FILM / Technique: Making their mark: The logos of most big studios have a long history. David Barrett details their evolution

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LOGOS identifying film companies have been around since cinema's early days. In the silent era, the punters looked for the name of the company before they looked who the stars were, and they were very rarely interested in the director. The logo was used on every speech-board by many companies, such as Pathe, and it was an important part of the studio's publicity. In 1918, there were over 200 film company logos listed in the Kinematograph Year Book.

The trademarks which we would recognise today have undergone many transformations over the years and quite detailed accounts survive concerning some of them. Samuel Goldwyn seems to have had the knack of attracting memorable anecdotes. When he broke from Jesse L. Lasky and Adolph Zukor's Famous Players in 1916 to form his own company (imaginatively named the Samuel Goldwyn Pictures Company) a young executive named Howard Dietz was given the task of creating a memorable trademark which was 'big enough and loud enough to be heard from the silent screen.'

Dietz had just graduated from Columbia University, which had a lion as its mascot. He took this as a basis, adding a few embellishments such as the Latin motto Ars Gratia Artis, which to his surprise Goldwyn was able to translate as 'Art for Art's Sake' upon being presented with the idea.

Goldwyn Pictures later merged with Marcus Loew's company and became the Metro-Goldwyn Company in 1924. The following year, yet another amalgamation made the company into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with Dietz's logo winning out over Louis B. Mayer's daft parrot with a top-hat. The version with which we are familiar - the lion's head within a circle of film stock with laurel wreaths and a laughing mask underneath - was introduced in 1924, and is attributed to an artist named Morris Rosenbaum.

The debate over the movement to sound in the late-1920s was finally decided when M-G-M made the symbolic gesture of recording the roar of Leo the lion on 18 December 1928. His growls are one of the rare instances when the United States Trademark and Patent Office has accepted a registration for sound.

At about the same time, when companies were having to merge to stay afloat, three separate companies amalgamated to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum, or RKO Pictures. The chairman of the board of directors, David Sarnoff, was keen to move into talkies, and they adopted the trade-name 'Radio Pictures'. To force the point home, they decided upon a giant radio mast perched on top of the globe for their logo.

Paramount's snowy mountain peak has survived fairly unchanged since the original company was founded in 1912. The image was a childhood memory of a mountain in Utah where the founder William W. Hodkinson grew up, while he borrowed the title from the name of a construction site down the road from his office. In 1916, Lasky and Zukor absorbed several smaller companies into their Famous Players group, including Paramount. Perhaps through a combination of its own memorableness and the rather uninspiring logo then used by Famous Players, the name Paramount Pictures was soon adopted for the whole company.

Warner's logo began life in 1918 as a very austere, heraldic-type shield, but was soon re-designed into the form we would recognise today. It was abandoned briefly in the last half of the Seventies in favour of a minimalist white 'W' on a black lozenge (looking rather like two sausages and a fried egg on a plate). However, the company soon returned to the blue and orange WB shield floating in front of a blue sky.

Logos that feature blue skies form a kind of sub-genre within the field of film company trademarks, with Warner, Columbia, Twentieth-Century-Fox, and Paramount all using it as a background. Perhaps this merely reflects the domineering aspirations of film companies - they all want to be the greatest and the largest, to become part of the everyday landscape.

Universal certainly chose their name for this reason, and their logo also features the sky in another sense - seeing all of it from outer space. It has gone through several major transformations over the years, with the early orbiting biplane being replaced by the famous mirrored globe.

Paramount's peak had a face-lift a couple of years ago, and Universal have recently followed suit. We had become accustomed to seeing the rotating globe with two halos of cosmic dust circling it, which has been replaced by a computer-generated image.

Occasionally film makers have even made inventive use of these brief pieces of footage that precede their movies. Joe Dante in The 'Burbs moved the camera without a break from the orbit above Universal's globe straight down into Tom Hanks' suburban neighbourhood while Tim Burton created the mood of Edward Scissorhands right from the very beginning, as snow covered and fell in front of the Fox logo.

(Photograph omitted)

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