It’s been a while since I wrote one of these “The Story Behind…” posts, but felt like doing a new one. For those who don’t know the series, in “The Story Behind…” I take a look at movie related things and the stories behind them. I’ve written several of these about the history and various logos of the major studios. I’ve covered quite a few studios, but there are a couple I didn’t cover yet. One of them is RKO, which was part of the “Big Five” studios during the golden age of Hollywood. The studio has been responsible for some classic movies like King Kong, It’s a Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. It matched up Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant was under contract with them for a long time. Although the RKO name still exists it’s not the big studio it once was as the original RKO Pictures was out of business in 1960.
The studio was created in 1928 and consisted of several parts: The Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chain, RCA Photophone and the Film Booking Offices (FBO) of America. The reason for the formation of the company was an opportunity which RCA wanted to take to ride the start of talking pictures after Warner Bros. had a big success with The Jazz Singer in 1927. The “Radio” in the name of the studio was because RCA (Radio Corporation of America) had a 66% share in the company. It is said that Sarnoff, who created RCA Photophone suggested the logo with the large radio tower.
Their movies were initially shot at the former FBO studios and their first two movies were Syncopation and Street Girl. Although the depression started, it didn’t stop the studio from spending a lot of money and as a result struggled a lot with its finances. RKO managed to strike a distribution deal with Walt Disney and distributed his movies from 1936 till 1954. When television became popular the studio saw less audiences attend their movies and their profits fell. At the same time Howard Huges gained control over the company and made some bad decisions. He sold his shares in 1955 to the General Tire and Rubber Company. Because of mismanagement the studio slowly seemed to be sinking. Its last movie was released in 1959. The name was resurrected in 1981 when RKO Pictures Inc. started coproducing several movies.
The classic logo of the radio tower transmitting its signals.
After the merger with Pathé this logo was shortly used.
A very simple logo where a thunderbolt (which was previously used in the closing logo) zooms to the viewer after which RKO Pictures appeared.
This seems to start as the original logo with the radiotower appearing, but after a few seconds it is merged with the previous logo.
A modern 3d rendition of the classic logo, with the lettering similar to lightning bolts.
This is the logo which now appears on the RKO website.