New Museum Acquisition

THE BEGINNING OF "THE GOLDEN AGE" of Hollywood generally refers to the period between 1917, when Famous Players-Lasky acquired the Paramount Distributing Company, becoming the first studio to produce, distribute and exhibit their own movies. The end of this period began with the "Paramount Decision" of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1940 in which the movie companies were restricted to being able to operate in only two of those three areas, leading studios to sell off their theaters in the belief that the American moving-going public would still flock to see their films. The studios had weathered the transition to sound, color and the loss of their potential audiences to radio, so they believed they could survive the Paramount decision as well. 

Because of World War II, the Paramount decision was not enforced and Hollywood flourished in the 1940s despite the absence of an international film market. After the war, the studios began selling off their theaters and, in the case of Paramount which had been pioneering television broadcasts, selling off its television holdings, too. Television was also beginning to grow in popularity and other legal cases negatively affected the studios as well.

In reaction to their diminishing public, the studios began offering films with features television could not provide, in addition to color, wide-screen, stereophonic sound and three-dimensional effects were added to both major and minor studio releases to attract people into the theater. Science Fiction became popular and to attract a younger audience, rock 'n' roll personalities were added to the casts of films. As the production codes were relaxed in the late 1950s, more adult themes were employed to increase attendance. One of the most tried-and-true formats, the "Spectacular," was made by all the studios, and among those the "sword and sandal" ancient and/or biblical stories  could lead to box office success. 

Throughout this time period there are films such as "Quo Vadis," "Julius Caesar," "Samson and Delilah," David and Bathsheba," "The Ten Commandments," and "Salome," all earning great ticket sales. In 1959, the biblical epic "Ben-Hur" became the second-highest grossing film of all time, just behind "Gone With the Wind," and did so in a very short time following its debut. One of the advantages of the film for M-G-M, was that it owned the story, having successfully produced it in 1925. Around this same time, newly installed 20th Century Fox president Spyros Skouras believed his studio could do the same thing and began a plan to produce a new version of "Cleopatra" a film they had made in 1917 which had been the top box office earner of that year. Perhaps the time was right for a remake.

Thus began an almost five-year journey stretching from Hollywood to London and finally, to Rome, with a rotating cast of directors and actors which finally stopped at Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. Cost overruns, star health crises and changing studio leadership were all part of this film's story. In the end, the film cost 35 million to make and took ten years to return its investment even though it was the top box office film of 1963.

Seven Art Directors and Three Set Decorators collectively were awarded the Academy Award© for the set design of this film: Art Direction: John DeCuir, Jack Martin Smith, Hilyard M. Brown, Herman A. Blumenthal, Elven Webb, Maurice Pelling, and Boris Juraga; Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox, and Ray Moyer.


From a scene in Cleopatra's palace are these two statues.





Reclining figures of the Egyptian Jackal/human god, Anubis. Fiberglas castings with black and gold paint.
Anonymous donation.

Hollywood Heritage Museum + Archive + Preservation Society

2100 N. Highland Ave.

Hollywood, CA 90028

Telephone:  (323) 874.2276  


Museum Hours:

Wednesday through Sunday Noon - 4 PM

During the summer: Due to the Hollywood Bowl's schedule, please call to make certain that we are able to be open.