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Barney Balaban. Demonstrating pay television. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90796).

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Balaban, Barney (08 June 1887–07 March 1971), motion picture executive, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Israel Balaban, a grocer, and Goldie Manderbursky. At age twelve Balaban began working as a messenger for Western Union, then worked at various jobs until the mid-1910s when he settled as a bookkeeper at the Western Cold Storage Company. With his father, brothers, and a friend (soon thereafter brother-in-law), Sam Katz, Balaban launched the Balaban & Katz movie theater company in 1912. During the next decade Balaban & Katz redefined movie exhibition; the company’s Chicago-based movie palaces became the talk of the film business and enabled Balaban to quit his day job. Thereafter, whenever he worked, Balaban managed the corporation’s books and created many of the principles of modern movie accounting and record keeping....

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Caras, Roger (24 May 1928–18 February 2001), animal rights activist, Hollywood executive, and naturalist, was born in Methuen, a rural Massachusetts town around thirty miles north of Boston, the son of Jacob Caras, an insurance salesman, and Bessie Caras, an accountant. His affection for animals developed at an early age. At home he was exposed to dogs, cats, and canaries, and in the woods surrounding his house were raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks. "Methuen was a wonderful place in which to learn and to explore," he recalled in his autobiography, ...

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Harry Cohn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107989).

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Cohn, Harry (23 July 1891–27 February 1958), studio executive, was born in New York City, the son of German and Russian immigrants Joseph Cohn and Bella Hudesman. His father was a tailor, and with his parents, four siblings, and two grandmothers, he shared four rooms on Eighty-eighth Street in abject poverty. At the age of fourteen, in 1905, Cohn quit school to appear in the chorus of a popular play, ...

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Cohn, Jack (27 October 1889–08 December 1956), motion picture executive, was born Jacob Cohn in New York City, the son of Joseph Cohn, a tailor, and Bella Hudesman. Jacob (always called Jack) was the product of immigrant parents—the father from Germany, the mother from Russia—who met and married in the United States. The family lived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home of assimilated Jews who spoke German at home, not Yiddish....

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Dietz, Howard (08 September 1896–30 July 1983), lyricist and publicity director, was born in New York City, the son of Herman Dietz, a jeweler, and Julia Blumberg. While a student at Townsend Harris Hall, a public high school for unusually able students, Dietz took a job as a copyboy on a newspaper, the ...

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See Fleischer, Max

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Fleischer, Max (19 July 1883–11 September 1972), and Dave Fleischer (14 July 1894–23 June 1979), animators and the joint heads of Fleischer Studios, were the sons of William Fleischer, a tailor and part-time inventor, and Amalia (maiden name unknown). Max was born in Vienna, Austria, and Dave was born in New York City, where their parents moved when Max was four. Two of their brothers, Joe and Lou, also made significant contributions to Fleischer Studios. The Fleischers were relatively well off during their early years in America, but with the introduction of mass-produced clothing, they slid into poverty. The family moved to Brooklyn and relocated frequently. The children attended public schools, and both Max and Dave showed an early flair for drawing. Max attended high school in the evening and received additional training at the Art Students League and Cooper Union....

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Fox, William (01 January 1879–08 May 1952), motion picture executive and producer, was born Wilhelm Fried Fuchs in Tulchva, Hungary, the son of German-Jewish parents, Michael Fuchs, the operator of a general merchandising store, and Anna Fried. In 1880 the family emigrated to the United States, where the surname was Americanized to “Fox.” They took up residence in a tenement on the Lower East Side of New York City, with Fox’s father securing employment as a machinist in the garment industry. As a boy, Fox peddled newspapers, stove polish, and candy lozenges to help support his large family. At age eleven he quit school to work in a clothing firm. Ten years later, after launching the Knickerbocker Cloth Examining and Shrinking Company with a friend, he married Eve Leo, a clothing manufacturer’s daughter, with whom he had two children....

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Giannini, Attilio Henry (02 March 1874–07 February 1943), physician, banker, and motion picture executive, was born in San Jose, California, the son of Italian immigrants Luigi Giannini and Virginia Demartini, farmers and ranchers. After the fatal shooting of his father by a disgruntled employee in August 1876, Giannini’s mother took over management of their Alviso, California, farm. She married Lorenzo Scatena, and in June 1880 the family moved to San Francisco. While Scatena developed a wholesale produce business, L. Scatena & Co., Giannini attended Washington Grammar School in North Beach....

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Samuel Goldwyn Photograph by Arnold Genthe, c. 1919. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T01-3166-008).

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Goldwyn, Samuel (birth stated as 27 Aug. 1882, but more likely July 1879–31 January 1974), motion picture pioneer, was born in Warsaw, Poland, the son of Aaron David Gelbfisz, a peddler, and Hannah Reban Jarecka. Goldwyn’s early years are clouded. Although official records show his name at birth as Goldfish, he was in fact born Schmuel Gelbfisz. As the eldest child, he attended ...

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Kalmus, Herbert Thomas (09 November 1881–11 July 1963), and Natalie Mabelle Dunfee Kalmus (1883–15 November 1965), cinematographer, were born, respectively, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and Norfolk, Virginia. Herbert was the son of Benjamin G. Kalmus and Ada Isabella Gurney, musicians. Natalie was the daughter of George Kayser Dunfee (wife’s name unknown). Herbert attended schools in Boston and intended to become a concert pianist, but he gave up the idea when he injured his fingers playing baseball. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received a B.S. in physics in 1904. He married Natalie in 1902; they had no children. When very young Natalie had moved with her parents to Boston. She attended Stetson University in Florida, the Boston School of Art, and the Curry School of Expressionism in Boston....

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See Kalmus, Herbert Thomas

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Laemmle, Carl (17 January 1867–24 September 1939), motion picture pioneer, was born in Laupheim, Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, the son of Julius Baruch Laemmle, a businessman, and Rebekka (maiden name unknown). Laemmle, the tenth of thirteen children, attended public school and at age thirteen was apprenticed to a local storekeeper to learn bookkeeping. But he wanted more. An older brother had immigrated to the United States, and Laemmle followed in 1884. He worked in a department store, on a farm, and as a clerk throughout the Midwest before settling in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he entered the clothing store business. He became a U.S. citizen in 1889....

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Jesse Lasky With his wife, 1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98743).

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Lasky, Jesse Louis (13 September 1880–13 January 1958), motion picture pioneer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Isaac Lasky, a shoe store owner, and Sarah Platt. The family, including his younger sister Blanche, moved to San Jose, California, when Lasky was eight years old. Because of his father’s poor health, the subsequent bankruptcy of his shoe store, and relatives still residing in San Francisco, the Lasky family returned to San Francisco before Lasky could finish high school....

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Loew, Marcus (07 May 1870–05 September 1927), motion picture pioneer, was born in New York City, the son of Herman Loew, a waiter, and Ida Lewinstein. The son of immigrants from Vienna, Loew dropped out of school before his tenth birthday and took odd jobs to help support his family. In 1894 he married Caroline Rosenheim; their twin sons, Arthur M. Loew and David L. Loew, both of whom would become movie producers, were born in 1897. Marcus Loew worked in various occupations—including newspapers, furs, and real estate—until he was thirty-five and entered the entertainment business in his native Manhattan....

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Lyon, Ben (06 February 1901–22 March 1979), entertainer and film executive, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Benjamin Lyon, a furniture salesman, and Alvina (maiden name unknown). Raised in a family devoted to amateur music and theatrics, Lyon abandoned thoughts of a physician’s career when he received $5 for a film bit part. At seventeen he played juvenile leads on Broadway. In 1923 he went to Hollywood to perform in films produced by ...