Act One – The Rise of a Titan – The Birth of RKO
British businessmen Rufus S. Cole and H.F. Robertson create a film distribution company and purchase 13.5 acres on the corner of Gower Street and Melrose Avenue to build a studio.
Robertson-Cole takes the name Film Booking Offices of America (FBO). FBO produces and distributes a number of films, but the company is small compared to MGM, Paramount, and Fox.
Joseph P. Kennedy buys out the British interests of FBO.
Two titans of their age – David Sarnoff, President of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future President and owner of the Film Booking Office of America (FBO), a movie distribution company – met at an oyster bar in Manhattan. By the time the meal was over, they’d agreed to combine RCA’s Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater chain with Kennedy’s company (as well as the fledgling Pathe Studios) to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum, or the RKO Corporation.
RKO releases 12 films in the first year, including Dixiana and Hit the Deck which featured Technicolor sequences and the first three of a series of comedies starring the team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey.
David O Selznick is hired as production chief. Cimarron receives Oscar for Best Picture.
RKO’s corporate headquarters in New York moves into the RKO Building, one of the first Rockefeller Center structures to open.
King Kong released. Selznick departs RKO, after only 15 months. Marion C Cooper, the producer of KING KONG, takes over as production.
RKO releases FLYING DOWN TO RIO, the first film of dancing legends Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD – first of a series of screwball comedies and OF HUMAN BONDAGE, Bette Davis’s first success.
Working with Disney, RKO releases SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
The Saint Series Begins
RKO agrees to distribute films by Samuel Goldwyn resulting in William Wyler’s THE LITTLE FOXES starring Bette Davis, and Howard Hawks’ BALL OF FIRE with Barbara Stanwyck. Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, the Falcon Series Begins
Val Lewton brings horror to RKO with Cat People and later ZOMBIE/ISLE OF THE DEAD. Welles writes/directed Magnificent Ambersons
It’s a Wonderful Life, Notorious, and The Falcon’s Adventure was the 13th and final film of RKO’s Falcon series.
Act Two – Howard Hughes and Rough Waters
Howard Hughes Takes Ownership of the Company after beating out the competition to purchase long-time RKO financier Floyd Odlum’s interest in the company. Production was shut down for six months as Hughes reworked the entire production slate set up by previous production head Dore Schary. When production started again, his hands-on approach to every detail hindered progress. Fort Apache.
The last two production heads under Hughes, Sid Rogell and Sam Bischoff, quit after less than two years due to Hughes’s meddling. Hughes’s time at RKO was marked by dwindling production and a slew of expensive flops
Hughes and RKO corporate head Ned E. Depinet sell their RKO stock to a Chicago syndicate whose own mishandling of the studio bring Hughes back to a controlling interest in 1953. Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952, though shooting had been completed two years earlier) and BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), – both with Robert Ryan
The Encino backlot is shut down and sold off.
Walt Disney ends his 18 years long distribution deal with RKO and creates his own distribution company.
Howard Hughes sells RKO to General Tire and Rubber Company who start selling broadcast rights to RKO movies to television stations across the country.
Under General Tire, film production is entirely shut down. A fallow period begins.
In collaboration with Universal Studios, RKO put out five films over the next three years. Although the studio frequently worked with major names—including Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Jack Nicholson in The Border, and Nastassja Kinski in Cat People (all 1982)
Act Three – A Titan Reborn
RKO signaled the birth of a new era with its acquisition by Ted Hartley and Dina Merrill in 1989.
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG – The return of the classic hero. An epic adventure film based on the 1949 film of the same name about a giant mountain gorilla brought to a wildlife preserve in Los Angeles by a young woman who raised him, and a zoologist, to protect him from the threat of poachers until one seeks Joe out in order to take his revenge. Starring Charlize Theron
SHADE is released, starring Thandie Newton, Stuart Townsend, Jaimie Foxx, Sylvester Stallone, Melanie Griffith, and Gabriel Byrne
RKO Stage – Top Hat — Based on the classic Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical. Starring: Gavin Lee, Kristen Beth Williams, Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin. Choreographer: Bill Deamer Director: Matthew White
Today, the modern RKO Pictures produces, finances, and distributes both original entertainment and remakes of its classic films. RKO draws upon its brand and intellectual property assets to develop entertainment properties for production and distribution. RKO’s production strategy includes devoting resources to the repositioning of its famous classic library for current audiences as it develops other businesses and entertainment properties. The company seeks out additional distribution and co-financing ventures for new productions as well as for sequels, remakes, and live stage productions based upon its library of titles.