First National was an association of independent theater owners in the United States that expanded from exhibiting movies to distributing them, and eventually to producing them as a movie studio. It later merged with Warner Bros.
The First National Exhibitors' Circuit was founded in 1917 by the merger of 26 of the biggest first run cinema chains in the United States of America, eventually controlling over 600 cinemas, more than 200 of them so-called "first run" houses (as opposed to the "second run" neighborhood theaters to which films moved when their first run boxoffice receipts dwindled).
First National was the brainchild of Thomas L. Tally, who was reacting to the overwhelming influence of Paramount Pictures, which dominated the market. In 1912, he thought that a conglomerate of theaters throughout the nation could buy and/or produce and distribute their own films. Tally was soon partnered with West Virginian James Dixon Williams, and they formed First National Exhibitors Circuit. Among the more than two dozen exhibitors who attended the first meeting held in New York on April 25, 1917, were Frederick Dahnken of the Turner and fat Dahnken Circuit in San Francisco, Harry O. Schwalbe of Philadelphia, Samuel Roxy Rothafel of New York, Earl H. Hulsey of Dallas and Nathan H. Gordon of Boston.
Between 1917 and 1918, they made contracts with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, the first million-dollar deals in the history of film.
Rivalry With Paramount
Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures was threatened by First National's financial power and its control over the lucrative first run theaters and decided to enter the cinema business as well. With a $10 million dollar investment, Paramount built their own chain of first-run movie theaters after a secret plan to merge with First National failed. Ironically, this led to the foundation of United Artists by Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, Pickford, and Chaplin, and to the loss of First National's biggest stars.
First National Exhibitors' Circuit was reincorporated in 1919 as Associated First National Pictures, Inc. and its subsidiary Associated First National Theatres, Inc., with 5,000 independent theater owners as members.
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