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Pathé Exchange, commonly known as Pathé, was an American film production and distribution company, largely of Hollywood's silent era. Known for its groundbreaking newsreel and wide array of shorts, it grew out of the American division of the major French studio Pathé Frères, which began distributing films in the United States in 1904. Ten years later, it produced the enormously successful The Perils of Pauline, a twenty-episode serial that came to define the genre. The American operation was incorporated as Pathé Exchange toward the end of 1914 and spun off as an independent entity in 1921; the Merrill Lynch investment firm acquired a controlling stake. The following year, it released Robert J. Flaherty's groundbreaking documentary Nanook of the North. Other notable feature releases included the controversial drama Sex (1920) and director/producer Cecil B. DeMille's smash-hit biblical epic The King of Kings (1927/28). During much of the 1920s, Pathé distributed the shorts of comedy pioneers Hal Roach and Mack Sennett and innovative animator Paul Terry. For Roach and then his own production company, acclaimed comedian Harold Lloyd starred in many feature and short releases from Pathé and the closely linked Associated Exhibitors.
In late 1926, controlling interest in the studio was acquired by investment banker Elisha Walker's Blair & Co. firm, which soon allied it with the Keith-Albee and Orpheum theater chains and in 1928 brought in financier and Hollywood maestro Joseph P. Kennedy to manage it. Under Kennedy, Pathé contracted with RCA Photophone for conversion to sound film and took over the assets of Producers Distributing Corporation, DeMille's former outlet. Finally, in January 1931, the studio was acquired by the much larger RKO Pictures. It continued making features as the semiautonomous division RKO Pathé into 1932, when all feature production was subsumed under the "RKO Radio Pictures" banner; the RKO Pathé unit and brand were maintained for short subjects and the trademark newsreel. The latter was purchased in 1947 from RKO by Warner Bros., which rebranded it Warner Pathé News. RKO Pathé, which in its final decade produced industrials and TV commercials along with theatrical shorts, closed its doors in 1956; Warners ended the newsreel the same year.
Pathé Exchange had survived as a small holding company for the few assets, including an East Coast film lab and a home-movie operation, that RKO had declined to acquire; the business was subsequently reorganized, first as Pathé Film Corporation and ultimately as Pathé Industries. The company reentered the movie production and distribution business for nearly a decade beginning in 1942 with the purchase of Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) and Pathé's subsequent establishment of Eagle-Lion Films. Among the historically significant releases from this period are the film noir Detour (1945, PRC) and the science-fiction film Destination Moon (1950, Eagle-Lion). By 1951, Pathé Industries was out of the motion picture business. In 1961, its successor company, the America Corporation, briefly revived the brand with a distribution subsidiary, Pathé-America. It was sold the following year to Astor Pictures and soon dissolved.