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The Fox Behind The Westwood Village Theater

The story of the rarely remembered visionary who built the landmark movie theater purchased by some of Hollywood’s top directors

By Alex Ben Block

Willliam Fox

The thrilling news  (for movie buffs) that the historic 1,300-seat Westwood Village Theater – home to numerous major movie premieres - was acquired by a group of outstanding movie directors including Jason Reitman, Stephen Spielberg and Christopher Nolan insures the survival of a historic landmark movie palace.


However, news stories in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and elsewhere fail to mention the Hollywood pioneer whose vision and money originally built the Spanish Mission-style theater with its "wedding cake" tower and chimera guards facing in each direction, with its blue and gold UCLA colors in its lighting and decorative elements; or his wife who played an important role in its Mediterranean design, European art and fabulous furnishings.

A close up view of the Fox Village Theater tower


William Fox probably would not mind being ignored in the wave of publicity as he was notoriously publicity shy even as he built Fox Studios into one of the greatest Hollywood majors of the silent and early sound eras in motion picture history. He was known in his day as the “Lone Eagle of the Film Industry,” but it was impossible to ignore his accomplishments.


At the height of his empire building in the 1920s he owned one third of all the movie theaters in the world. His name was seen prominently on al of the many movies his company produced.


He was known to have boasted that in “every second of every 24 hours (that) passes the name of William Fox is on the screen in some part of the world.”


The son of German Jews who brought him to America before his first birthday from what was then Austria-Hungary, his birth name was Wilhelm Fuchs. He was one of 13 children, of whom only a few survived to adulthood.


Fox was a rugged individual, an inventive businessman, a financial genius and an eccentric. He never carried anything smaller than a $100 bill, and refused to wear a watch. He kept the blinds to his Fox office drawn in what was described as an effort to “make time stand still.”


From the time he purchased his first Nickelodeon in New York City in 1903, until 1929 his fortune and worldwide importance in movies constantly grew.


Fox not only built movie theaters all over the world but was a pioneer of the movie palace, including theaters from Atlanta to San Francisco, that in their day were the standard by which all other theaters were measured.


Fox was the entrepreneur who financed and built the theaters, but he left much of the design, décor and special touches to his wife Eve Leo Fox, who traveled all over Europe collecting art that was used in the movie palaces.

Fox Theater interior as it looked in 1931


Like her husband, Eve Fox kept a low profile. Born in 1883, she married Fox on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1899, the day before the arrival of the 20th Century. They had two children and lived a comfortable life. She stayed for the most part in apartments and estates in and around New York City.

One of the pieces of art on the landing of the Fox Village Theater landing


Fox’s list of accomplishments in movie history is really astounding. He was the leader in the successful effort to win a legal battle against Thomas Edison who claimed a monopoly over the movie industry. That opened the door to the modern movie industry.


He built Fox Studio in 1923 on 100 acres of land near Hollywood using the most innovative and modern methods to create a full service operation that did everything from create movies to sell them worldwide.  


It was Fox who invented the modern movie publicity machine and created the first movie star (Theda Bara), as well as the first cowboy star (Tom Mix), and launched the movie star system of promotion. It was Fox, not Warner Bros (which was the first to exhibit a sound movie using a low tech system), that developed the first workable sound system for movies, which became the industry standard.


Tragically, the name and legend of William Fox has been all but erased from Hollywood history because of problems late in his career and life. On the eve of the Great Depression, Fox did a deal to acquire MGM studios, but it required government approval and intricate financing. Unfortunately, in the midst of his effort, he was in an auto accident that ruined his plans for a mega-merger; and led to him losing control of his company to financial manipulators.


In the wake of the failed merger and the rise of the Depression, Fox was forced to declare bankruptcy.


The Wall Street financiers who forced Fox out were never able to repeat his success with the studio. That would only come later when they merged with Twentieth Pictures, run by Daryl Zanuck, who brought the studio to its second great period.


Muckraker Upton Sinclair, in his curious 1933 book on William Fox, summed up what happened in the Prologue to his thick volume: “He had been the biggest man in the industry, the one real businessman of them all, the one who could have saved them in this slump. And not because he was in trouble, but because he was so successful, because he was making too much money, the Wall Street crowd had surrounded him, blocked him off, and taken his profit making machine away from. Him. And the strangest thing – when they got it, they didn’t know what to do with it, all they were able to do was loot the properties, and now they were a shell, ready to collapse.”


Unfortunately, drawing on his experience with the corrupt Tammany politicians in New York City, Fox tried to bribe a federal bankruptcy court judge in Atlantic City. It leaked out and Fox was indicted and convicted and sentenced to a jail sentence.


In the decade that followed, the movie industry was struck by a series of scandals. There was great sensitivity about the bad publicity and when Fox got out of prison, he was considered a problem and was essentially in a publicity-sense blackballed by the industry.


For all of his significant contributions to the founding of the modern movie industry and his significant accomplishments, Fox became the forgotten pioneer of his era. While Mayer, the Warner Bros. and others were heralded, Fox was forgotten.


His last name still stands atop the Westwood Village Theater, but even now he is given no credit for his significant accomplishment in the creation of one of the most important movie palaces of all time.


But now you know the role this shy mogul and his modest wife played, so he is not completely forgotten and ignored.


To borrow the title of a 1969 biography of the movie industry pioneer, to some he will always be, “The Greatest Fox Of Them All.”



Read more at the LOS ANGELES TIMES


A list of other new owners includes Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher McQuarrie, Judd Apatow, Damien Chazelle, Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus, Bradley Cooper, Alfonso Cuarón, Hannah Fidell, Alejandro González Iñárritu, James Gunn, Sian Heder, Rian Johnson, Gil Kenan, Karyn Kusama, Justin Lin, Phil Lord, David Lowery, Chris Miller, Todd Phillips, G, Jay Roach, Seth Rogen, Emma Seligman, , Denis Villeneuve, Lulu Wang and Chloé Zhao.



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