Will UA find fresh footing?

United Artists remains a sought-after but elusive prize

During MGM’s roller-coaster saga in the past few years, one of the enduring questions is the fate of United Artists.

As MGM trumpets its rebirth, the latest round of buzz is that Kirk Kerkorian and Frank Mancuso have been in discussions about acquiring UA. While the parties have never approached agreement on price, the company is said to be asking $400 million-$500 million for the UA name.

At one point, Harvey Weinstein tried to buy the label, as Francis Ford Coppola had done years before — just two of many reminders that the United Artists name is a sought-after but elusive prize.

UA was founded in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin.

Over the years, it’s been responsible for a huge number of classics, ranging from “The Gold Rush” to “High Noon” to the James Bond films. Its slew of Oscar-winning pics include “West Side Story,” “Annie Hall” and “Rain Man.”

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In 1973, UA (then owned by Transamerica) began domestic distribution of MGM films. But key execs Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin left UA to form Orion. Their exits, followed by the costly failure of 1980’s “Heaven’s Gate,” proved setbacks from which UA never recovered. In 1981, Kerkorian bought UA and merged it with his MGM.

It’s continued to distrib pics, including “Bowling for Columbine,” but the logo and name are waiting to write the next chapter in the long United Artists history.

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