The library that Japanese electronics giant Sony will get with its pending takeover of Columbia Pictures includes the greatest film ever made about its country's bombing of Pearl Harbor--Fred Zinnemann's 1953 Oscar-winner "From Here to Eternity."
Former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, will also become part of Sony's collection: "Hellcats of the Navy," their 1957 film about the exploits of a World War II submarine, now sits in the Columbia library.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 30, 1989 Home Edition Calendar Part 5 Page 2 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Columbia Library--There are 23,000 episodes of 260 television series in Columbia Pictures' library. A story in Thursday's Calendar contained an incorrect figure.
While not considered one of Hollywood's best, Columbia's library includes 12 best picture Academy Award winners, such recent hits as "Ghostbusters II," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Tootsie," and such popular American TV sitcoms as "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched," "Gidget," "The Monkees" and "Dennis the Menace."
These titles are among the 2,700 feature films and 2,300 episodes of 260 TV series that Columbia holds in its library. Lisbeth Barron, an entertainment analyst with McKinley, Allsopp Inc. in New York, estimates that the Columbia library alone is worth $1.05 billion, and that it generates about $75 million a year in cash flow for the studio. (In contrast, Turner's 3,700-title MGM library, which he bought three years ago for $1.3 billion, generates about $175 million a year.)
Sony is anxious to get its hands on these films and TV shows--called "software" in corporate parlance--to service the high-tech hardware it manufactures. The company already produces laser-disc video players and has a push on to get consumers to buy its 8-millimeter cassette player. Sony also is developing technology for high-definition TV.
"If they have the library, they can force you to buy their kind of hardware," explained Naofumi Okamoto, president of a Japanese-owned film studio here, Apricot Entertainment. Sony, he said, learned a hard lesson six years ago when the company's Betamax videocassette technology lost the battle for consumer loyalty to the rival VHS format.
Even though Columbia's feature film library is not as highly regarded as some of the others, Sony will certainly be getting plenty of big-name pictures for its money. Columbia is tied with United Artists for the most best picture winners, an even dozen that began with the classic 1934 "It Happened One Night" and includes two from the current decade: "Gandhi" from 1982 and "The Last Emperor" of 1987.
For more than two decades during Hollywood's Golden Era, from 1932 to 1958, Columbia president Harry Cohn ran his studio on a shoestring. The studio was late in introducing color because it was expensive, and Cohn kept few big stars under contract, said Jere Henshaw, who served as casting director for the studio during the late 1950s.
"Columbia was always behind," said Henshaw, now an independent producer at Apollo Pictures. "They didn't have much of a library.
The result is a plethora of B-films from that period, titles like "Snow White Meets the Three Stooges," "Jungle Moon Men," "Screaming Mimi," "The Tingler" (in which theaters put "tinglers" in their seats to tickle customers), "The Legend of Tom Dooley" (based on the song) and "Have Rocket Will Travel" (starring the Three Stooges in outer space).
But Cohn did manage to attract some key film-making talents, like directors Frank Capra, Robert Rossen, David Lean, Elia Kazan and Fred Zinnemann. Capra directed "It Happened One Night," as well as the classics "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "You Can't Take It With You," the 1938 Oscar winner.
Under Cohn, Columbia subsequently won best picture Oscars for Rossen's "All the King's Men," Zinnemann's "From Here to Eternity," Kazan's "On the Waterfront" and Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
Cohn died in 1958, but the studio continued to do well at Oscar time, winning three Academy Awards for best picture during the 1960s--for Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," Zinnemann's "A Man for All Seasons" and Carol Reed's "Oliver!"
Robert Benton's "Kramer vs. Kramer" won the best picture award for the studio in 1979.
Other popular Columbia titles include "Shampoo," "The Way We Were," "Funny Girl," "The Last Picture Show," "The Big Chill" and "Tootsie."
"Sure, Columbia has 100, even 200, great titles," said Henshaw. But, he added, libraries like those at MGM, Fox and Paramount boast many hundreds of films that have proved popular over the years.
"Columbia's library has neither the value nor the quality of other studio libraries," added a high-ranking executive at another company who is familiar with all the libraries.
The Columbia library, said Barron, "is much more extensive on the TV side. It's a bit weaker on the feature side."
Among Columbia's TV shows are dozens of sitcoms that will generate millions of dollars in the rerun market. Current hits include "Who's the Boss?" "227," "Designing Women," "My Two Dads" and "Married . . . With Children."
Columbia's array of sitcoms will give Sony a leg-up over a key competitor, MCA-Universal, whose library is dominated by hourlong series. Although one-hour action adventure shows do much better than sitcoms overseas, reruns of sitcoms are most popular here.
"The big money is coming in from half-hour shows," said Barron.
Columbia also owns the rights to the game shows created by Merv Griffin: "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!"
Barron believes that Sony substantially overpaid for all of Columbia Pictures' operations. She values the company at $21.20 a share. Sony has offered $27 a share.