Harry Cohn

Harry Cohn (July 23, 1891 – February 27, 1958) was the co-founder, president, and production director of Columbia Pictures Corporation.[1]

Harry Cohn
Harry Cohn Oscar 1938 cropped
Harry Cohn, circa 1938
BornJuly 23, 1891
DiedFebruary 27, 1958 (aged 66)
OccupationFilm producer and production director of Columbia Pictures Corporation
Years active1919 - 1958
Spouse(s)Rose Barker (1923–1941)
Joan Perry (1941–1958)
RelativesLeonore Annenberg (niece)

Life and career

Cohn was born to a working-class Jewish family in New York City.[2] His mother, Bella Joseph, was from Russia, and his father, Joseph Cohen, was a tailor from Germany.[3][4] After working for a time as a streetcar conductor, and then as a song plugger for a sheet music printer,[5] 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 previously 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 would release 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 likely contributed to a further deterioration of Howard's health and his eventual retirement and early death.[6]

Personal life

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).[7] 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.[8] However, because Hayworth was such a valuable property Cohn kept her under contract because she made him money. 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."[9]

According to writer Joseph McBride, Jean Arthur quit the business because Cohn used to attack actresses.[10]

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. Perry later married actor Laurence Harvey. 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.


Cohn was the last Hollywood movie mogul of the studio system era, retaining power after the departures of such rivals as Darryl F. Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer.[11] He suffered a sudden heart attack in February 1958 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, shortly after having finished dinner, and died in an ambulance en route to St. Joseph's Hospital.

Cohn's well-attended funeral was the subject of the famous quote from Red Skelton, who remarked, "It proves what Harry always said: give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."[12] He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood.


  • Bob Thomas, King Cohn
  • Bernard F. Dick, The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, March 5, 1958.
  2. ^ Actors Directors from Germany, Austria, Switzerland – German-Hollywood Connection Archived July 20, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Russo, Gus (December 12, 2008). "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers". Bloomsbury Publishing USA. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  4. ^ Dick, Bernard F. "The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures". University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  5. ^ Thomas, Bob (1967). King Cohn - The Life and Times of Harry Cohn. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 96. ISBN 978-1893224070.
  6. ^ Fleming, Michael (2002) [1999]. The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons. New York: Broadway Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 0-7679-0556-3.
  7. ^ Kashner, Sam. "The Forbidden Love of Kim Novak and Sammy Davis, Jr". Vanity Fair (March 1999). Novak even managed to evade Cohn’s casting couch—considered the most notorious in Hollywood.
  8. ^ Braudy, Susan (November 19, 1989). "What We Have Here is a Very Sad Story". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015. According to Ms. Leaming, Harry Cohn... 'developed an obsession' with the beautiful young woman. But in a rare, explicit show of strength, Hayworth refused her husband's order to sleep with 'the notoriously crude movie mogul.'
  9. ^ Blottner, Gene (December 28, 2011). Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. McFarland. p. 7.
  10. ^ http://www.danspapers.com/2017/12/danny-peary-two-cheers-for-hollywood-joseph-mcbride/
  11. ^ Hodgins, Eric (June 10, 1957). "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises". Life. p. 146. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  12. ^ Skelton, Red. "Of producer Harry Cohn's well-attended funeral". just-one-liners.com. Retrieved August 13, 2017.

External links

Angels Over Broadway

Angels Over Broadway (also called Before I Die) is a 1940 American film noir drama film starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen. Ben Hecht, who co-directed (with cinematographer Lee Garmes), co-produced and wrote the screenplay, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Fairbanks, Jr. co-produced, helping persuade Harry Cohn of Columbia to finance. Cohn gave them Rita Hayworth, in her first leading role in an "A" picture. "Cohn couldn't figure out what the picture was about but neither could we," said Fairbanks Jr.

Charles Vidor

Charles Vidor (July 27, 1900 – June 4, 1959) was a Hungarian film director. Among his film successes are The Bridge (1929), Cover Girl (1944), A Song to Remember (1945), Gilda (1946), The Loves of Carmen (1948), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), The Swan (1956), The Joker Is Wild (1957), and A Farewell to Arms (1957).

Colpix Records

Colpix Records was the first recording company for Columbia Pictures–Screen Gems. Colpix got its name from combining Columbia (Col) and Pictures (Pix). CBS, which owned Columbia Records, then sued Columbia Pictures for trademark infringement over the Colpix name.It was founded by Jonie Taps and Harry Cohn in 1958 and was based in New York City. Paul Wexler headed the label. Stu Phillips was in charge of A&R. Lester Sill later headed the label, after breaking with Philles Records partner Phil Spector.

The label's roster included Lou Christie, James Darren, Paul Petersen, Freddie Scott. Two of the label's best known number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Charts were "Blue Moon" by the Marcels in the spring of 1961

(also a number one in the UK, where Colpix was licensed to Pye International),

and "Johnny Angel" by Shelley Fabares in the spring of 1962.Bernadette Castro recorded for the label "Get Rid of Him"/"A Girl in Love Forgives" and "His Lips Get in the Way"/"Sportscar Sally". Singer Jo Ann Greer, who dubbed several of the actresses at Columbia Pictures, recorded two albums with the studio's musical director, Morris Stoloff: Soundtracks, Voices and Themes and The Naked City, a film noir musical with James Darren.

Colpix released the first LPs from standup comedians Dick Gregory and Woody Allen, and a soundtrack album of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. It included dialogue by Yogi Bear and Pixie and Dixie with narration by Daws Butler in the voice of Huckleberry Hound.

In the wake of President Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, numerous tribute albums were released the following year. In association with United Press International, Colpix released Four Days That Shocked the World with radio coverage of the President's arrival at Dallas Love Field, the moment of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald two days later. The album included a booklet with UPI reporter Merriman Smith's account of the assassination.

The label was discontinued in 1966 and replaced by Colgems Records, which was primarily used for releases by The Monkees. Before their involvement with the Monkees, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith (under the pseudonym Michael Blessing) had each signed to Colpix Records as solo artists.

Colpix was the first big label for singer and pianist Nina Simone after having made her debut on Bethlehem Records. She recorded albums for the label from 1959 (The Amazing Nina Simone) through 1964 (Folksy Nina). In 1966 Colpix Nina Simone with Strings, an album of left-overs with strings added, when Simone was already signed to Philips Records.

Rhino Records issued a double compact disc compilation, The Colpix-Dimension Story, in 1994, which also included selections from Dimension Records, a related label.

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (commonly known as Columbia Pictures or simply Columbia) is an American film studio, production company and film distributor that is a member of the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, a division of Sony Entertainment's Sony Pictures subsidiary of the Japanese multinational conglomerate Sony Corporation.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. It adopted the Columbia Pictures name in 1924 and went public two years later. 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.

It is one of the leading film studios in the world and is a member of the "Big Five" 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.

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night is a 1934 pre-Code American romantic comedy film with elements of screwball comedy directed and co-produced by Frank Capra, in collaboration with Harry Cohn, in which a pampered socialite (Claudette Colbert) tries to get out from under her father's thumb and falls in love with a roguish reporter (Clark Gable). The plot is based on the August 1933 short story "Night Bus" by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which provided the shooting title. Classified as a "pre-Code" production, the film is among the last romantic comedies created before the MPAA began rigidly enforcing the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code in July 1934. It Happened One Night was released just four months prior to that enforcement.It Happened One Night is the first of only three films (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs) to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 1993, It Happened One Night was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2013, the film underwent an extensive restoration.

Joan Perry

Joan Perry (July 7, 1911 – September 16, 1996), born Elizabeth Rosiland Miller, was an American film actress, model, and singer. She was known as Betty Miller when she was a model.

More to Be Pitied Than Scorned

More to Be Pitied Than Scorned is a lost 1922 silent film melodrama starring Alice Lake and Rosemary Theby. It was directed by Edward LeSaint and produced by Harry Cohn.It was the first film from Columbia Studios.

Runaway Girls

Runaway Girls is a lost 1928 silent film drama directed by Mark Sandrich and starring Shirley Mason and Hedda Hopper. It was produced by Harry Cohn and distributed by his Columbia Pictures, then a fledgling studio.

Say It with Sables

Say It with Sables (1928) is a silent drama film directed by Frank Capra, and produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures. Columbia no longer has a negative or print of this film, so the film is now considered a lost film. Various film festivals have run a surviving trailer for the film during retrospectives of Capra's work.

So This Is Love? (film)

So This is Love? is a 1928 silent film directed by Frank Capra. It was produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures.

Song plugger

A song plugger or song demonstrator was a vocalist or piano player employed by department and music stores and song publishers in the early 20th century to promote and help sell new sheet music, which is how hits were advertised before good quality recordings were widely available. Music publisher Frank Harding has been credited with innovating the sales method. Typically, the pianist sat on the mezzanine level of a store and played whatever music was sent up to him by the clerk of the store selling the sheet music. Patrons could select any title, have it delivered to the song plugger, and get a preview of the tune before buying it.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, those who worked in department and music stores were most often known as "song demonstrators", while those who worked directly for music publishers were called "song pluggers."

Musicians and composers who had worked as song pluggers included George Gershwin, Ron Roker, Jerome Kern and Lil Hardin Armstrong. Movie executive Harry Cohn was a song plugger.

Submarine (1928 film)

Submarine is a 1928 silent drama film directed by Frank Capra. It was produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures, and released with a synchronized music score and sound effects. This was Capra's first attempt to make an "A-picture".

The Donovan Affair

The Donovan Affair is a 1929 American Pre-Code comedic murder-mystery film directed by Frank Capra. It was produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures and is based upon the play of the same name by Owen Davis. Its original soundtrack, recorded on soundtrack discs, has been lost, although it has been recreated for live performances.

The Impatient Years

The Impatient Years is a 1944 romance film made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Irving Cummings, and written by Virginia Van Upp

(This was the final film Jean Arthur owed Columbia as part of her long contract which included periods of fights with studio boss Harry Cohn and resulted in a number of suspensions. Arthur was known to be thrilled her contract was over.)

The Way of the Strong (1928 film)

The Way of the Strong is a 1928 American silent crime drama film directed by Frank Capra. It was produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures. The film survives through a print held in the collection of Sony Pictures Entertainment (formerly called Columbia Pictures Entertainment).

Wall Street (1929 film)

Wall Street is an American Pre-Code drama film directed by Roy William Neill and starring Ralph Ince, Aileen Pringle, Sam De Grasse, Philip Strange, and Freddie Burke Frederick. Released on December 1, 1929, it was produced by Harry Cohn.

Warren Hymer

Warren Hymer (February 25, 1906 – March 25, 1948) was an American actor.

He was born in New York City, New York. His father, John Bard Hymer (1875 or 1876–1953) was a playwright (with nine Broadway plays to his credit, according to the Internet Broadway Database), vaudeville writer and actor, while his mother, Eleanor Kent, was an actress.He appeared in 129 films between 1929 and 1946, as well as the 1928 Broadway play The Grey Fox.

Despite his typical screen persona as an unsophisticated tough guy with a Brooklyn accent, he actually attended Yale University. In the late 1930s, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn had him removed from the studio after he showed up for work drunk. Hymer responded by breaking into Cohn's office and urinating on his desk. Cohn then blackballed him in the film industry, making it hard for him to find work.He died in Los Angeles, California, of a "stomach ailment". His remains are buried at Chapel of the Pines Crematory.

William Janney

William Janney (born Russell Dixon Janney, February 15, 1908 – December 22, 1992) was an American actor who appeared in 39 films between 1929 and 1937.

He was the son of author and theatrical producer Russell Janney, and he attended the School for Professional Children.Janney debuted on Broadway in Merton of the Movies (1922). His other Broadway credits include Great Music (1924) Four O'Clock (1933), Take My Tip (1932), Tommy (1927), and Bridge of Distances (1925).His biggest regret was not taking the role in Tol'able David (1930) after Columbia boss Harry Cohn offered it to him. His mother urged him to let Richard Cromwell have it. "She told me there was this old woman friend of hers whose son had always wanted to play the part. She said I didn't want to play it anyway. To this day, I don't understand her... This really spoiled the whole thing for me, because I might have been offered a contract with Columbia. As it turned out, I never did get a contract, and Harry Cohn never offered me anything else."

William Perlberg

William Perlberg (October 22, 1900, Łódź, Poland – October 31, 1968, Los Angeles, California) was an American film producer.

William Perlberg was born Wolf Perelberg, son of Israel Jakob Perelberg (later: Perlberg), a fur manufacturer, and Tajbe Markus. Seven months after his father, he came to the U.S.A. on May 17, 1905, with his mother and three siblings.

Before turning to film production in 1935, he first worked as fur trader for his father, from the late 1920s as an agent for William Morris, later as a talent agent and personal assistant to Harry Cohn. During his 30-year career, Perlberg produced many box office hits for some of Hollywood's biggest studios. He worked in association with George Seaton on such films as The Song of Bernadette (1943), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), Chicken Every Sunday (1949) and The Country Girl (1954).

He married Josephine Brock a.k.a. Bobbe Brox, singer with the Brox Sisters, in 1928 and had a son, William Brock Perlberg (1933–2009).

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