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About Majestic Pictures

by Sam Sherman


When I was writing for James Warren’s magazines, including Screen Thrills Illustrated, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I was familiar with Majestic Pictures but knew little about them.


However, in 1963 I was looking to purchase negatives to 1930’s films and that led me to meet Irwin Pizor, who was the owner of Screen Guild Productions and the president of a new company, Hemisphere Pictures Inc., which was then making war-action films in the Philippines. Eventually I purchased the negative from Irwin to the 1934 Majestic film – THE SCARLET LETTER, which I later reissued theatrically through my small company, Signature Films.


Without doubt, this was the best film that Majestic had made, considered a remake of the 1926 silent MGM production, although it was based on a well known classic novel which had previously been filmed prior to 1926. The film had a then important cast and spectacular production values which rivaled major studio product. The producer and director presented little “image” for the film. Director Robert Vignola was a leftover of the silent era at the end of his career. Producer Larry Darmour was a penny pincher not known for quality product. However, the film did turn out well for its day, belying the reputations of the people who made it.


Mickey Rooney, who had starred as “Mickey McGuire” in a series of silent and early sound shorts for Darmour, thought little of him. Mickey was featured in a film I was producer on and I had an opportunity to talk to him about Darmour. He downplayed the abilities of that man, considering that the actor was later a big MGM star, and nothing I could say would get him to feel that Darmour had any good qualities.


Darmour and Phil Goldstone were the heads of production for Majestic Pictures and that set the tone for the company, although they did make some good films for the era of the early 1930’s, especially when compared to the product of other “poverty row” companies. THE SIN OF NORA MORAN, SING SINNER SING, CURTAIN AT EIGHT, THE WORLD GONE MAD, MUTINY AHEAD, THE VAMPIRE BAT and UNKNOWN BLONDE, were some of their better films, presenting major studio quality and well known actors of that era.


Much of the production gloss and name value came through the efforts of Phil Goldstone who had made big money in the real estate business. He was known in the film industry to be wealthy and that led to the heads of major Hollywood Studios coming to him to borrow money. Why would these studio heads come to him? During the depression all of the studios were tight on money and had to wait to collect funds from the exhibition of their films. Cash was king and the studios had to continue with new productions; knowing Phil Goldstone really helped them. I was informed about him by his cousin, Harry Goldstone, who was a fellow film distributor during my early years in the industry.


Phil Goldstone could make a profit by lending money to the studios but was not above squeezing them for more than just interest. Along with the payback of loans he requested his use of star contract actors that were signed to the studios, and the use of their sets, wardrobe and studio facilities — especially well noted was THE VAMPIRE BAT which was filmed at Universal’s lot.


Irwin Pizor’s father. William Pizor, was a film distributor and producer who went back to the teens in the early silent film era. His wife and Irwin’s mother, Eleanor Gluckman, had a brother who was in film distribution, Herman Gluckman, who was the head of Majestic Pictures, which he formed. His organization of this company was based on his ownership of film exchanges on the east coast, which gave him access to markets in important population centers where movies were bigger business than in rural areas, then known as “the sticks”.


In 1935 when Herbert Yates was consolidating other small film companies in addition to his acquisition of Mascot and Monogram, his main producing companies, he saw Majestic as important from a distribution standpoint on the east coast. This mix of companies quickly became Republic Pictures, which started with a number of its own film exchanges, in addition to non-exclusive branches or “franchise holders”, a/k/a states righters, as they were called. Herman Gluckman remained with Republic Pictures in marketing and sales and from the start Republic began to make real money, some of this Gluckman and Majestic were responsible for. It is apparent that Republic did not acquire the film libraries owned by the companies they took over, and eventually people like Herman Gluckman sold their films off, many of the Majestic films going to Gluckman’s brother-in-law, William Pizor, and eventually to his son Irwin Pizor and Screen Guild Productions.


When I first met Irwin Pizor in 1963 he had a library of early Majestic films, including films from other smaller companies like Tower, Equitable and Pizor’s father’s own Imperial Pictures. These films were all on Nitrate negatives, many partially crumbling to sticky goo and dust, aside from inflammability.


As time went by I started to work for Irwin Pizor’s companies Hemisphere Pictures Inc. and The Teledynamics Corp. Eventually from those perishable Nitrate negatives I produced a documentary feature with Irwin, CHAPLIN’S ART OF COMEDY, which was distributed internationally and to domestic theaters by Hemisphere. In 1968 I started my own production/distribution company, Independent-International Pictures Corp., and Irwin soon joined me, Al Adamson and Dan Kennis, helping to make our startup venture a success.


Irwin’s film properties were acquired by Independent (IIP) as I was always concerned about them, due to my love of classic films. THE SIN OF NORA MORAN was a favorite of mine, and through my love of that film I became a good friend of its star, Zita Johann. I have done my best to preserve the Pizor Nitrate library and acquire 16mm safety film prints to back up the crumbling nitrate elements when I could locate such prints. Most of the films went to archives to hold and possibly restore them, but some of the films remain lost or incomplete, regardless of all the effort I have put into their restoration to make them available for the public to see and enjoy.

 

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