Harry Cohn

Harry Cohn co-founded Columbia Pictures Corporation with his brother Jack and ran the studio for more than thirty years. Harry had the reputation of being the most autocratic studio boss in film history and he ran Columbia like a one-man show. Under Cohn’s leadership, Columbia, which became known worldwide as the “little giant of the major studios,” rose from a minor studio to one of Hollywood’s major production factories specializing in dramas, such as ON THE WATERFRONT, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and ALL THE KING'S MEN, many of which won multiple Academy Awards©. Cohn was also known as a great star-maker, demonstrated by his early signing of such future cinema icons as Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford and James Stewart.
Harry Cohn was born in New York City on July 23, 1891 the son of Joe and Bella Cohn. He went to work before he finished grammar school, going into active show business at the age of fourteen as a choir singer in a New York show. Young Harry followed this with a wide array of jobs, including song-plugging, working as a shipping clerk for a music publishing house, selling furs and even trying his hand at pool hustling. In 1910, at the age of nineteen and having teamed up with songwriter Harry Ruby in a short-lived vaudeville act, Harry ran his own music publishing business until he joined the Army. Just before World War I, Harry, discharged from the service, did some minor work in the early motion picture industry as a singer.
Harry’s brother Jack joined film pioneer Carl Laemmle’s Independent Motion Picture Company in 1908, first working in the laboratory and later as a production manager learning the ins and outs of the motion picture business. By 1913 Jack had become the editor of the Universal Weekly newsreel and later, its producer. Jack had a friend working at Universal named Joe Brandt and they independently produced a film in 1913, TRAFFIC IN SOULS, released by Universal as its first feature film. Despite its lengthy running time, TRAFFIC IN SOULS, a film about the white slave trade, became a sensation. In 1918 Harry joined his successful brother at Universal and became the private secretary to Carl Laemmle.

Young Harry Cohn

Early in his career, young Harry stood out in the crowd.