This documentary miniseries, hosted by Edward Asner, details the rise of the American film production company RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), known for its many films created during Hollywood's "Golden Age." The first installment begins as Asner stands before the former RKO headquarters on Melrose and Gower in Hollywood, showing off its famous sound stages. The company was established in 1928, just after "The Jazz Singer" introduced the "talkie" sound picture, by filmmaker David Sarnoff and businessman Joseph Kennedy Sr. Singer/actor Rudy Vallee talks about making "The Vagabond Lover" (1929) and being chastised for the "sexual quality" in his crooning voice, and admits that the film was terrible, as the advent of sound in films demanded as-yet undeveloped new technology and performance style. James G. Stewart discusses the difference between radio and on-screen performances, and Oscar-winning sound engineer Murray Spivack discusses his innovative sound effects for a thunderstorm scene in the film "Seven Keys to Baldpate" (1929). Producer Pandro S. Berman talks about the "disastrous" 1931 film "The Gay Diplomat," featuring a very odd performance from Ivan Lebedeff, one of many films of the era adapted from stage plays. Finally, RKO employee Kay Brown urged her bosses to secure the rights to Edna Ferber's novel "Cimarron," which became the first "serious" Western and featured an enormous action scene with thousands of extras and horses. The film was a success and landed three Oscars, but the studio remained in financial trouble.

David O. Selznick soon joined RKO, and talent scouts discovered one Katharine Hepburn, who explains how she "made it difficult" for the company to put her under contract, also discussing her work with director George Cukor on her first film "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932) alongside John Barrymore, as well as later pictures. 1932 still proved a bad year for RKO, but the "adventurous" Merian C. Cooper soon appeared with an idea of for a new film starring Fay Wray and an unusual "leading man," and he wrote to Selznick with images and descriptions of his plans. Despite original plans to use a real gorilla as the titular King Kong, he discovered the work of animator Willis O'Brien, and Ray Harryhausen explains O'Brien's stop-motion methods of bringing dinosaurs and other creatures to the screen for the first time. Spivack describes his efforts to create the animals' sounds, eventually making recordings at a zoo. The Empire State Building was erected "just in time" for the memorable aerial fight scene, and the film, with its "tragic hero," was a success in 1933. Cooper took over RKO when Selznick departed for MGM, and made a series of quick, low-budget pictures to improve the company's finances. A short film called "So This is Harris!" (1933) was the first to feature a playback system for a musical recording, and "Flying Down to Rio" (1933) featured a groundbreaking sequence with dancing girls strapped to the wings of airplanes. Linwood Dunn describes his creation of the film's special effects, including varying methods of scene transition, though the film later became famous for being the first to feature a short dance scene between two unknowns: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Commercials deleted.


  • DATE: August 14, 1988 10:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:00:00
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:16070
  • GENRE: Specials
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Miniseries
  • SERIES RUN: A&E - TV series, 1988


    • Leslie Megahey … Executive Producer
    • Alan Yentob … Executive Producer
    • Charles Chabot … Producer
    • Rosemary Wilton … Producer
    • Edward Asner … Host
    • Fred Astaire
    • John Barrymore
    • Pandro S. Berman
    • Kay Brown
    • Merian C. Cooper
    • George Cukor
    • Linwood Dunn
    • Edna Ferber
    • Ray Harryhausen
    • Katharine Hepburn
    • Joseph Kennedy Sr.
    • Ivan Lebedeff
    • Willis O'Brien
    • Ginger Rogers
    • David Sarnoff
    • David O. Selznick
    • Murray Spivack
    • James G. Stewart
    • Rudy Vallee
    • Fay Wray