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Poverty Row is a slang term used in Hollywood from the late silent period through the mid-fifties to refer to a variety of small and mostly short-lived B movie studios. While many of them were on or near today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location but was instead a kind of figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lesser tier studios.

Contents

Characteristic Films

The films of Poverty Row, many of them Westerns (Including series like "Billy The Kid" starring Buster Crabbe from PRC ) or comedy/adventure series such as those featuring the Bowery Boys (Monogram Pictures) and detectives such as The Shadow, were generally characterized by low budgets, casts made up of lower rank or unknown stars, and overall production values that unintentionally emphasized the haste and economy with which they were made.

Studios

While some Poverty Row studios came and quickly went after a few releases, others operated on more or less the same terms as— if vastly different scales from — major film studios such as MGM, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures.

The most successful and longest-lived of such lower-tier companies maintained permanent lots (and many standing sets that dedicated moviegoers could frequently recognize from movie to movie), had both cast and crew on long-term contract, and had a more varied output than smaller firms.

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Leading Studios

Leading studios on Poverty Row included Republic Pictures, which began when Herbert J. Yates combined six established poverty-row companies, Monogram, Mascot, Liberty, Majestic, Chesterfield, and Invincible with his Consolidated Film Laboratories. Republic began by releasing serial shorts and Westerns with Gene Autry in the 1930s before eventually riding the success of eventual superstar John Wayne and embarking on more ambitious projects, such as 1953's Wayne hit, The Quiet Man. Monogram Pictures soon left Republic, and in the following decades produced everything from college/teen musicals starring popular swing bands to versions of classics like Oliver Twist and the final films of Kay Francis.

Lesser Studios

The smallest studios, including Tiffany Pictures, Sam Katzman's Victory, Mascot and Chesterfield often packaged and released films from independent producers, British "quota quickie" films, or borderline exploitation films such as Hitler, Beast of Berlin to supplement their own limited production capacity. Sometimes the same producers would start a new studio when the old one failed, such as Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray's Reliable Pictures and Metropolitan Pictures.

Some organisations such as Astor Pictures and Realart Pictures began by obtaining the rights to rerelease older films from other studios before producing their own films.

Decline

The breakup of the studio system (and its restrictive chain-theater distribution network, which left independent movie houses eager for seat-filling product from the Poverty Row studios) following 1948's United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision and the advent of television are among the factors that led to the decline and ultimate disappearance of "Poverty Row" as a Hollywood phenomenon. While the kinds of films produced by Poverty Row studios only grew in popularity, they were increasingly available both from major production companies and from independent producers who no longer needed to rely on a studio's ability to package and release their work.

Comparison with other studios

The Big Five majors The Little Three majors Poverty Row (top four of many)
MGM United Artists Grand National
Paramount Columbia Pictures Republic Pictures
20th Century-Fox RKO Monogram Pictures
Warner Bros. Producers Releasing Corporation (aka PRC)
Universal

References

  • Fernett, Gene, Hollywood's Poverty Row, 1930-1950, Coral Reef Publications, Inc., Satellite Beach, FL, 1973.

Poverty Row is a slang term used in Hollywood from the late silent period through the mid-fifties to refer to a variety of small and mostly short-lived B movie studios. While many of them were on or near today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location but was instead a kind of figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lesser tier studios.

Contents

Characteristic Films

The films of Poverty Row, many of them Westerns (Including series like "Billy The Kid" starring Buster Crabbe from PRC ) or comedy/adventure series such as those featuring the Bowery Boys (Monogram Pictures) and detectives such as The Shadow, were generally characterized by low budgets, casts made up of lower rank or unknown stars, and overall production values that unintentionally emphasized the haste and economy with which they were made.

Studios

While some Poverty Row studios came and quickly went after a few releases, others operated on more or less the same terms as— if vastly different scales from — major film studios such as MGM, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures.

The most successful and longest-lived of such lower-tier companies maintained permanent lots (and many standing sets that dedicated moviegoers could frequently recognize from movie to movie), had both cast and crew on long-term contract, and had a more varied output than smaller firms.

Leading Studios

Leading studios on Poverty Row included Republic Pictures, which began when Herbert J. Yates combined six established poverty-row companies, Monogram, Mascot, Liberty, Majestic, Chesterfield, and Invincible with his Consolidated Film Laboratories. Republic began by releasing serial shorts and Westerns with Gene Autry in the 1930s before eventually riding the success of eventual superstar John Wayne and embarking on more ambitious projects, such as 1953's Wayne hit, The Quiet Man. Monogram Pictures soon left Republic, and in the following decades produced everything from college/teen musicals starring popular swing bands to versions of classics like Oliver Twist and the final films of Kay Francis. In the early 1920's Harry Cohn's CBC productions (later to become Columbia Pictures) was considered a Poverty Row studio.

Lower-Tier Studios

The smallest studios, including Tiffany Pictures, Sam Katzman's Victory, Mascot and Chesterfield often packaged and released films from independent producers, British "quota quickie" films, or borderline exploitation films such as Hitler, Beast of Berlin to supplement their own limited production capacity.[citation needed] Sometimes the same producers would start a new studio when the old one failed, such as Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray's Reliable Pictures and Metropolitan Pictures.

Some organisations such as Astor Pictures and Realart Pictures began by obtaining the rights to rerelease older films from other studios before producing their own films.

Decline

The breakup of the studio system (and its restrictive chain-theater distribution network, which left independent movie houses eager for seat-filling product from the Poverty Row studios) following 1948's United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision and the advent of television are among the factors that led to the decline and ultimate disappearance of "Poverty Row" as a Hollywood phenomenon. While the kinds of films produced by Poverty Row studios only grew in popularity[citation needed], they were increasingly available both from major production companies and from independent producers who no longer needed to rely on a studio's ability to package and release their work.

Comparison with other studios

The Big Five majors The Little Three majors Poverty Row (top four of many)
MGM United Artists Grand National
Paramount Columbia Pictures Republic Pictures
20th Century-Fox Universal Monogram Pictures
Warner Bros. Producers Releasing Corporation (aka PRC)
RKO

References

  • Fernett, Gene, Hollywood's Poverty Row, 1930-1950, Coral Reef Publications, Inc., Satellite Beach, FL, 1973.


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