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Universal Pictures will be marking its 100th Anniversary in 2012. As Director of Archives & Collections for NBCUniversal, I am charged with keeping a vast record of the amazing work produced by our company. Part of that is also reflecting back on how our illustrious company has evolved over the past 100 years and looking at the tradition of re-imagining our logo to commemorate significant milestones.

I’m excited to share with you a recount of the many evolutions our logo has taken over the years.

Legend has it that Carl Laemmle named the company after seeing a “Universal Pipe Fittings” truck pass by his New York office window.  Though our name may have been inspired by a whim, today Universal is considered a pioneer in cinematic history.  Our logo symbolizes the films we’ve created which have not only impacted millions, but also helped tell the story of filmmaking.

The Universal logo has gone on to change over the years since 1912. From the silent logo of UNIVERSAL FILMS encircling the globe…to the ‘droning propeller plane circling the globe’ that marked the arrival of sound…and finally, to today’s more modern and vivid Universe—the Universal logo has reflected the evolution of film.

Today, we are unveiling the new still of the Universal logo for our centennial and giving you a special look into our logo’s progression over the years.  We thank you for being a part of our history and invite you to join us in the 100th anniversary celebration. It’s going to be an exciting year and I am thrilled to be documenting the entire celebration for our company!

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Did You Know…

Director John Hughes made his directorial debut at Universal with the film Sixteen Candles (1984). Starring Molly Ringwald as the high school sophomore everyone forgets on her 16th birthday, Sixteen Candles (1984) marked one of the first entries in a line of successful films that marked the 1980s as a generation of teen angst, frustration and social apathy. As one of the most influential directors speaking out for this generation, Hughes redefined the teen comedy genre by adding a sense of seriousness and depth to his characters. He was also responsible for jumpstarting the career of a group of young actors that we associate as the “Brat Pack.” Director John Hughes continued his exploration in the 1980s teenager with other Universal films like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Weird Science (1985). Hughes passed away in 2009 leaving behind a legacy of timeless films that still resonate to today.

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Did You Know…

Boris Karloff is only one of many legendary actors that portrayed Frankenstein’s Monster in numerous Universal productions featuring the character? Beginning with Frankenstein (1931), Karloff, along with the iconic make-up designed by Jack Pierce, set the precedent to which we recognize the famed movie monster on-screen today. Karloff also portrayed Frankenstein’s Monster in the follow-up films The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939).

Do you recognize any of the other actors portraying Frankenstein’s Monster? One actor, who originally played the Wolf Man in The Wolf Man (1941) appears as Frankenstein’s Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). Also, Universal’s original Count Dracula takes the role of Frankenstein’s Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). This actor, strange enough, was originally cast by the studio for Karloff’s role in the original 1931 production.

Following these portrayals, another actor famous for his career in westerns would play Frankenstein’s Monster in three Universal productions: House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Along with other interpretations of the famed monster in the Hammer Films franchise, we would see another modern version of Frankenstein’s Monster in Van Helsing (2004).

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Did you know…

Universal Studios’ Stage 28 is considered by many to be the most historic sound stage in Hollywood?  The stage was constructed in 1924 for Universal’s blockbuster production, The Phantom of the Opera.  Legend has it that Universal’s founder, Carl Laemmle, fell in love with this story in 1922 while vacationing in Paris.  The Phantom’s author, Gaston Leroux, gave Laemmle a copy of his book after Laemmle visited the famous Paris Opera House.  After reading the book in one night, Laemmle decided Universal should make it into a movie.

Laemmle considered sending a cast and crew to Paris for filming, but later determined it was too expensive.  Instead, he decided to build a replica of the Paris Opera House at Universal City.  Completed in 1924, Stage 28 was the first sound stage constructed on a structural steel framework set in concrete foundations. 

Universal’s 1925 release of The Phantom of the Opera starred Lon Chaney as Erik, the disfigured genius who lived in the cellars of the Paris Opera House.  This role proved to be one of Chaney’s most famous and compelling performances.  Many other Universal films have been set in the replica Paris Opera House of Stage 28, but The Phantom of the Opera is by far the most famous.  To this day, the stage is still known as “The Phantom Stage,” and is believed to be haunted by Lon Chaney’s ghost!

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The new Universal animated logo, updated in honor of our 100th anniversary.

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Did you know…

There was once a school on the lot for Universal’s contracted child stars?  Formerly located on the lower Universal lot, the school was set in a little gray cottage that sat adjacent to the old executive bungalows. The cottage was later converted to a three-room schoolhouse in 1939 to consolidate the teaching of child actors in one location.  Before this time, young starlets were educated whenever possible on the movie sets.

Gladys Hoene (pronounced “Haney”), was the lone teacher at the school from 1939 – 1962.  Qualified to teach everything from kindergarten to college courses, Mrs. Hoene was responsible for the education of many child actors, including Deanna Durbin, Ann Blythe, Donald O’Connor, Gigi Perreau, Piper Laurie, and Sandra Dee.  9-year-old Elizabeth Taylor attended the school in 1941 during the filming of her first feature film, There’s One Born Every Minute.

Mrs. Hoene worked under the supervision of the Los Angeles Board of Education, and the lesson plans were based on a close cooperation between Mrs. Hoene and each student’s regular public or private school teacher.  All high school diplomas at Universal’s school were awarded by University High School in Los Angeles, although the students rarely attended the school.

Some of the last students at Universal’s little schoolhouse were Mary Badham, Philip Alford, and John Vegna, who starred in Universal’s 1962 production, To Kill a Mockingbird.  The school was demolished in March 1965 to make room for the current Universal City Plaza.

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Winner of seven Academy Awards, The Sting is one of Universal’s most treasured films.  Taking place in Chicago during the 1930s, director George Roy Hill captured the ‘art of the con’ with stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  In order to capture that same essence and time period for the movie poster, the studio commissioned graphic designer and illustrator Richard Amsel to head the project.

Born in Philadelphia and educated at the Philadelphia College of Art, Amsel began his career as a graphic designer by winning a talent search for another film campaign as a student at age 22.  Following a successful stint designing album covers and magazine ads, Amsel quickly gained popularity as a leading poster artist due to his unique illustrative style.  He developed a reputation for illustrating characters that perfectly evoked time period nostalgia and he quickly gained notice for redefining the craft of poster making. 

In order to capture the time period for The Sting one-sheet, Amsel modeled his illustrations after the work of artist J.C. Leyendecker and his classic Saturday Evening Post covers.  In homage to Leyendecker’s “Arrow Collar Man,” Amsel illustrated Robert Redford and Paul Newman in a similar nostalgic style reminiscent of 1930s Chicago.

With marketing campaigns turning towards photography as the means to promote movies during the 1980s, Amsel remained productive by designing movie posters for the science fiction and fantasy genres.  Although the field became limited in scope and illustrations were now seen as dated by marketing departments, Amsel was still able to produce some of the most iconic movie posters of the 1980s including Universal productions Flash Gordon and The Dark Crystal.  Even though the theme of his work shifted, Amsel’s illustrations maintained that same nostalgia factor that was perfect for these futuristic and fantasy period films.

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Did you know…

 

Universal’s most famous comedy team, Abbott & Costello, were also radio and television stars on NBC?  Abbott & Costello made 30 feature films for Universal between 1940 and 1955, becoming the studio’s most profitable name of the era.  From 1942 – 1947, they were the also the stars of NBC Radio’s Abbott and Costello Show.  Beginning in 1951, they moved their talent to the small screen, where they were frequent guest hosts on NBC Television’s Colgate Comedy Hour.

Abbott & Costello first met in 1930, when Lou Costello performed his comedy act at a Brooklyn, NY theatre where Bud Abbott was a cashier.  Grudgingly, Abbott first appeared with Costello on stage when Lou’s original partner fell sick one night in 1931.

The two officially became a team in 1936, touring the vaudeville circuit together.  In 1939, Abbott & Costello signed a movie contract with Universal over MGM because their agent thought they would receive greater exposure at Universal.  One Night in the Tropics (1940) was their first film, but their popularity exploded in 1941 when they appeared in Buck Privates (1941) with the Andrews Sisters.  Buck Privates grossed a studio-record $10 million for Universal.

Abbott & Costello continued their comedy routine on the big screen, small screen, and radio until they amicably split in 1956.  Lou Costello passed away in 1959, and Bud Abbott in 1974 - but today, their comedy continues to generate new legions of fans around the world.