Monogram was created in the early 1930s from two earlier companies, W. Ray Johnston's Rayart Productions (renamed "Raytone" when sound pictures came in) and Trem Carr's Sono Art-World Wide Pictures. Both specialized in low-budget features and, as Monogram Pictures, continued that policy until 1935, with Carr in charge of production. Another independent producer, Paul Malvern, released his Lone Star Productions westerns (starring John Wayne) through Monogram.
The backbone of the studio in those early days was a father-and-son combination: writer/director Robert N. Bradbury and cowboy actor Bob Steele (born Robert A. Bradbury) were on its roster. Bradbury wrote almost all, and directed many, of the early Monogram and Lone Star westerns. While budgets and production values were lean, Monogram offered a balanced program, including action melodramas, classics and mysteries.
In 1935 Johnston and Carr were wooed by Herbert Yates of Consolidated Film Industries; Yates planned to merge Monogram with several other smaller independent companies to form Republic Pictures. However, after a short time in this new venture, Johnston and Carr discovered that they couldn't get along with Yates, and they left. Carr moved to Universal Pictures, while Johnston reactivated Monogram in 1937.
Producer Walter Mirisch began at Monogram after World War II as assistant to studio head Steve Broidy. He convinced Broidy that the days of low-budget films were ending, and in 1946 Monogram created a new unit, Allied Artists Productions, to make costlier films.
At a time when the average Hollywood picture cost about $800,000 (and the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000), Allied Artists' first release, It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000. Subsequent Allied Artists releases were more economical but did have enhanced production values; many of them were filmed in color.
The studio's new policy permitted what Mirisch called "B-plus" pictures, which were released along with Monogram's established line of "B" fare. Mirisch's prediction about the end of the low-budget film had come true thanks to television, and in September 1952 Monogram announced that henceforth it would only produce films bearing the Allied Artists name. The Monogram brand name was finally retired in 1953. The company was now known as Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.
Allied Artists did retain a few vestiges of its Monogram identity, continuing its popular Stanley Clements action series (through 1953), its "B" westerns (through 1954), its Bomba, the Jungle Boy adventures (through 1955) using Johnny Sheffield, "Boy" of the Tarzan films, and especially its bread-winning comedy series with The Bowery Boys (through 1958, with Clements replacing Leo Gorcey). For the most part, however, Allied Artists was heading in new, ambitious directions under Mirisch. It released the first Cinecolor science fiction film Flight to Mars, then its greatest artistic success--a low-budget film firmly in the Monogram tradition, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released by Allied Artists in 1956.
For a time in the mid-'50s the Mirisch family held great influence at Allied Artists, with Walter as executive producer, his brother Harold Mirisch as head of sales and brother Marvin Mirisch as assistant treasurer. They pushed the studio into big-budget filmmaking, signing contracts with William Wyler, John Huston, Billy Wilder and Gary Cooper. However, when their first big-name productions, Wyler's Friendly Persuasion--which was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture--and Wilder's Love in the Afternoon were box-office flops in 1956–57, Broidy retreated into the kind of pictures Monogram had always favored: low-budget action and thrillers. Mirisch Productions then had success releasing its films through United Artists.
Allied Artists ceased production in 1966 and became a distributor of foreign films, but restarted production with the 1972 release of Cabaret and followed it the next year with Papillon. Both were critical and commercial successes, but high production and financing costs meant they were not big moneymakers for Allied Artists. Allied Artists raised financing for its adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King by selling the European distribution rights to Columbia Pictures and the rest of the backing came from Canadian tax shelters. King was released in 1975, but received disappointing returns. That same year Allied Artists distributed the French import Story of O, but spent much of its earnings defending itself from obscenity charges.
In 1976 Allied Artists attempted diversification when it merged with consumer producers Kalvex and PSP, Inc. The new Allied Artists Industries, Inc. manufactured pharmaceuticals, mobile homes and activewear in addition to films.
Monogram/Allied Artists survived by finding a niche and serving it well. The company lasted until 1979, when runaway inflation and high production costs pushed it into bankruptcy. The post-1947 Monogram/Allied Artists library was bought by television production company Lorimar; today a majority of this library belongs to Warner Bros. Entertainment. The 1936–46 Monogram library was sold in 1954 to Associated Artists Productions, which itself was sold to United Artists in 1958. UA merged with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. The 1936–46 Monogram library was not part of the deal with Ted Turner (the rights to some of these films are now owned by MGM, others are now in the public domain). The pre-1936 Monogram library became incorporated into that of Republic, today a part of Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures. Not long after, it was reorganized into Allied Artists International.
Probably the best-known tribute paid to Monogram came from French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who dedicated his film Breathless (1960) to Monogram.
Today, Monogram Pictures is a division of Allied Artists International. However, as Allied Artists emerged as the predominant brand, Monogram Pictures took a back seat and was dormant for many years. In 2010 Allied Artists renewed the Monogram Pictures trademarks.
Allied Artists had its studio at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, on a 4.5-acre lot. The longtime home (since 1971) of former PBS television station KCET, the station sold the studios to the Church of Scientology in April 2011.
Monogram Pictures operated the Monogram Ranch, its movie ranch in Placerita Canyon near Newhall, California, in the northern San Gabriel Mountains foothills. Tom Mix had used the "Placeritos Ranch" for location shooting for his silent western films. E.R. Hickson became the owner in 1936 and reconstructed all the "frontier western town" sets, moved from the nearby Republic Pictures Movie Ranch (present day Disney Golden Oak Ranch), onto his 110-acre (0.45 km2) ranch. A year later Monogram signed a long-term lease with Hickson for "Placeritos Ranch", with terms that stipulated the ranch be renamed "Monogram Ranch". Actor/cowboy singer/producer Gene Autry purchased the Monogram Ranch property from the Hickson heirs in 1953, renaming it after his film Melody Ranch. Today it's operated as the "Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio" and "Melody Ranch Studios".
In its early years, Monogram could seldom afford big-name movie stars and would employ either former silent-film actors who were idle (Herbert Rawlinson, William Collier, Sr.) or young featured players (Ray Walker, Wallace Ford).
In 1938 Monogram began a long and profitable policy of making series and hiring familiar players to star in them. Frankie Darro, Hollywood's foremost tough-kid actor of the 1930s, joined Monogram and stayed with the company until 1950. Comedian Mantan Moreland co-starred in many of the Darros and continued to be a valuable asset to Monogram through 1949.
Juvenile actors Marcia Mae Jones and Jackie Moran carried a series of homespun romances. Crime themes dominated the roster at Monogram in the late '30s and early '40s. For example, the very forgettable--though endearing--Riot Squad (1941) cast Richard Cromwell as a doctor working covertly for the police to catch the mobsters before his girlfriend Rita Quigley breaks their engagement.
Boris Karloff brought a touch of class to the Monogram release schedule with his "Mr. Wong" mysteries. This prompted producer Sam Katzman to engage Bela Lugosi for a follow-up series of Monogram thrillers. Katzman hit the bull's-eye with his street-gang series The East Side Kids, which ran from 1940-45. East Side Kids star Leo Gorcey then took the reins himself and transformed the series into The Bowery Boys, which became the longest-running feature-film comedy series in movie history (48 titles over 12 years). During this run, Gorcey became the highest paid actor in Hollywood on an annual basis.
Monogram always catered to western fans. The studio released sagebrush sagas with Bill Cody, Bob Steele, John Wayne, Tom Keene, Tim McCoy, Tex Ritter, and Jack Randall before hitting on the "trio" format teaming veteran saddle pals. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton became The Rough Riders; Ray (Crash) Corrigan, John 'Dusty' King, and Max Terhune were The Range Busters, and Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, and Bob Steele teamed as The Trail Blazers. When Universal Pictures allowed Johnny Mack Brown's contract to lapse, Monogram grabbed him and kept him busy through 1952.
The studio was a launching pad for stars of the future: (Preston Foster in Sensation Hunters, Randolph Scott in Broken Dreams, Ginger Rogers in The Thirteenth Guest, Lionel Atwill in The Sphinx, Alan Ladd in Her First Romance, Robert Mitchum in When Strangers Marry. The studio was also a haven for established stars whose careers had stalled: Edmund Lowe in Klondike Fury, John Boles in Road to Happiness, Ricardo Cortez in I Killed That Man, Simone Simon in Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Kay Francis and Bruce Cabot in Divorce.
Monogram did create and nurture its own stars. Gale Storm began her career at RKO Radio Pictures in 1940 but found a home at Monogram. Storm had been promoted from Monogram's Frankie Darro series and was showcased in crime dramas (like Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943) opposite Richard Cromwell and radio's Frank Graham in the title role) and a string of musicals to capitalize on her singing talents (like Campus Rhythm and Nearly Eighteen, both 1943). Another of Monogram's finds during this time was British skating star Belita, who conversely starred in musical revues first and then graduated to dramatic roles, including Suspense (1946), an A-budget King Brothers Productions picture released under the Monogram name.
Monogram continued to experiment with series; some hit and some missed. Definite hits were Charlie Chan (which Monogram picked up after the series had been dropped by Twentieth Century Fox), The Cisco Kid and Joe Palooka, all proven movie properties abandoned by other studios and revived by Monogram. Less successful were the comic-strip exploits of Snuffy Smith, the mysterious adventures of The Shadow and Sam Katzman's comedy series co-starring Billy Gilbert, Shemp Howard and Maxie Rosenbloom.
Later Monogram very nearly hit the big time with Dillinger, a King Brothers Productions sensationalized crime drama that was a runaway success in 1945. It received Monogram's first Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Screenplay. Monogram tried to follow Dillinger immediately (with several "exploitation" melodramas cashing in on topical themes), and did achieve some success, but it never became a respectable "major" studio like former poverty-row denizen Columbia Pictures.
The Dillinger nomination was one of only three Oscar recognitions that Monogram ever received. The others were a "Best Short Subject" Oscar in 1947 (for the featurette Climbing the Matterhorn) and a "Best Film Editing" nomination in 1952 (for the feature Flat Top).
Monogram cautiously entered the field of television syndication. Studios usually avoided putting their own names on their television subsidiaries, fearing adverse reaction from their movie-theater customers. Monogram followed suit, christening its TV arm as Interstate Television Corporation. Interstate's biggest success was the Little Rascals series (formerly Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies, which had been reissued for theaters by Monogram). In later years Interstate TV became Allied Artists Television.
Allied Artists' television library was sold to Lorimar's TV production and distribution arms in 1979. Lorimar was acquired by Warner Bros. Television, which now controls the library.List of Monogram Pictures and Allied Artists Pictures films