Spyros Skouras was born in Skourohori, Greece on March 28, 1893. He was a motion picture pioneer and served as the president of the 20th Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. He resigned on June 27, 1962, but served as chairman of the company for several more years. He was also the owner of Prudential Lines (shipping).
Because of Skouras’ pronounced Greek accent comedian Bob Hope would joke “Spyros has been here twenty years but he still sounds as if he’s coming next week.” Skouras was instrumental in overseeing the production of such epics as Cleopatra (1963) with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as the development of Century City.
Skouras’ life was a rag to riches tale. He was the son of an impoverished Greek shepherd and one of ten children, born in a small village in Greece. Skouras immigrated to the U.S. with his brothers, Charles and George, in 1910 when he was only 17 years old.
Landing in St. Louis, the trio worked in a large hotel as busboys and sold newspapers until they were able to scrape together 4,000 dollars to invest in part of a local movie house. In short order, the financially astute brothers owned every movie theater in St. Louis. They sold them all to Warner Bros. in the late ’20s, and Skouras was hired to manage all of the company’s exhibition houses. Skouras worked with Paramount from 1930 – 1932 but left to save the Fox Metropolitan chain from destruction.
In May 1935 Spyros Skouras merged Fox with Twentieth Century Pictures to create 20th Centrury Fox. Skouras was also a major stockholder and he alsop served as president of the merged company from 1942 to 1962.
By the the 1950s Skouras and his brothers, controlled a number of businesses including 20th Century Fox, National Theaters, Fox West Coast Theaters, United Artists Theaters, Skouras Theaters and others. It’s reported that by 1952 Skouras’ assets amounted to 108 million dollars, greater than any other theater or movie mogul, including the Schencks, Warners, Shuberts, or his countryman Alexander Pantages.
During this time Skouras oversaw the production of such classics as Don’t Bother to Knock, The Seven Year Itch, The Hustler, The King and I, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Robe. Skouras is also the one who signed a young model named Norma Jean Baker to 20th Century Fox who, after changing her name to Marilyn Monroe, rose to fame as the most famous Hollywood sex symbol of the 20th century. Monroe used to call Skouras “Papa Skouras”, and she developed a very close and special relationship with him as she never knew her father.
Skouras was the longest serving president of 20th Century Fox, and during his tenure he worked to rescue the faltering movie industry from the lure of newly introduced television in the early 1950s. In 1953 Skouras introduced CinemaScope in the studio’s groundbreaking film The Robe. The widescreen CinemaScope technology increased the appeal of movies, and helped movie theatres maintain and increase their audiences against television. Cinemascope soon became the standard of the whole movie industry.
His heretofore distinguished career with Fox abruptly nose-dived in 1963 with the disastrous release of Cleopatra, the big-budget epic starring Rex Harrison, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton. The film’s box-office failure spelled ruination for the financially beleaguered Fox and Skouras was one of the prime scapegoats for the fiasco. As a result, he was assigned as the company’s board chairman and his control over films was largely taken away. He remained in that position in 1969 when he left to tend to his other enormous investments that included his own shipping line.
Spyros Skouras died in New York on August 16, 1971.