Herbert John Yates (August 24, 1880 – February 3, 1966) was the founder and president of Republic Pictures, who had John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers in their pictures. Under Yates' leadership between 1935 and 1959, Republic made 956 feature films and 849 serial chapters, some of which are classics screened on television and released on DVD.
Yates was born in Brooklyn in 1880. He started his business career at an early age, building a newspaper sales business on the streets of Brooklyn. Later, he ascended rapidly through the ranks of the American Tobacco Company, retiring from that business with a sizable fortune before the age of 30.
Focusing on the movie and recording business, he built a small empire, acquiring record companies and film laboratories. In the twenties, he provided financing for Mack Sennett and Fatty Arbuckle.
In October 1929, his Consolidated Film Industries took control of ARC (American Record Corporation, a company created as a result of a merger between a number of dime store record labels). In the following years, the company was very involved in a very depressed market for phonograph records, buying failing labels at bargain prices to exploit their catalogue. (In December 1931 Warner Bros. leased Brunswick Records, Vocalion Records and associated companies to ARC.) In 1932, ARC was king of the 3 records for a dollar market, selling 6 million units, twice as much as RCA Victor. In an effort to get back on top, RCA launched the low priced Bluebird Records label. ARC bought out the Columbia Records catalogue in 1934. In the 1930s ARC produced Brunswick and Columbia at 75c and Oriole (for McCrory), Romeo (for Kress), Melotone, Vocalion, Banner, Conqueror (for Sears) and Perfect at 35c or 3 for $1.00.
In December 1938, the entire ARC complex was purchased from Consolidated Film for $700,000 by the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). After CBS brought back Columbia as their flagship label and they brought back the inactive OKeh Records label to replace Vocalion, which allowed the rights to the Brunswick and Vocalion labels to return to Warner Bros. They sold the rights to those labels to Decca Records in the early 1940s (but in a complicated move, CBS managed to keep the rights of ARC material from 1931 through 1938.)
Yates formed Republic in 1935 by arranging for the merger of several smaller production companies with his Consolidated Film Industries, which was providing film processing and financing for many studios in Hollywood. Among the merged companies were Mascot Pictures, which brought the serial to Republic, and Monogram Pictures, which brought the Mack Sennett lot in Studio City. Under Yates' leadership, Republic first leased and then purchased the lot, expanding it from six stages to nineteen and adding state-of-the-art production facilities.
In 1934, Gene Autry had his first movie role in the Mascot production of In Old Santa Fe. Autry had been a recording artist under contract to Yates' American Record Corporation: he would go on to star in 56 movies for Republic between 1935 and 1947. In 1938, Yates created a second American icon by giving Roy Rogers his first starring role in Under Western Stars. Rogers filled in for Autry during the war and ended up making more than 80 movies under the Republic banner.
Republic's most acclaimed movie was The Quiet Man (1952), directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Ford had tried to make the Irish love story for years, but none of the studio heads would take a chance on it. Yates risked a budget of over a million dollars, making possible such extravagances as Technicolor and location filming in Ireland. It earned triple its cost, and earned Republic its only Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Johnny Guitar (1954), directed by Nicholas Ray, with Joan Crawford in the lead, has become another well regarded Republic picture.
In 1948, Yates had left his wife, Petra, for the Czech figure skater Vera Hruba Ralston; the couple married in 1949. He employed Vera's brother Rudy Ralston as a producer at Republic.
In 1958 Yates was accused of exploiting Republic for his own gain, in particular his promotion of his wife's career. It was alleged that 18 or her 20 films had been flops.
He and Vera's relatives were pushed out of Republic and the movie business in 1959, the same year Republic's board decided to switch emphasis from production to distribution. Yates died at his residence in Sherman Oaks in 1966.
The Republic lot survives today as CBS Studio Center. Notable among Yates' contributions to the lot are the Mabel Normand sound stage, built during the war and later home to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and an award-winning music scoring auditorium that has hosted such famous names as Aaron Copland and Artur Rubinstein.