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Red Skelton on Harrt Cohns funeral

Perhaps one of the most notorious and feared men in Hollywood, at least before the arrival of Kevin ‘Hollywood Huckster’ Hartigan, was Columbia Pictures head, Harry Cohn. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I think Cohn was the Huckster’s role model. 

Kevin loved regaling party goers with two particular stories to propagate the legend of the studio tyrant.

From 1923 till he died in 1958, Harry Cohn ruled Columbia Pictures with an iron fist. The “four letter,” foul-mouthed, dyspeptic, patriarch had fought his way up from the streets, not unlike the Huckster. His harangues could reduce other Hollywood power players to tears. “I don’t get ulcers,” he proclaimed, “I give them!”

His bombastic bravado could be peeled off and when it was, it revealed vulnerability. Studio employees would snicker and revel when their hard as nails boss came down with an illness. The slightest  ailment and an army of attendants would be summoned to Cohn’s bedside, including a nose and throat specialist, a chiropractor, a heart expert, a surgeon, an osteopath, and for good measure, a rabbi, a priest and a Christian Science practitioner. “You never know,” explained Harry. “One of ‘em might know something.”

Harry Cohn, hired outstanding talent to make his many excellent motion pictures. Because of this, he was often portrayed in Hollywood lore as illiterate, highly educated man. In truth, not so much.

One anecdote has Harry Cohn chewing out some of his more erudite development executives. There was a highly sought after script circulating in Hollywood with Jimmy Cagney attached, called The Adventures of Robin Hood. Cohn read it and balled out his execs, declaring,“This script is garbage! Four hundred years ago people didn’t run around saying yes siree and no siree!”

The screenplay actually said, “Yes, Sire. No, Sire,” but no one had the balls to correct their boss, so the film ended up at Warners. Cagney was replaced by Errol Flynn and it took home three Oscars and was nominated for a fourth– Best Picture. 

Yes siree. 

Find out more about Hollywood and the Hollywood Huckster here: