American Film Company Logos
But Were Afraid To Ask
by Rick Mitchell
A lion roaring through a loop of film. A beeping radio tower atop a spinning globe. An art deco edifice lit by klieg lights. A mountain peak ringed by stars. Lady Liberty holding her torch aloft. For some seventy years these logos or trademarks have introduced audiences to the cinematic delights to follow.
The corporate logo is symbolic of big business public relations in the twentieth century, creating instant consumer identification, and hopefully loyalty, via a brand name and an image implanted indelibly in the consumer's mind, such as Kodak and Coca-Cola. Early motion picture production companies were part of this trend.
The initial concept for motion picture credit titles was borrowed from live theater programmes and vaudeville, where cards identifying the current performers were displayed on an easel at the side of the proscenium. With films, at first there was only one card which usually read: "The Production Company presents Such and such with the company logo and sometimes a copyright notice at the bottom. If the film were an adaptation of a well known literary work, the author's name would be included after the title.
The number of credit titles began to expand with the arrival of the Independents in 1909 and their giving credit to stars and later directors, scenarists, and cinematographers. It was about this time that the practice of according a separate card to the production company began. Most of these were standard artwork cards that could be photographed as needed while photographing the other cards for the production. But according to Terry Ramsaye in A Million And One Nights (a not totally reliable source by the way), some logos with motion, such as Pathe's crowing rooster and Mutual's clock with moving hands, also began appearing about this time.
Such logos were more complicated as any composite work had to be done in camera and therefore could not be shot anew for each of the 104 films the average company was doing each year. As a result, a print was made of the approved composite and duplicate negatives made off this print would be spliced onto the head of the cut negative of the first reel of each release. This has remained the standard practice for creating and duplicating film company logos ever since, though the improvement in intermediate stocks over the years has resulted in higher quality results.
In the optical sound era, approximately from 1929 to 1953, those companies like 20th Century-Fox and RKO whose logos were accompanied by a fanfare or standard sound had a composite fine grain of the logo and track and made dupe negatives that would be spliced onto the head of the picture and track negatives of the first reel. Where music and/or sound effects related to the specific film were also heard, or dissolved to, either a print of the logo accompaniment would be hung separately for the first reel dub session for incorporation into the dubbed negative, a practice that would be followed when magnetic dubbing became standard in the Fifties.
It is difficult to do an accurate history of American film company logos because original logos have often been replaced by more recent ones for reissue or discarded altogether when the distribution rights to a film changed hands. Because of the loss of so many silent films or the redoing of title cards on so many of those that have survived, it's almost impossible to write definitively on this subject as it relates to silents. Here are overviews of the history of the logos of key American film companies of the sound era.
Page 2 - MGM
Page 3 - 20th Century Fox
Page 4 - RKO
Page 5 - Paramount
Page 6 - Warner Bros
Page 7 - Columbia
Page 8 - Universal
Page 9 - UA, Republic, and others
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