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Nicholas M. Schenck

Nicholas M. Schenck

Nicholas M. Schenck, born in Rybinsk, Russia on November 14, 1881 - died March 4, 1969 in Florida, was a motion-picture mogul and impresario.

One of seven children, Schenck was born in Rybinsk, a Volga River village in Tsarist Russia. He and his family, including his older brother Joseph Schenck, emigrated to the United States in 1893, whereupon they settled in a tenement on New York's Lower East Side. Subsequently they relocated to Harlem, the population of which at that time consisted primarily of Jewish and Italian immigrants. Upon their arrival in the United States, Joe and Nick, as they came to be known, worked as a team hawking newspapers and subsequently in a drugstore. Within two years' time, they had saved up enough money to buy out the drugstore's owner and begin casting about for other business ventures.

Nicholas SchenckOne summer day, the Schencks took a trolley ride to Fort George, in uptown Manhattan, and noticed that thousands of people were milling around idly waiting for the return trains. The brothers rented a beer concession and also provided some vaudeville entertainment. It was at this time that the Schencks made the acquaintance of Marcus Loew, a theater operator. Loew, having noted the brothers' success, advanced them capital, permitting them to establish a large amusement park at Fort George, New Jersey in 1908. Called Palisades Amusement Park, it remained in operation until the early 1970s, although the brothers sold their interest in it in 1934.

Subsequently, Nicholas Schenck and his brother worked with Loew in the theater business. Between approximately 1907 and 1919, they reinvested in real estate for nickelodeons, vaudeville and eventually moving pictures. In 1919, Loew acquired a motion picture studio. At this time, Nicholas Schenck was spending more time with Loew's, Inc., so it was Joseph who relocated to Hollywood, eventually becoming president of United Artists Corporation. Loew, however, died in 1927, at which time Nicholas Schenck took charge. A short time later, both silent pictures and the Roaring Twenties drew to a close.

By 1932, Schenck was running an entertainment empire that consisted of a thriving theater circuit and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer--a production combination of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures (founded by Samuel Goldwyn) and the Louis B. Mayer Company. The conglomerate, which Nicholas Schenck continued to manage closely from New York, employed 12,000 people. Schenck, by demanding a tight production schedule, created tension with Mayer and the famed Irving Thalberg, who was production chief until his death in 1935. Nonetheless, thanks to Schenck's stringent management, MGM was successful, becoming the only film company that continued to pay its investors dividends during the Great Depression.

Under Schenck's leadership, the studio produced a great quantity of films, and the studio system allowed it to retain a wide array of talent under its roof: Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, the Jeannette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy team and countless others. Schenck's adroit business sense made him a wealthy man. In 1927, he and Joseph were reported to be worth about $20 million (approximately 500 million in today's money, possibly more), with a combined yearly income of at least a million. By some estimates, Nicholas Schenck was the eighth richest individual in the United States during the 1930s.

Although Schenck's power and prestige were at their peak after World War II, times were changing, as television loomed on the horizon. Like many in the motion picture industry, Schenck, however, adamantly refused to get involved with the new medium. In the 1950s, Louis B. Mayer had a falling out with Schenck. By the middle of the decade, share prices were sagging and stockholders were growing restive. On December 14, 1955, Arthur M. Loew, the son of Marcus Loew, succeeded Nicholas Schenck as the company's president, although Schenck remained Chairman of the Board. The following year, when Arthur Loew resigned for health reasons, Schenck defied the other directors in the efforts to secure a new president. When Joseph R. Vogel became president, Schenck was named honorary chairman, but retired altogether later that same year.

Nicholas Schenck divided his last years between his estates at Sand Point, Long Island, and Miami Beach. The former, which had purchased in 1942, consisted of a 20-acre property with a main house of 30 rooms, luxuriously appointed. It included a private movie theater and a 200-foot dock. Schenck's first marriage ended in divorce. He was survived by his second wife, Pansy Wilcox. The Schencks had three daughters.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Nicholas M. Schenck Facts

BirthdayNovember 14, 1881
BirthplaceRybinsk, Russia
Date of deathMarch 4, 1969 (Florida, USA, age 87)

Selected Filmography

Kiss Me Kate
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