The Paramount Pictures logo, known affectionately as Majestic Mountain, is one of the most familiar images in Hollywood. It is the oldest studio logo in continuous use. It predates the second-oldest, MGM's roaring lion, by close to a decade. Technically, it even predates the existence of Paramount Pictures as a film production entity.
Paramount now traces its history back to the 1912 formation of Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company, but the Paramount Pictures Corporation name was first used by a film distribution company founded by William W. Hodkinson and other independent exhibitors in May of 1914. Paramount financed and distributed the product of Zukor's Famous Players, Jesse L. Lasky's Feature Play Company, and other producers.
It was Hodkinson who first designed the Paramount logo in 1914. Legend has it that he doodled an image of a star-crested mountain on a napkin during a meeting with Adolph Zukor. It was an image he remembered of a mountain peak from his childhood in Ogden, Utah.
Over the years there has been speculation about just where "Majestic Mountain" really is, if it exists at all. Many people have assumed it is Mount Everest. It has been spoofed in several Paramount filmsmoved to South America in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Japan in Geisha Boy, and Alaska in Road to Utopia. Probably its most audacious use was as Mount Sinai in Cecil B. deMille's remake of The Ten Commandments.
If it is a real mountain at all, however, it is almost certainly 9,712-foot-high Ben Lomond Peak in the Wasatch Range near Ogden, as any Utah tour guide worth his salt will tell you. Even if Hodkinson meant it to be a generic mountain, Ben Lomond is a conspicuous landmark in the Ogden area and would have figured prominently in his conception.
In May of 1916 Zukor and Lasky bought controlling shares of Paramount stock, and Famous Players-Lasky Corporation was incorporated, with Zukor as president, on May 19, 1916. Zukor and Lasky were reportedly not fond of the Paramount namethey thought audiences wouldn't know what it meantbut they realized the dominance of the mountain-top logo, so the Paramount name was retained as a trade name and Hodkinson's design soon began appearing on the new studio's releases. By 1927 the company was known as Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation, and in 1930 it became Paramount Publix Corporation. The firm went bankrupt in 1933, Lasky was forced out, and it was reorganized as Paramount Pictures, Inc.
The logo was used with only minimal cosmetic changes for over half a century. Cartoons tended to prefer simplified graphics, while a more "photo-realistic" rendering by studio matte artist Jan Domela was introduced in 1953 when wide-screen masking forced a minor revision of the original layout. In that version a surrounding landscape was invented, making it look less like Ben Lomand. Basically, however, the familiar mountain with its ring of 24 stars still reigned over all.
In the 1970s the mountain finally succumbed to the modern trend toward simplified, pop-art influenced trademarks and was replaced with a two-dimensional abstraction on a background of blue. It was at about the same time that two of the logo's stars fell from the sky. The simplified graphic contained only 22 stars, instead of the long-established 24. No one seems to remember why this was done, but it was probably to simplify the image and spread the stars out a little more. It wasn't too long, however, before this version went the way of New Coke, and the friendly old mountain was back in a slightly spiced-up computer generated version. When the photo-realistic mountain returned, though, it returned with only 22 stars, which is now the official count. In 1987 a computer-animated version created by Apogee, Inc. was introduced featuring a "camera move" up to the mountain while the stars fly into position, which is still being used today.
On television, the logo has been a little less stable. In the early 1950s, Paramount purchased station KTLA in Los Angeles and made their first foray into television with a logo showing a mammoth television antenna atop Majestic Mountain. In 1969 Paramount Television was reanimated after a merger with Desilu Productions and over the next few years featured a variety of different logo designs based on the one-dimensional abstraction then used on theatrical films. The United Paramount Network (UPN), founded in 1995, has its own logo with its initials in geometric shapes. Its only nod to the mountain is a triangle encasing the "P".
Majestic Mountain "is an enduring symbol of strength and excellence," according to Jonathan Dolgen, chairman of the Viacom Entertainment Group. And as it quickly approaches centenarian status, it seems likely to outlive all the lions, torch-bearing ladies, shields, globes, radio towers, gong-playing musclemen and other johnny-come-latelies, just as it preceded them. After all, it takes millennia to erode a mountain!
by Marvin Jones
Paramount Pictures, Inc.|
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Cecil AdamsThe Straight Dope
Charles M. Spero