People liked Joseph M. Schenck. Anyone who knew both him and his brother Nicholas Schenck would comment on how different they were. He came to New York in 1893 and, with his younger brother, built a drugstore business. They risked some profits and made more money in amusement parks. Marcus Loew bought one of their parks in 1907, then made the Schencks partners in Consolidated Enterprises, his theater and movie house chain in 1912. The brothers' personalities were quite different; Joe was affable and enjoyed keeping a deal together by finding common ground between business associates that often despised each other. His brother Nick was a cold, driven, hard-nosed businessman who thoroughly enjoyed keeping people on short leashes. In short, people were drawn to Joe and feared Nick.
Joe booked films, which gave him the opportunity to meet movie stars, among them Norma Talmadge, who became his wife in 1916. He was fascinated by Hollywood and wanted to get involved with movie production, whereas Nick was quietly managing Loew's burgeoning theatrical empire. Joe was far more enamored by the Hollywood lifestyle than his brother and wanted to take a much more active role in the production rather than the high finance end of the business. He saw his opportunity in 1917 to produce Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and the later D.W. Griffith films. At this point the brothers' lives took separate paths; Joe left Consolidated while Nick remained and soon became Marcus Loew's #2 man, assisting him in his dream of combining Metro Pictures with Goldwyn Pictures in order to provide the expanding theater chain with a steady flow of quality films (morphing into MGM, after bringing Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg on board in 1924), later ascending to the presidency of Loew's Incorporated's--MGM's parent company--after Marcus Loew's sudden death (quietly becoming the most powerful man in the motion picture industry) in late 1926. Joe became chairman of United Artists (which, somewhat ironically, lacked a theater chain--a factor that would ultimately cripple his brother's studio in the 1950s after the Supreme Court's anti-trust decision required theatrical divestment) in 1924, then its president in 1927.
In 1933 he helped Darryl F. Zanuck establish 20th Century Pictures, which merged with the ailing Fox Film Corp. in 1935, with Schenck as chairman of the renamed 20th Century-Fox. Organized crime had coveted Hollywood from a distance for years, but had been unable to make serious inroads into the area thanks to the brutally effective work of the Los Angeles Police Department's so-called "hat squad," which was tasked with keeping the city Mafia-free. The studio's weak link was through the growing thorns in their collective sides: the unions, whose membership and collectives spanned across state lines. In 1936 Willie Morris Bioff, a Chicago mobster out of the remnants of the Al Capone gang who ran the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees & Moving Picture Machine Operators behind the scenes, told the studios they could avoid strikes (along with the implied work slowdowns and spontaneous theater fires) for $2 million. All agreed to pay, but Schenck made one of the payoffs with a personal check, which came to the attention of U.S. Internal Revenue Service agents. Thanks to the paper trail, Schenck was indicted for income tax evasion. With some applied pressure and soul-searching, Joe testified against Bioff and the titular union president, George E. Browne, in 1941 as part of a plea bargain. In 1946 he began to serve a one-year sentence for tax irregularities and bribery (of the union officials) but was pardoned by President Harry Truman after having served only four months.
After leaving prison he immediately returned to Fox as head of production. Marilyn Monroe became friendly with him in 1947 and was known as one of his "girlfriends", although she said the relationship was platonic. He was helpful in her career in any case, getting her a very small part in Fox's "Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!" and convincing Harry Cohn at Columbia to give her a contract after Fox dropped her.
AMPAS awarded Schenck a special Oscar for services to the film industry in 1952. In 1953 he co-founded the Magna Corp. with Michael Todd to market the Todd-AO wide-screen system, which was wildly profitable (and remains a technological force in the movie industry to this day). Shortly after he retired in 1957, Schenck had a stroke and never fully recovered.
Name: Joseph M. Schenck
Known for: The General
BirthDay: 25, Dec ,1876