Hollywood, Calif.: When a testimonial dinner honoring Emanuel Cohen, studio head, was given last night, all of filmdom turned out in their finest. Among the many stars present at the gala affair, were Queenie Smith, motion picture actress, accompanied by Cary Grant, handsome screen lover and estranged husband of Virginia Cherrill, beautiful motion picture actress. Hollywood wonders if this is a new romance. Credit photo: Wide World Photos 10/13/1934
For Cary Grant and Queenie Smith there was no romance. The publicity agents at Paramount made sure Grant escorted women to various Hollywood events. At the time Grant lived with actor Randolph Scott, an arrangement that lasted until the early 1940s. Cary wed heiress Barbara Hutton in 1942.
But, who was Emanuel Cohen?
Cohen is one of the forgotten behind the scene power brokers of the 1930s film world. As vice president in charge of production at Paramount Studios, Emanuel Cohen (1892-1977) was largely responsible for keeping Paramount afloat during the Great Depression. In the early 1930s the studio was essentially bankrupt.
Cohen started out in the film business as a newsreel editor for Pathé News in 1914. Paramount hired him away in 1927 to make short features and to be in charge of their new newsreel department. One of Cohen’s most notable achievements was his coverage of Charles Lindbergh’s historic New York to Paris flight. Cohen was promoted in 1932 to head up production and keep a close eye on the struggling studio’s finances. This, Cohen did very well.
400 of Paramount’s employees filled the Indian Room at the Ambassador Hotel to give Cohen a testimonial dinner. Besides Cary Grant and Queenie Smith, among the many stars present were W.C Fields; Mae West; Gary Cooper; Charles Laughton and Bing Crosby.
After being given accolades by his employees Cohen addressed the guests.
“It had been impressed upon me that a studio could not be run without politics, with people employed not because of their merit, but because of friendships or they knew somebody else. I do hope it can be said by you all from your own intimate knowledge and experience, that there exists today no internal politics in the Paramount studio, and that its sole effort is to make the best possible pictures at the lowest cost,” Cohen said.
“Suffice to say we have built up our cash reserve several millions of dollars without borrowing a single dollar. We can look back with satisfaction upon the last three years.”
Less than two months later, on November 26, 1934 all of Paramount’s board of directors, including Cohen, resigned their posts. The action was a necessary preliminary to a court procedure, in a reorganization in which a new board was to be instituted. Cohen quit his production post with Paramount in February 1935 after reported friction with Paramount chief Adolph Zukor.
Cohen then formed Major Pictures, an independent unit that produced films with stars like Mae West and Bing Crosby. By 1936,Cohen as head of his own production company, was making films in conjunction with Paramount.
That arrangement ended in 1938 as Zukor and Cohen had enough of one another. Cohen tried to make a film with Jack Benny and Paramount arranged it that Benny was never available when Major Pictures needed Benny.
Zukor unceremoniously sent out a notice on January 12 that all 75 Major Picture employees were fired as their relationship to Paramount ended as of January 1.
Cohen paid $30,000 of back pay due to the employees out of his own pocket.
Cohen would work sparingly and independently in the film industry until the mid-1940s. He enlisted in the army during World War II and worked with the War Activities Committee on documentaries. Emanuel Cohen essentially retired from the film business after the war and settled in New York.