Adolph Zukor

Adolph Zukor


Adolph Zukor

January 7, 1873: Hungarian-American film producer and co-founder of Paramount Pictures 

Adolph Zukor was a Hungarian American film producer and a co-founder of Paramount Pictures. Zukor was born on January 7, 1873 in Ricse, Hungary, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both of his parents passed away by the time he was seven years old, when he moved in with his uncle Kalman Liebermann, who wanted his nephew to become a rabbi. Zukor instead served a three year apprenticeship in a family friends dry goods store. Zukor emigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old.

Soon after arriving in New York City in 1889, Zukor became an apprentice at a furrier. Within two years, he was a successful contract worker and accomplished designer. By 1893, he started his own fur business, soon after attending the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The following year, at the age of 21, Zukor’s Novelty Fur Company had 25 employees in two locations in the U.S. By 1903, he was a wealthy young burgher, living in a spacious apartment in the upper class German-Jewish section of Manhatten at 111th St and 7th Avenue.


It was during this time when his cousin Max Goldstein asked Zukor for a financial loan to invest in a chain of movie theaters. Originally started by Mitchell Mark in Buffalo, the Vitascope Theater was a special attraction in the Ellicott Square Building since 1896 and was one of the first permanent, purpose-built movie theaters in the world. During a time that movie theaters were temporary attractions, lasting only days or weeks, Mark was the first American to have a distribution agreement with Pathé Films.

Zukor formed a partnership with Mitchell Mark and Morris Kohn, and the three opened the Automatic Vaudeville Company, a penny arcade on 14th Street. With additional funding from Marcus Loew, the founder of Lowe’s Theaters, they soon opened theaters in Philadelphia, Newark and Boston. The Famous Players Film Company was formed in 1912 by Zukor, later to be named the Famous Players-Lasky in 1916 when producer Jesse L. Lasky joined the company.

Advertising as “Famous Players in Famous Plays,” the company was the American distributor for the French film Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth starring Sarah Bernhardt. The following year he obtained the financial backing of the powerful New York City theatre impresarios the Frohman brothers, with an eye to introduce respected stage actors to the silver screen. Zukor purchased the armory on 26th Street and converted it into Chelsea Studios, a movie studio that is still used today.

Paramount Pictures Corporation was formed to distribute Famous Players-Lasky films, creating the first national distribution system. By 1919,  he built the Publix Theatres Corporation, a chain of nearly 2,000 screens and ran two production studios, one in Astoria, Queens and the other in Hollywood, eventually producing up to 60 films per year.

In 1933, Paramount Pictures went into receivership after almost collapsing at the start of the Great Depression. Zukor’s over-expansion of the studio was primarily to blame, but a bank-mandated group kept the studio intact. By 1936, Zukor was appointed chairman of the board and reorganized Paramount Pictures and steer the company out of bankruptcy. Zukor was made Chairman Emeritus in 1959, a position he kept until his death.

Brother Zukor was a member of Centennial Lodge No. 763 (now Munn Lodge No. 203) with fellow film producer J. Stuart Blackton. Zukor received a pin from the Grand Lodge of New York in recognition of 50 years of membership in the craft. In 1915, Zukor co-produced the film Are you a Mason? , based on the 1901 play by Leo Ditirchstein and starring John Barrymore as a young husband who pretends to join the Masons as an excuse to get out of the house. This film is now believed to be lost.

Brother Zukor passed away in 1976 at the age of 103.

1915 Movie Poster

Are you a Mason? movie poster, 1915. Produced by Adolph Zukor and Charles Frohman, the film is believed lost today.

Written by Wor. Bro. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Trustee Chairman and Historian, Jephtha Lodge No. 494 F. & A.M.
Area 1 Historian, Nassau and Suffolk Masonic Districts
Co-Editor, Craftsmen Online NY Masonic History column
32° Scottish Rite,  Valley of Rockville Centre
Companion of Asharokan Chapter No. 288, Royal Arch Masons
Member of Suffolk Council No. 76, Cryptic Masons
Author, “Long Island Freemasons,” Arcadia Publishing, 2020

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