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The Man Who Made the Movies

The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox


About the Book

A riveting story of ambition, greed, and genius unfolding at the dawn of modern America. This landmark biography brings into focus a fascinating brilliant entrepreneur—like Steve Jobs or Walt Disney, a true American visionary—who risked everything to realize his bold dream of a Hollywood empire.


Although a major Hollywood studio still bears William Fox’s name, the man himself has mostly been forgotten by history, even written off as a failure. Now, in this fascinating biography, Vanda Krefft corrects the record, explaining why Fox’s legacy is central to the history of Hollywood.


At the heart of William Fox’s life was the myth of the American Dream. His story intertwines the fate of the nineteenth-century immigrants who flooded into New York, the city’s vibrant and ruthless gilded age history, and the birth of America’s movie industry amid the dawn of the modern era. Drawing on a decade of original research, The Man Who Made the Movies offers a rich, compelling look at a complex man emblematic of his time, one of the most fascinating and formative eras in American history.


Growing up in Lower East Side tenements, the eldest son of impoverished Hungarian immigrants, Fox began selling candy on the street. That entrepreneurial ambition eventually grew one small Brooklyn theater into a $300 million empire of deluxe studios and theaters that rivaled those of Adolph Zukor, Marcus Loew, and the Warner brothers, and launched stars such as Theda Bara. Amid the euphoric roaring twenties, the early movie moguls waged a fierce battle for control of their industry. A fearless risk-taker, Fox won and was hailed as a genius—until a confluence of circumstances, culminating with the 1929 stock market crash, led to his ruin.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“Krefft captures both the culture of the origins of cinema as a business and the many fascinating personalities at play within the narrative. No longer Hollywood’s forgotten pioneer, William Fox now has the history he deserves.” —The Washington Post

“Whether Krefft is describing how Fox built his studio, ushered in the talkies, or weathered a litany of troubles—bankruptcy, jail time for trying to bribe a judge, and poor health—in his later years, her attention to detail makes for gripping storytelling.” —Publishers Weekly

“Stunningly researched, lucidly told, and consistently illuminating, The Man Who Made the Movies is actually the story of America: the tale of an immigrant who rises high, a captain of industry capturing dreams, a visionary later forgotten after the forces he helped to broker bring him down.” —Brenda Wineapple, award-winning author of Ecstatic Nation and White Heat

“The most exciting new biography I have read in years. The rags-to-riches tale of William Fox, a fascinating though inexplicably neglected figure in our history, is as big and vibrant as the film industry he helped to found…. Rich in conflict, teeming with energy, and impossible to resist.” —John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

“A big dig of a book, a nuanced human portrait as well as a sweeping financial chronicle, excavating William Fox from ancient burial grounds and restoring his preeminence as the T-Rex and Volpone of American silent film.” ——Patrick McGilligan, author of Young Orson:  The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane

“Krefft provides an in-depth overview of the early film industry and a lucid assessment of Fox’s role in advancing the technology, art, and business of making films.” —Kirkus Reviews

“a celebration of Fox’s spirit, his determination, and his lasting impact on the motion picture industry.” —Booklist

“Vanda Krefft has written a fascinating, capacious examination of a forgotten man and key figure in the development of American film. William Fox leapt from running a business that pre-shrunk cloth to expanding the national and global reach of American movies, their artistic ambitions, and their technical capabilities, including sound and the wide screen.  Few books have captured so acutely the exhilaration of an entrepreneur creating a company in his own image and influencing the course of an entire industry—or have rendered so harrowingly the tragedy of such a man losing control. In an era when too many film historians either subscribe to “the genius of the system” or anoint old-time directors as gods, Krefft offers multifaceted analyses of how Fox’s own concerns helped ignite the talents of great directors and led to classics like John Ford’s Iron Horse. When other executives were establishing infamous traditions like “the casting couch,” Fox worked with a discipline and personal integrity that should be inspirational today.” —Michael Sragow, author of Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master

“Krefft has devoted years to her research and has emerged with a story that is not only fascinating, but surprisingly revelatory for an historical figure as high-profile as this one. Fox’s story is filled with colorful incident and surprising reversals of fortune, and moreover is beautifully written here.” —J.B. Kaufman, film historian

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780061136061
  • ISBN 10: 0061136069
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 11/28/2017
  • Pages: 944
  • List Price: 50.00 CAD
  • BISAC1: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Entertainment & Performing Arts

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