The Astoria Studio: Paramount (1920–1932) | Read Series Introduction
Posted March 31, 2020 | Barbara Miller, Director of Curatorial Affairs
In 1920, Famous Players-Lasky (later known as Paramount) combined its four film laboratories and five stages across New York and New Jersey into a single studio complex in the residential neighborhood of Astoria. Its convenient location a few blocks from the elevated subway line (opened in 1917) meant that the hundreds of daily workers needed to operate the studio had easy access to cheap and dependable public transportation, while stars and executives enjoyed a short drive over the Queensboro Bridge. Local kids peered through holes in the backlot fence, hoping for a glimpse of Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, or W.C. Fields, who each starred in some of the 114 silent features Paramount made at the Astoria Studio. Disenchanted with Hollywood, such directors as D.W. Griffith and Alan Dwan cherished the relative autonomy and access to stage-trained actors and technicians that the New York studio offered.
In 1928, Paramount installed a Western Electric sound recording unit, and extended the building into the backlot to keep the noisy carpentry shops from interfering with production of the “talkies.” The next four years saw the production of more than 200 short comedies, talking features, and musicals, including the Marx Brothers’s Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930). In 1932, Paramount left the studio to consolidate its operations in California.
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