A Look at 20th Century Fox with Scott Eyman

Thanks to my obsession with classic films I’ve learned a great deal about the studios behind them. Whether it’s MGM, Warner Bros. or Disney I could tell you its whole history, but one studio I know next to nothing about is 20th Century-Fox. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a huge fan of its golden age films, but I’ve never really looked into its history. Recently, TCM released its latest book 20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio and I was lucky enough to receive a copy and learn about the famed studio.

20th Century Fox

20th Century-Fox was written by Scott Eyman, the author behind such highly regarded books as John Wayne: The Life and Legend and Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise so, right off the bat, I knew I was in good hands. Coming in at just under 300 pages, it’s a slender volume that tells the story of the studio through the men who ran it, primarily William Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck. Due to its size, it emphasizes the the secret to the studio’s success without being bogged down in details.

Scott Eyman

If you’re wondering how 20th Century-Fox got its name look no further than its founder William Fox. In 1915, he founded Fox Films and oversaw it for the next 20 years. During his tenure the studio became an early adopter of sound and perfected its production, introduced 70mm film and scored big at the first Oscars, winning 8 awards. It also produced one of the most beautiful films ever made, Sunrise. Unfortunately, during the Depression the studio started hemorrhaging money and was on the verge of collapse until a man named Darryl F. Zanuck came around to change things.

Darryl Zanuck
image courtesy of Everett Collection

After making a name for himself as the production chief at Warner Bros., Darryl F. Zanuck decided to form his own company, 20th Century Pictures. Though fairly successful it wasn’t quite the full fledged studio he was used to and by 1935 he merged it with Fox creating the brand new 20th Century-Fox. Zanuck was a man who lived and breathed movies and during his 20+ year tenure he was responsible for such films as All About Eve, The Grapes of Wrath and How Green was My Valley, the technological innovation of CinemaScope and the stratospheric careers of both Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe.

All About Eve

Although 20th Century-Fox primary focuses on Darryl Zanuck it does follow the entire tenure of the studio until its merger with Disney and the emergence of 20th Century Pictures. Though Zanuck may be the producer of some of the studio’s biggest successes Eyman doesn’t forget such important figures as Richard Zanuck and Alan Ladd Jr. and such blockbuster films as Sound of Music, Star Wars and Titanic.

20th Century Fox

Reading 20th Century-Fox left me thoroughly impressed with a studio I had previously known little about. I had never thought about all the significant movies it produced and had no idea it was responsible for both 70mm film and CinemaScope. The book is a fascinating glimpse into this innovating studio and its impact on film from the Golden Age to the present and I learned so much and gained a new appreciation for its movies. Next time I see the 20th Century-Fox logo appear you know I’ll be watching.

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