The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row

Bernard F. Dick has published a clear and shrewd work on one of the most significant and controversial Hollywood studio bosses. Dick is the author of several well received books on the film industry that combine diligent research in archives, interviews with surviving executives and other Hollywood figures, and superb use of the growing scholarship on the motion picture business. The title of Dick’s book refers to Cohn’s efforts to transform a “poverty row” studio into a major player.

Dick does not ignore the popular histories and biographies when he has been able to verify anecdotes, and he writes in an engaging style, conveying considerable enthusiasm for his subject. Cohn still comes across as the rather crass figure found in various sensationalized biographies, but Dick also shows Cohn’s enormous influence on the film industry and how he impressed his own personality on the pictures he produced.

THE MERCHANT PRINCE OF POVERTY ROW is not a full-scale biography of Cohn or a complete study of his studio (Dick has essayed the latter in COLUMBIA PICTURES: PORTRAIT OF A STUDIO), but rather an extraordinarily adept blend of biography, studio history, and film criticism. Dick includes charts of Cohn’s chain of command, a section of informative notes, and a bibliographical essay. Both film fans and scholars will find this a fascinating and authoritative volume. Readable and indispensable as a reference guide.