|Fate||Sold to Compact Video as the result of a LBO by MacAndrews & Forbes|
|Successors||Four Star International|
|Founded||1952 (as Four Star Productions)|
Incorporated as Four Star Television on Jan. 12, 1959.
|Headquarters||Beverly Hills, California|
Four Star Television, also called Four Star International, was an American television production company. The company was founded in 1952 as Four Star Productions, by prominent Hollywood actors Dick Powell, David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Joel McCrea, after they were inspired by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz founded Desilu Productions a year earlier. McCrea left Four Star soon after its founding to continue acting in film, television and radio, before being replaced with Ida Lupino as the fourth star, even though Lupino did not own any stock in the company.
Four Star produced several popular programs from the early days of television, including Four Star Playhouse (their first series), Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, Stagecoach West, The June Allyson Show (aka The DuPont Show Starring June Allyson), The Dick Powell Show, Burke's Law, The Rogues and The Big Valley. Despite each of its four stars sharing equal billing, it was Powell who played the biggest role in the success of the company's early growth.
Within a few years of Four Star's formation, Powell became President of the company. In 1955, a second company, Four Star Films, Inc., was formed as an affiliate organization to produce hit shows such as The Rifleman, Trackdown, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Richard Diamond, Private Detective and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. There were also failed series, like Jeannie Carson's Hey, Jeannie!
In the late winter of 1958, both Four Star Productions and Four Star Films were merged into the new holding company Four Star Television, and began publicly trading on the American Stock Exchange on January 12, 1959. After Dick Powell died, Four Star was led by Thomas McDermott, followed by Aaron Spelling, was then purchased and developed for the global film and television market by David Charnay and later sold to Ron Perelman before Perelman sold Four Star to 20th Century Fox Television in 1996.
Dick Powell, a Hollywood veteran for twenty years in 1952, longed to produce and direct. While he did have some opportunities to do so, such as RKO Radio Pictures' The Conqueror (1956) with John Wayne, Powell saw greater opportunities offered by the then-infant medium of television.
Powell came up with an idea for an anthology series, with a rotation of established stars every week, four stars in all. The stars would own the studio and the program, as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had done successfully with the Desilu studio.
Powell had intended for the program to feature himself, Charles Boyer, Joel McCrea and Rosalind Russell, but Russell and McCrea backed out and David Niven came on board as the "third star". The fourth star would be a guest star at first. CBS liked the idea and Four Star Playhouse made its debut in fall of 1952. While it only ran alternate weeks during its first season (the program it alternated with was the television version of Amos 'n' Andy), it was successful enough to be renewed and became a weekly program beginning with the second season and until the end of its run in 1956.
Actress/director Ida Lupino was brought on board as the pro forma fourth star, though unlike Powell, Boyer, and Niven, she owned no stock in the company.
Following the cancellation of Four Star Playhouse, two new programs came on CBS: a comedy called Hey, Jeannie which starred Jeannie Carson, and a western anthology show Zane Grey Theater, more formally named Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. Carson's show ran for just a season, but Zane Grey Theater ran for four. It hosted the pilot episodes for Trackdown starring Robert Culp (which in turn hosted a pilot for Wanted: Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen), The Westerner with Brian Keith, Black Saddle with Peter Breck and Russell Johnson and The Rifleman.
In 1957 it debuted the first of its many police/detective shows, Richard Diamond, Private Detective. The "Diamond" series was originally created for radio by Blake Edwards, and the character played by Powell, but Edwards, with Powell's approval, recast the character with the then-unknown Clark Gable-lookalike David Janssen. Other crime series by Four Star included Target: The Corruptors! with Stephen McNally and Robert Harland, The Detectives starring Robert Taylor, Burke's Law, starring Gene Barry, and Honey West, starring Anne Francis and John Ericson.
Another program, The Rogues, starred Boyer and Niven with Gig Young. This was the closest the studio's owners would come to appearing on the same program since Four Star Playhouse. The idea was for the three actors to alternate as the lead each week playing moral con-man cousins out to fleece reprehensible villains, often with one or two of the others turning up to play a small part in the caper (real ensemble episodes were rare).
The schedule of who pulled leading man duty was largely determined by the actors' movie commitments, thereby giving Niven, Boyer, and Young additional work between film roles. In any event, Young wound up helming most of the episodes since he usually had more spare time than Niven or Boyer, but even he had to be replaced by Larry Hagman as another cousin for two episodes when Young was too busy. The series only lasted through the 1964-65 season.
The studio was successful in the late 1950s as a result of the success of its programs. Four Star also helped bring some prominent names in television and movies to public attention including David Janssen, Steve McQueen, Robert Culp, Chuck Connors, Mary Tyler Moore, Linda Evans, Jeannie Carson, Lee Majors, The Smothers Brothers, Aaron Spelling, Dick Powell, David Niven, Joel McCrea, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and Sam Peckinpah. The studio was well known as being sympathetic to creative staff. Powell often battled with network executives on behalf of writers, directors, and actors.
Four Star hired Herschel Burke Gilbert to compose the music of many of its programs. In the approximate decade from 1956 to 1966, Gilbert estimated that he had done the composition for some three thousand individual episodes of various television series.
On January 2, 1963, a day after his last appearance on his program The Dick Powell Show aired, Dick Powell died of stomach cancer. The stomach cancer was likely a result of having directed Howard Hughes's The Conqueror, amidst dust clouds of atomic test radiation in Utah. Out of a cast and crew of 220 people, 91 contracted various forms of organ cancers by 1981, including stars John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead.
An ad executive named Thomas McDermott was brought in to run the studio for Niven, Boyer, and Powell's family. But without Powell's vision, the studio went into a period of decline. Within two years after Powell's death, Four Star had decreased to only five programs on the air. After another two years, all but one; The Big Valley was gone. Aaron Spelling began his career at Four Star Television as a staff writer and after a number of hits began producing television shows for Four Star. Spelling left the studio in 1966 to form his own production company with Danny Thomas, Thomas Spelling Productions.
For a brief time, Four Star Television owned Valiant Records, but sold the label to Warner Bros. Records in 1966, shortly after pop group The Association released their first records for the label. Early copies of the album And Then... Along Comes the Association show the Four Star disclaimer blacked out at the bottom of the label.
From 1967 to 1989, David Charnay was the leader of a buyout group that owned a controlling interest in Four Star Television and subsequently renamed the television company: Four Star International. For more than two decades, he served as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Four Star. He directed the company, employing his only son, John Charnay as Director of Public Relations, as well as employing many of Hollywood's leading producers, stars, and executives of the late 20th and early 21st century, including Deke Heyward, Morey Amsterdam, Dick Colbert, Tony Thomopoulos, and collaborating with Aaron Spelling and George Spota for continued film and television projects, as well as many Hollywood stars and starlets before many producers advanced to create their own companies.
Four Star amassed a sizable inventory of programs for syndication, then the world's largest syndication company. Charnay led a turnaround in Four Star that involved both vertical integration and horizontal integration, which developed the company into a global powerhouse syndicator of its large collection of shows that included: The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rogues, Zane Grey (Original Title: "Zane Grey Theater") and The Big Valley. While it did get a hit of sorts in producing a show called Thrill Seekers, (which was a sort of proto-reality TV program, and the first reality show in the United States), the studio's primary niche was in its successful syndication to global film and television audiences.
David Charnay sold Four Star to Robert Seidenglanz's Compact Video Systems in 1989 which was then owned by Ronald Perelman. After Compact Video shut down, its remaining assets, including Four Star, were folded into majority shareholder Ronald Perelman's MacAndrews and Forbes Incorporated. In 1989, Perelman acquired New World Entertainment and Four Star became a division of New World. After Four Star International became part of New World, Four Star operated as in-name-only. In 1993, Four Star acquired 50% of Genesis Entertainment. As part of the acquisition, Genesis acquired television distribution rights of Four Star's 160 feature films and television series.
Four Star International is now owned by The Walt Disney Company, with most of its library of programs controlled by 20th Century Fox Television as a result of the buyout between Rupert Murdoch and Ron Perelman in 1996.
With the subsequent sale of New World to 20th Century Fox (now owned by The Walt Disney Company) in 1997, the Four Star catalogue is now owned by 20th Television, one of Disney's TV distribution units, with a few exceptions: