During the early 1900s, when Chicago was the center of the motion picture industry, Donald J. Bell worked as a projectionist in theaters around northern Illinois, where he became well acquainted with the equipment used for showing movies. As his interest in films and equipment grew, a friend helped secure him permission to use the machinist tools in the powerhouse of Chicago's Northwestern Railway, where Bell remodeled an Optoscope projector [lantern slide projector by KODAK] and later modified a Kinodrome projector [a vaudeville attraction and exhibition service - various changing topical motion picture shorts - by George Spoor]. Bell met Albert S. Howell at the Crary Machine Works, where many of the parts for projectors were manufactured.
Howell was born in Michigan and traveled to Chicago to work in a machine shop that built and repaired motion picture projectors. In 1906 he applied for his first patent, a device that improved framing for 35mm Kinodrome motion picture projectors. With Bell's experience as a movie projectionist, contacts in the movie industry, and ready cash, and Howell's inventive genius and mechanical aptitude, the two men decided to start their own business. Incorporated with a capitalization of $5,000 in February 1907, Bell & Howell Company entered the business of manufacturing, jobbing, leasing, and repairing machines.
During its first year of business, over 50 percent of the company's business involved repairing movie equipment made by other manufacturers. What made the company famous, however, was its development of equipment that addressed the two most important problems plaguing the movie industry at the time: flickering and standardization. Flickering in the early movies was due to the effects of hand-cranked film, which made the speed erratic. Standardization was needed as divergences in film width during these years made it nearly impossible to show the same film in any two cities within the United States.
By 1908, Bell & Howell refined the Kinodrome projector, the film perforator, and the camera and continuous printer, all for the 35mm film width. With the development of this complete system, and the company's refusal to either manufacture or service products of any other size than the 35mm width, Bell & Howell forced film standardization within the motion picture industry.
In 1910, the company made a cinematograph camera entirely of wood and leather. When Bell and Howell learned that their camera had been damaged by termites and mildew during an exploration trip in Africa, they designed the first all metal camera. Introduced in 1912, the design 2709 soon garnered the reputation as 'the most precision film mechanism ever made' and was produced for 46 continuous years. Following the relocation of the motion picture industry from Chicago to Hollywood, Bell & Howell's first movie camera was used in Southern California in 1912. By 1919, nearly 100 percent of the equipment used to make movies in Hollywood was manufactured by Bell & Howell.
In the midst of the company's success, however, internal problems began to emerge. While Howell supervised production, Bell acted as a company salesperson, a job that required many long trips. In order to meet the needs of a growing business during his absences, Bell hired Joseph McNabb as both bookkeeper and general manager in 1916. When Bell returned from one of his trips, he discovered that McNabb had made drastic changes in the operation of the company. While confronting McNabb, Bell accused Howell of acting as McNabb's accomplice. Bell gave them their last paychecks and fired them.
The following day, McNabb and Howell returned to the office and offered to purchase Bell's holdings in the company. The purchase of Bell's interests in Bell & Howell amounted to $183,895. Having contributed an initial investment of $3,500 a little over ten years earlier, Bell was satisfied with the purchase price. Bell moved first to New York and then to California and was never again associated with the company except in name.
Bell and Howell had expanded into the amateur movie market in 1919 when the company began developing 17.5mm equipment. In 1921 McNabb and Howell were invited to Rochester, New York, by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak to observe experiments using l6mm reversal material. McNabb and Howell were impressed with the results and redesigned all the company's 17.5mm equipment to use the 16mm film. In 1923 Bell and Howell manufactured the first spring-driven l6mm camera, beating Eastman Kodak by two years. The demand for this camera was so great that, even at a price of $175, it was on back order until 1930. [Jack Robinson]

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Founded as the Société Pathé-Frères in Paris, France, on 28 September 1896 by the brothers Charles [1863–1957], Émile [1860-1937], Théophile and Jacques Pathé. During the first part of the 20th century, Pathé became the largest film equipment and production company in the world as well as a major producer of phonograph records.
The driving force behind the film operation was Charles Pathé who had helped to open a gramophone shop in 1894 and then established a phonograph factory at Chatou on the outskirts of Paris. Successful, he saw the opportunities that new means of entertainment offered and in particular by the fledgling motion picture industry. Having decided to expand the record business to include film equipment, Charles Pathé oversaw a rapid expansion of the company.
In 1902, Pathé acquired the Lumière Brothers patents and then set about to design an improved studio camera. Their technologically advanced equipment, new processing facilities built at Vincennes [1903], an industrial suburb of Paris, a studio at Montreuil [1904] and aggressive merchandising combined with an efficient distribution systems allowed the company to capture a huge share of the international market. Pathé first expanded to London in 1902 where it set up production facilities and a chain of movie theaters. By 1909, Pathé had built more than 200 movie theaters in France and Belgium and had facilities in Madrid, Moscow [1902], Rome, New York [1904], Australia and Japan.

Joinville-le-Pont, France

Bound Brook, New Jersey, USA

The company began its production operations in the USA in 1910 when it converted a former cash register factory in Bound Brook, New Jersey, into a movie studio. The decision to make this move was that of J.A. Berst, vice-president and general manager, who had been sent to the USA in 1904 to manage Pathé's interests. He recommended that specialized production, made in the USA, was the logical course for the company. His recommendation also included the establishment [in 1911] of an American version ['Pathé's Weekly'] of the newsreel release which Pathé had pioneered in France in 1908. To staff its new operation, Pathé sent a basic crew of experienced French filmmakers, led by director general Louis J. Gasnier. One of Pathé's newsreel and studio cameramen was Arthur Miller. By 1912, Pathé had completed modern studios in Jersey City [1 Congress Street], a site overlooking the Hudson River and Manhattan. It was here that the serial 'The Perils of Pauline' was made.
In 1914 the French parent company sold its American facilities to Merrill, Lynch & Company. Pathé became primarily a releasing organization and the name was eventually changed to Pathé Exchange.
Prior to World War I, Pathé-Frères was the most completely integrated film company in the international marketplace. It controlled all of the various branches of the film industry. Pathé dominated Europe's market in motion picture cameras and projectors. It has been estimated that at one time 60% of all films were shot with Pathé equipment. Worldwide, the company emphasized research, investing in such experiments as hand-colored film and the synchronization of film and gramophone recordings.
In 1918, a radical change of policy could be observed. Pathé-Frères was split into two distinct corporate bodies: Pathé-Frères [Disque Pathé/Pathé Records], a company involved with talking machines [phonographs and recordings], managed by Émile Pathé, and Pathé-Cinéma, a company responsible for film production, distribution, and exhibition, controlled by Charles Pathé.
The following year Pathé-Cinéma began to liquidate its foreign subsidiaries, the most enterprising of which, the American subsidiary, Pathé Exchange, was sold in 1923 for 26 million francs. In 1920, Pathé-Cinéma completely ceased film production and rentals. These activities were undertaken by a new company, Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma. Charles Pathé was directly behind the creation of this company; it was part of his policy of asset liquidation.
The directors of Pathé-Cinéma justified this policy to the minor shareholders as the result of unfavorable conditions in the international market. In fact, this justification hid the real objectives of the major stockholders: to realize their former investments under the most favorable circumstances. This liquidation policy was profitable for Charles Pathé.
Pathé-Cinéma, much reduced in size by and to the profit of its major shareholders, was left very fragile if not completely compromised. In these circumstances, its future looked bleak.
After the creation of Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma in January 1921, Pathé-Cinéma no longer produced or distributed films in 35mm. This was done by Pathé-Consortium. Instead, Pathé-Cinéma specialized in 'reduced film formats'. Pathé's engineers came up with the home cinema system 'Pathé-Baby', using 9.5mm film [35mm split into thee film strips]. The Pathé-Baby projector was unveiled to the public in October 1922. It was a commercial success, its value being enhanced by the introduction in 1923 of a camera. Like the projector, it was hand-cranked [later with a clockwork] and used reversal film housed in daylight-loading chargers; processing could be done by the user with a Pathé developing kit or alternatively entrusted to the company's own plant.

The complete set

Pathé-Cinéma's capital value was 45 million francs in 1928, comprising 450,000 ordinary shares [each with one vote]. The capital was raised by 5 million by means of the creation of 'multiple vote shares'. These shares were purchased by the members of the board of directors [including Charles Pathé], who thereby acquired 36% of the votes, in addition to the approximately 20% of the ordinary shares which they already controlled. The speculative nature of their creation became evident when they were later sold to the Bernard Natan group for 50 million francs. The abuse engendered by the creation of 'multiple vote shares' resulted in two financial laws calling a halt to their creation and directing their elimination.
The arrival of sound and the major investment that the changeover from silent to sound would require accelerated the retirement of a large number of the industry's leaders.
Charles Pathé preferred to cite this combination of events in order to justify his departure. According to him, 'he would have needed the strength of a young man to take part in the revolution which was completely overturning the cinema'. He was over 65 years old. In fact this context masked Charles Pathé's final transaction; he wished, before his retirement, to make the creation of the 'multiple vote shares' profitable.
Jean-Simon Cerf, a well-known Paris-based barrister and businessman, who was seeking a purchaser on behalf of the holders of these shares, presented a candidate to the Pathé directors: Bernard Natan. The 50 million franc transaction [plus 4 million francs for the intermediary] for the control of the 'multiple vote shares' was conducted in several stages, from January 1929 onwards. [Pathé explained modestly, 'I had only 9,520 shares. I sold them to him for 10 million. To be precise, for 9,996,000 francs'.]
By 1929 Bernard Natan [born Natan Tannenzaft or Tanenzapf, 1886-1942] was an established industrialist in the [film] business [Rapid-Film]. His film laboratory operation in the rue Francoeur, Paris [now occupied by La fémis, école nationale supérieure des métiers de l'image et du son], had been transformed in the course of the decade into a small-scale but very dynamic integrated company. Since 1926 he had combined laboratory activities and the production of advertising films. With the creation [1926] of two shooting stages he participated actively in film production as a service provider and as a producer.

Bernard Natan

6, rue Francoeur, Paris, France

Natan, who did not possess the necessary funds for the purchase of Pathé-Cinéma, put up Rapid-Film as his initial contribution to the deal. The merger of Rapid-Film and Pathé-Cinéma was agreed to by the Board of Directors of Pathé-Cinéma on 25 February 1929 and gave rise to the nomination of Natan as 'administrateur-délégué' of Pathé-Cinéma. The net worth of Rapid-Film was estimated by experts to be more than 25 million francs. Thus Natan did not come empty-handed to the position of director of Pathé-Cinéma [as is sometimes charged].
Bernard Natan was introduced to Pathé-Cinéma's shareholders by Charles Pathé and president Baron Francisque Gabet at the Annual General Meeting of 3 July 1929. The company's future direction was outlined by Gabet. For the shareholders, this plan announcing a policy of large-scale integration represented a total break from the position of previous years. It pointed, in effect, to the merger of Rapid-Film with Pathé-Cinéma and the establishment, already well advanced, of a major distribution and exhibition network. The required shareholder resolutions were approved by a large majority.
All this shows that the take-over of Pathé-Cinéma was less a matter of a speculative deal orchestrated by Bernard Natan than the interconnection of parties and interests set up in the course of the decade around the name Pathé. Things crystallized with the final liquidation of assets and the sale of the 'multiple vote shares' executed under the direction of Charles Pathé. This cluster of interests and the financial difficulties of the Banque Bauer et Marchal were at the root of the difficulties of the newly formed company.
Despite these difficulties and the campaigns waged by the press, Pathé-Cinéma, under Bernard Natan's management, continued to function. In the years between 1930 and 1935, despite the crisis, the company generated close to 100 million francs in profit.
During this period work did not stop at the laboratories in Joinville and Francoeur. More than 60 feature films were produced and directed by the company in its studios. These films were distributed and exhibited by companies which were themselves controlled by Pathé-Cinéma. Natan also bought and built movie theaters in France and Belgium and bought the Société des Cinéromans with its Joinville-le-Pont studios. The Joinville and Francoeur studios, all equipped for sound, were considered among Europe's most modern facilities. Natan also invested heavily into research and development to expand Pathé's film business. He funded the research of Henri Chrétien, who developed the anamorphic lens. He relaunched [the newsreel] Pathé-Journal [not distributed since 1927] and presented the first talkie newsreel in November 1929. And he also expanded Pathé's business interests into television and radio.
To finance this expansion, the company had to increase its capital and issue new bonds. Unfortunately, these two operations were only 50% financed by the Banque Bauer et Marchal [which went bankrupt in 1934], which caused a cash flow crisis.
As of late 1930, some industrialists [with the apparent backing of Charles Pathé] engaged in overt maneuvers to buy [on the cheap] Pathé and its newly created assets. A vicious press campaign with anti-Semitic and xenophobic overtones was launched. Early in 1936, the Tribunal de Commerce appointed an official receiver who quickly filed for bankruptcy: 'the liabilities, estimated at 60 million francs, can never be met', the court declared.
Natan was arrested for fraud on 3 September 1936. In and out of prison on bail, he fought through the courts for 27 months. The battle for control climaxed with his arrest in December 1938, at a time when anti-Semitic propaganda had reached heights unimaginable today. His trial ended in 1939, and he was sentenced to an indefinite term in the Sainte, Paris's maximum security prison.
The success of Bernard Natan's policy, so often denied by historians, can be measured paradoxically by the conclusions of the official bankruptcy report written in 1938: 'The Pathé-Cinéma affair exceeds the bounds of a normal industrial matter. The size of its news and exhibition resources make it of national interest. The diversity of its activities, among which the most apparent are of an artistic nature, make the handling of them a particularly delicate matter'.
This observation is revealing. For the experts, the affluent Société Pathé-Cinéma brought to ruin by the doings of Bernard Natan was a matter of national importance. It was moreover from this asset, principally established by Bernard Natan [notably with its exhibition venues], that the company derived an income until the 1980s. The confrontation of the myth of the swindler with this reality explains much both of the greed surrounding this company and of the outburst of sentiment against Natan.
In September 1942, Bernard Natan was freed, stripped of his French nationality, handed over to the Germans and deported to Auschwitz on 25 September. He died several weeks later...
Pathé was reorganized in 1943 as the Société Nouvelle Pathé Cinéma, with studio operations responsible for works such as 'Les enfants du paradis/Children of Paradise' [1943-44, Marcel Carné; ph: Roger Hubert; studios: Joinville-le-Pont & Studios de la Victorine, Nice]. During the 1970s, operating theaters overtook film production as Pathé's primary source of revenue. [Using quotes from different sources, e.g. Wikipedia, but especially the article 'The origins of Pathé-Natan' by Gilles Willems (1997).]

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