Hollywood Lost and Found - Studio Logos - RKO
Hollywood Lost and Found

Everything You Wanted To Know About
American Film Company Logos
But Were Afraid To Ask

by Rick Mitchell

Page 4 - RKO

Now primarily known to and revered by film buffs who often greet its appearance at revival screenings with cheers, the RKO logo has undergone the least number of changes until very recently. The original background of the spinning globe with the antenna on top was a miniature photographed through panes of glass on which clouds had been painted by artist Mario Larrinaga in 1929 by Linwood. Dunn, ASC. (A reproduction of a nitrate frame of the crew and the miniature setup can be seen in Ron Haver’s David O. Selznick’s Hollywood.) It would be used for 61 years, with only the accompanying animated titles changing, as would the logo used at the end of its pictures and on its advertising, a lightning bolt in a triangle.

Originally the titles and accompanying Morse code beeps spelled out "A Radio Picture," emphasizing parent company RCA's original intention to combine its two primary interests. These had changed by 1937 and the legend was changed to "An RKO Radio Picture." At this time the lightning bolt in the end credit and advertising logo was altered from three jags to one. Over the next few years, the beeps would be dropped in favor of an opening flourish in the score (for example, the sound track of "Gunga Din" (1939) dissolves from the beeps to music during the logo); during World War II, the four opening notes of "Beethoven's Fifth" would also be heard under the logo; at the time these notes were used to herald news reports from England.

Although RKO released the first three-strip Technicolor feature "Becky Sharp" (1935), it opened with a black-and-white logo. Except for films from Disney, RKO did not release any Technicolor films for another decade, and iitially those did not have a logo; after 1950, the black-and-white one was used again. For the Disney films, the end credit shield logo was incorporated into the overall design of the main title and down in the credits there would be one reading: "Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures"; this approach was also used on some of RKO's short subjects. The RKO credits would be dropped from the Disney films when were they were reissued by Disney's own Buena Vista Distribution Company.

In 1954, Linwood Dunn recomposited the logo for color by printing the background with a blue tone and the animated letters and sparks and waves from the antenna in yellow. He also added "In Superscope" for the films the company released in that early version of Super 35. For the two CinemaScope pictures the company released, "The Conqueror" and "The Brave One" (both 1956), he did a version in which the background was squeezed and printed in a 1.33:1 ratio while the title was left alone to be stretched in anamorphic projection; this version was also used on the Technirama production "Escapade In Japan" (1957). For "The Naked And The Dead" (1958), a freeze frame of the logo was used, its last official appearance for thirty years.

In 1988, two films in which a successor to the original RKO had financial interest were released by Paramount, "Hot Pursuit" and "Hamburger Hill." Both carried the beeping radio tower background, but with the stylized version of the lightning bolt logo that had been adopted by RKO General, the corporate name after the company's purchase by General Tire in 1955. However, at the end both films carried a freeze frame of the background over which "An RKO Picture" had been superimposed. (RKO was also involved in a third film released at this time, the Australian-made "The Lighthorsemen," which did not get a Los Angeles release; the author doesn't know if a logo appeared on this Panavision film.)

In 1994, Ted Hartley and Dma Merrill, current owners of RKO, initiated the design of an updated CGI logo that was to be true to the spirit of the original, first seen on the remake of "Mighty Joe Young" (1999), a co-production with Disney. Ironically, with the abandonment of Morse cord, those beeps can now only be heard in the old and new logos.

The old RKO logo is used as an in-joke in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), released in the United States by 20th Century-Fox.

In 1930, RKO purchased the Pathe Studios and, for two years operated it as a separate company, RKO-Pathe. A logo combining RKO's radio tower and Pathe's rooster was used on those films.

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