Studios link arms, form an almost perfect union

While Universal and Paramount have now settled into a happy union, it was a long and stormy courtship – with Fox almost beating Universal to the altar. In the end, however, Paramount chose Universal, for better or worse, as its partner in a foreign distribution co-venture. Vows were finally exchanged in 1970 by U’s Lew Wasserman and Par’s Charles Bluhdorn… and the Cinema Intl. Corp. was born.

As founding co-chairman Arthur Abeles recalls: “Bluhdorn had previously flirted with Fox and had almost come to a deal. But it was sabotaged by people at Fox, and Wasserman was always ready to do anything to cut expenses in foreign.”

The new venture was based in the Netherlands for its tax advantages. According to Abeles, “Gulf + Western, which was the parent company of Paramount, was always willing and eager to consult with tax people. They were always around Bluhdorn. They made a study and said Amsterdam was the best place for it.”

Abeles was U’s vice prexy in charge of the U.K., Europe and the Middle East before he took joint charge of CIC with Henri (“Ricky”) Michaud, prez of Par’s international division. The two men were old friends who’d worked together at Warner Bros, during World War II.

Their first task was to amalgamate the companies’ various offices.

“As soon as the deal was signed in New York, Michaud and I set out and toured the world, picking whoever was the better of the two men, Universal’s or Paramount’s. Being old friends, we never had a quarrel and our choice of managers was always without any problem. I agreed with him on his choices and he agreed with me on mine.

“We were able to make generous settlements to the people who had to leave. I guess the most difficult was Japan – they began striking and demanding all sorts of things and it was fairly terrifying to get the two companies together there.”

From the start, the two determined the partnership would only work if old allegiances were deep-sixed. Says Abeles: “We said no company can be favored, and we drilled it into all our managers that, if you think you’re doing the right thing by favoring the company you worked for for 30 years, you’ll be fired.

Recalls Abeles, “When Paramount had all the good pictures – like our first big hit, ‘Love Story’ – Universal had nothing. Paramount also gave us ‘The Godfather” as our second big hit. Then suddenly Universal had ‘The Sting,’ ‘Jaws,’ one or two others, and Paramount had very, very lean time.”

The vet exec says that, despite give and take, the co-venture almost came unstuck. “We had a stressful time with a fellow who became president of Paramount and didn’t like the association at all. He did everything he could to destroy it.

“After about three years, thank God, he got fired – not because of what he tried to do to CIC but because he got too big for his boots.”

In the 70s, MGM was making too few pics to justify its international distribution network and offered its output to CIC for overseas distribution while parting with UA for domestic.

“We got the foreign rights in 1973 when Metro needed the money to finish the hotel they were building in Las Vegas,” recalls Abeles. “We paid around $19 million for all the cinemas and a distribution contract for all their films. We bought the backlog. I think it was an excellent deal for both companies.”

Metro’s foreign theaters, including the London deluxer, the Empire Leicester Square, were added to a few Paramount houses already run by CIC, among them the London Plaza.

With Metro’s arrival, there were now three links in the chain, reflected in the company’s logo. CIC also handled some Euro productions on its own, not always from choice.

Notes Abeles, “In Spain, the law made us take local films. They were all reminiscent of the quota quickies. We paid as little as we had to for them and they turned out that way.”

Abeles and Michaud left the company in 1977 and set up as indie film consultants. Four years later, MGM bought UA and its worldwide distrib setup but was prevented from using the foreign exchanges by its existing deal with CIC.

A new arrangement was agreed to by MGM’s Kirk Kerkorian in a meeting with Wasserman and Bludhorn by which Metro became a full partner in a successor company to CIC. Dubbed United Intl. Pictures, it was formed in October 1981 and activated the following month.

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