By Benjamin Purper
Members of Phi Beta Kappa’s Southern California Association were given a fascinating look into Hollywood history on November 18, 2018, as author Vanda Krefft (ΦBK, University of Pennsylvania) and film historian Marc Wanamaker gave a presentation on the life of movie legend William Fox.
Based on Krefft’s book The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox, the presentation delved into the forgotten history of one of Hollywood’s most important figures.
As Krefft and Wanamaker explained, Fox grew up on the Lower East Side as the eldest son of Hungarian immigrants. He showed ambition at an early age, selling candy on the street. Eventually, he started his own company and purchased a nickelodeon, an early form of the modern movie theater. He then formed the Fox Film Corporation in 1915, which eventually grew into the movie empire that still exists today as 21th Century Fox.
However, Fox’s story is also one of tragedy. The stock market crash in 1929, compounded by legal issues involving antitrust laws, led Fox to lose virtually all of his fortune as well as control of the Fox Corporation. He then engaged in bribery and perjury to try to stave off bankruptcy, which landed him a six-month prison sentence. Fox died in 1952, disgraced and forgotten.
As Wanamaker remarked, Krefft’s book is the first substantial, scholarly examination of William Fox’s life and goes a long way towards taking him out of the shadows of Hollywood history.
Before Krefft began work on her book, she was a journalist in the entertainment industry. According to Krefft, getting a liberal arts education was essential to her career. “It really gave me a love for the written word,” she says. “I was an English major, and I did that because I thought, ‘Well, you can get a degree reading novels? I would do this anyway!’ And so I loved to read, and therefore I thought that becoming a professional writer is not really like a job, it’s something that I would love to do.”
“I think my liberal arts education really showed me how to learn,” Krefft added. “And it aroused curiosity in me about a lot of different subjects, and that’s really what was the key to making a living as a journalist.”
Krefft says that getting her masters’ degree in communications made her realize she wanted to write a book like The Man Who Made the Movies. “When I got that degree, I was looking to make a change out of journalism, and I thought, what do I really want to do? And that’s when I realized, I really wanted to write a book and I wanted to do something historical because my thesis had to do with movie industry history.”
Vanda Krefft’s The Man Who Made the Movies was published by HarperCollins in November 2017.
Benjamin Purper graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands in 2017, having majored in international relations with minors in music and Latin American studies. University of Redlands is home to the Xi of California Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.