This article was originally published on January 22, 2020 on Showbiz Express
Disney has been busy lately, as they work to further incorporate the studios of 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight. Since acquiring them earlier last year, Disney has dissolved Fox 2000 and began to look into remaking some of Fox’s most classic intellectual property (IP). More changes to Fox are sure to come but this latest change, while small on the surface, has a historical significance that people might not realize.
Disney will remove “Fox” from the two studios, renaming them 20th Century Pictures and Searchlight Pictures instead. No reason was given, but one could speculate that it’s to differentiate the studios from the newly formed Fox Corporation that consists of the remnants of what used to be 21st Century Fox.
20th Century Fox has had a long history in the industry. Many of its vast library of films are considered classics. Originally called Twentieth Century Pictures, it merged with a company called the Fox Film Corporation that got its name from a man named William Fox. William Fox is an important name in animation, because without him, Walt Disney might never have put so much into animation.
William Fox started a company called Box Office Attractions Company (that he would later rename Fox Film Corporation,) and through it he distributed an animated short film called Gertie The Dinosaur created by a man named Winsor McCay in 1914. Thanks to the Box Office Attractions Company, Gertie the Dinosaur became a massive success. They were able to distribute the short film across the country, even eventually in movie theatres. This film is one of the inspirations for Walt Disney himself. He saw the magic in animation.
A story told by Dan Murrell, critic from Screen Junkies, points to a moment in time when the son of Winsor McCay visited Disneyland and Walt, himself, lamented “this should all be your fathers.” Even today, Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando has an Ice Cream shop called Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream, named after the animated short film.
William Fox helped Winsor McCay leave his mark in the world, thanks to Gertie. Even after the Great Depression, when Fox Film Corporation merged with 20th Century Pictures, the Fox name remained. Many people don’t know this context, and Fox has become synonymous with the television station and the news network, and that’s unfortunate. The Fox name has had a long, prolific and defining history in the entertainment industry that goes beyond Murdoch and his dynasty. William Fox helped pave the way for the Disney empire that we know today.
It’s ironic that the company that can trace its humble beginnings to Gertie the Dinosaur, now owns the company responsible for its inspiration. Over 100 years after Gertie was seen by hundreds of people across the nation, Bob Iger and his Disney empire will be striking the name Fox, leaving William Fox in the history books, where he will sadly stay.