Joseph M. Schenck

Active - 1917 - 1936  |   Born - Dec 25, 1878   |   Died - Jan 1, 1961   |   Genres - Comedy, Romance, Drama

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Executive producer Joseph M. Schenck was born in Rybinsk, Russia, and emigrated to the U.S. as a child. While growing up in New York, he worked as an errand boy; eventually he wound up owning a pair of drugstores with his brother, Nicholas. In 1908, they opened an amusement park in upstate New York; four years later, they purchased Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey and had become business associates of Marcus Loew, who was chief executive of a burgeoning chain of movie theaters. The two Schencks eventually became high-ranking executives with Loew, the parent company of MGM. In 1917, Joseph Schenck left Loew (Nicholas stayed) to produce films independently. He first signed Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle up for a comedy series to be distributed by Paramount. His most important star during this time was Buster Keaton. In 1924, Schenck was elected the first chairman of the board on the groundbreaking production company United Artists. In 1933, he founded 20th Century with Darryl Zanuk and became its first president; he became chairman of the board when the company merged with Fox in 1935. Schenck encountered hard times in 1941 after he was convicted of income tax irregularities and union payoffs then sentenced to a year in prison; he was released after four months and then returned to 20th Century Fox as an executive producer. For his many distinguished years of service in American cinema, Schenck won an honorary Oscar in 1952. A year later he co-founded the Magna corporation with Michael Todd.

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