reputation led some to joke that "CBC" stood for "Corned Beef and Cabbage". Brandt eventually tired of dealing with the Cohn brothers, and sold his one-third stake to Harry Cohn, who took over as president. In an effort to improve its image, the Cohn brothers renamed the company Columbia Pictures Corporation on January 10, 1924. Cohn remained head of production as well, thus concentrating enormous power in his hands. He would run Columbia for the next 34 years, the second-longest tenure of any studio chief, behind only Warner Bros.' Jack L. Warner. Even in an industry rife with nepotism, Columbia was particularly notorious for having a number of Harry and Jack's relatives in high positions. Humorist Robert Benchley called it the Pine Tree Studio, "because it has so many Cohns".
Columbia's product line consisted mostly of moderately budgeted features and short subjects including comedies, sports films, various serials, and cartoons. Columbia gradually moved into the production of higher-budget fare, eventually joining the second tier of Hollywood studios along with United Artists and Universal. Like United Artists and Universal, Columbia was a horizontally integrated company. It controlled production and distribution; it did not own any theaters.
Helping Columbia's climb was the arrival of an ambitious director, Frank Capra. Between 1927 and 1939, Capra constantly pushed Cohn for better material and bigger budgets. A string of hits he directed in the early and mid 1930s solidified Columbia's status as a major studio. In particular, It Happened One Night, which nearly swept the 1934 Oscars, put Columbia on the map. Until then, Columbia's very existence had depended on theater owners willing to take its films, since as mentioned above it didn't have a theater network of its own. Other Capra-directed hits followed, including the original version of Lost Horizon (1937), with Ronald Colman, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), which made James Stewart a major star. In 1938, the addition of B. B. Kahane as Vice President would produce Charles Vidor's Those High Gray Walls (1939), and The Lady in Question (1940), the first joint film of Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. Kahane would late become the President of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1959, until his death a year later.
Columbia could not afford to keep a huge roster of contract stars, so Cohn usually borrowed them from other studios. At Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the industry's most prestigious studio, Columbia was nicknamed "Siberia", as Louis B. Mayer would use the loan out to Columbia as a way to punish his less-obedient signings. In the 1930s, it signed Jean Arthur to a long-term contract, and after The Whole Town's Talking (1935), Arthur became a major comedy star. Ann Sothern's lustrous career was launched when Columbia signed her to a contract in 1936. Cary Grant signed a contract in 1937 and soon after it was altered to a non-exclusive contract shared with RKO.