Sunday, January 20, 2019

From FBO to RKO: Transitioning company ownership

In "Powdersmoke Range", Tom's first movie for RKO
By the time Tom Tyler made his twenty-fourth silent film for FBO - “The Avenging Rider” (1928), released on October 7, 1928, his studio contract would be near its end, primarily due to company ownership change, and its final transition to talkies. The advent of sound pictures for Hollywood film studios meant several things: one, the commercialization of synchronized sound, which now became affordable for studios which made a tidy profit on making and releasing silent films; two, the ability for the cinema patrons to appreciate the voices of their favorite actors as they were in real life; and three, the marriage of moving images and sound the way Thomas Edison, the inventor of each, the way he originally intended. Most importantly, the careers of silent film stars faced a major challenge, and those who were able to transition to sound pictures were the lucky ones, especially those who made films of the western genre during the silent film period. Tom Tyler was one of those actors, along with Bob Steele, Tim McCoy, Harry Carey Sr, and Hoot Gibson.

A poster for "The Texas Tornado" in Swedish
Tom made five more silent films that were released between October 23, 1928, and June 9, 1929, “The Pride of Pawnee” being his last for FBO. With the studio undergoing ownership changes, it was decided that Tom’s contract run out and not be renewed by RKO Productions, possibly due to the fact Tom was not really ready yet for talkie pictures; he was one of the very last leading men of the silent film era to make silent films during the year 1930.

The year before Tom first started making silent films for FBO, the company was primarily engaged in the distribution of silent films. As the years went on though, in the mid- to late 1920’s, Joseph Kennedy Sr. discovered that by having several subsidiaries, the silent films produced by his studio could gain worldwide popularity – and they did. In Tom Tyler’s case, many of his westerns filmed at FBO wound up being distributed across Europe, as many European newspaper cinema show listings can attest; even more beneficially, a number of these silent film copies wound up being saved, eventually finding their way into film archives such as EYE in Amsterdam and Filmoteka in Brussels, Belgium.

From Motion Picture News, February 2, 1929
In 1927 Joseph Kennedy was approached by David Sarnoff, the then general manager of RCA who wanted to use Photophone in the affordably run FBO studio. Harvard Business Reports 1930 states that RKO was a subsidiary of Radio Corporation of America, created to take over FBO and its subsidiaries. RCA also took interest in Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO), which owned a circuit of theatres, the latter desiring to transition to the film business. The company merger between FBO and KAO proved to be successful, and by 1929, William Le Baron was vice-president of RKO Productions in charge of production, sound-proofing all stages formerly under the FBO name. For FBO, it was a final goodbye to the silent film era, and ushered in the sound era, and for RKO, the landmark sound release was “Syncopation” in 1929, starring Barbara Bennett and Ian Hunter, and for a produced movie, “Street Girl” that same year.

With Harry Carey Sr in "The Last Outlaw" 1936
So even though RKO decided against keeping Tom Tyler on and renewing his contract in hopes of prepping him for upcoming sound pictures, that did not mean a permanent goodbye to the newly named company by any means. Tom continued to appear in RKO films such as “Powdersmoke Range” in 1935, “The Last Outlaw” in 1936, “Valley of the Sun” in 1942, “The Princess and the Pirate” in 1944, “Return of the Badmen” and “Blood on the Moon” in 1948.

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