Spyros Panagiotis Skouras (Greek: Σπύρος Σκούρας; March 28, 1893 – August 16, 1971) was an American motion picture pioneer and movie executive who was the president of the 20th Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. He resigned June 27, 1962, effective September 30.
An immigrant to America from Greece, his accent was so pronounced that Bob Hope would joke "Spyros has been here twenty years but he still sounds as if he's coming next week." Skouras oversaw the production of such epics as Cleopatra (1963) with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as the creation of Century City.
The early years
Born in Skourohorion, Greece, Skouras along with his brothers Charles Skouras and George Skouras emigrated to America in 1910. They finally settled in St. Louis, Missouri, at that time the fourth largest city in America. The sons of a poor sheep herder later rose even higher to become top movie executives in some of Hollywood's biggest studios.
Living frugally on wages as busboys and bartenders in downtown hotels, the brothers pooled their savings of US$3,500 in 1914. In partnership with two other Greeks, the Skourases constructed a modest nickelodeon at 1420 Market Street on the site of today's Kiel Opera House. This initial property, named the Olympia, was quickly followed by the acquisition of other theaters.
The brothers incorporated in 1924 with $400,000 capital stock. By then more than thirty local theaters belonged to the Skouras Brothers Co. of St. Louis. The biggest moment for the Skouras empire came when their dream of building a world-class movie palace in downtown St. Louis was grandly realized in 1926 when the $5.5 million Ambassador Theatre Building opened. (This theater re-opened in 1939 as the New Fox Theatre.) In 1929, following the depression, the triumvirate sold out their interest to Warner Brothers and moved east to claim top executive places in the industry.
From 1929 to 1931, Spyros worked as a general manager of the Warner Brothers Theater Circuit in America. During these hard years, with the depression running amok, Spyros managed to eliminate losses and eventually quadrupled the profits of the chain. Despite this success, his wish to be his own boss again, made him voluntarily leave the company. After that, and for a short while, he works as a manager in Paramount.
In 1932, the Skouras Brothers (Charles, Spyros and George) took over the management of the Fox West Coast Theater chain, with over 500 theaters. Once again, the threat of bankruptcy threatened one of Hollywood's early film studios. The three brothers did what they could to stave of a disaster.
Rise to fame
In May 1935, Spyros helped merge Fox with Twentieth Century Pictures. He later served as president of the merged company 20th Century Fox from 1942 to 1962. Spyros was also a major stockholder of 20th Century Fox. In the 1950s he, together with his brothers, controlled 20th Century Fox, National Theaters, Fox West Coast Theaters, United Artists Theaters, Skouras Theaters, Magna Corp, and Todd AO. Skouras assets in 1952 amounted to a dazzling $108,000,000, a point of power never before attained by any other theater or movie mogul, including the Schencks, Warners, Schuberts, or his countryman Alexander Pantages.
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. One of his biggest achievements is that he managed to sign a young model named Norma Jean Baker to 20th Century Fox, who after changing her name to Marilyn Monroe, would rise to fame and become the most famous Hollywood sex symbol of the 20th Century. Skouras developed a special relationship with Marilyn, who often called him "Papa Skouras".
During Skouras' tenure - which was the longest in the company's history - he worked to rescue the faltering movie industry from the lure of television. 20th Century Fox's famous advertising slogan, Movies are Better than Ever, gained credibility in 1953 when Spyros introduced CinemaScope in the studio's groundbreaking feature film The Robe. With his introduction of CinemaScope, Skouras did much to save the entire movie industry from its newly invented competitor - television.  This new technology soon became the standard of the whole industry.
Skouras was brought low by the excesses on such films as Cleopatra (1963), where cost overruns set in motion a shareholder revolt that dethroned him. Darryl F. Zanuck was elected president of the company while Spyros worked in the role of chairman of the company for a number of years.
In parallel with his work in the film industry Skouras had, like many of his countrymen, invested in the shipping industry. Thus in the 1960s, his Prudential Lines owned seven ships, two tankers and five cargo ships, that cruised the world seas. In 1969, Prudential Lines bought out the Grace Lines. In the last years of his life, he disengaged from the movie world that he had served for so long, and spent more time on his various maritime projects, which were ultimately run by his son Spyros Skouras Jr.
Skouras died from a heart attack at the age of 78.
Curti, Carlo (1967). Skouras, King of Fox Studios. Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company.
Cinemascope Seen TV Aid; Skouras Predicts Fox Process Will Free Old Films for Video, The New York Times, April 14, 1953.
Skouras is Victor in 20th-Fox Fight; Stockholders of Film Concern Support President by 4 to 1 Against Cumulative Voting, The New York Times, May 9, 1953.
The Colossal Optimist; Spyros Panagiotis Skouras, The New York Times, June 28, 1962.
Skouras Resigns as Fox President; Move Follows Long Dispute Over Film Studio's Losses, The New York Times, June 28, 1962.
Zanuck Succeeds Skouras as President of Fox; Producer Named to 18-Month Term at Stormy Session, The New York Times, July 26, 1962.
Shipping: Now, the Son of Spyros, Time Magazine, Feb. 21, 1969.
After 50 Years, Skouras Leaves Films, The New York Times, March 13, 1969.
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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