Opened by the legendary Adolph Zukor in 1920, the space now known as Kaufman Astoria Studios eventually became home to Paramount Pictures, where over 100 silent movies were filmed. From Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and George Burns to Mary Pickford, W.C. Fields and the Gish sisters, Astoria welcomed the talents of an exciting new industry, and with the advent of “talkies” in the late ’20s and ’30s, the studio wisely profited from its proximity to Manhattan’s “Great White Way.”
Tapping into the rich pool of writing and acting talent of Broadway, production blossomed even further. Claudette Colbert, Edward G. Robinson and Tallulah Bankhead all made their “talkie” debuts here, and in addition to the scores of feature films produced at Astoria, the studio was home to the famed Paramount Newsreels (“The Eyes and Ears of the World”) and Paramount’s prolific short film divisions.
After Paramount moved west to Hollywood, the studio was taken over by the United States Army in the 1940s, when it was renamed the Signal Corps Photographic Center (SCPC) and used to produce training, propaganda and medical films throughout the Korean War and anti-communist years. Before production halted in 1970 when the studio was turned over to the federal government, Army television engineers pioneered many broadcasting techniques later adopted by commercial networks.
Production returned to Astoria in 1975 with the filming of Thieves, starring Marlo Thomas and Charles Grodin. Formally re-opened in 1977 under the auspices of the Astoria Motion Picture and Television Center Foundation, the studio was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. In 1982 the title was transferred to the City of New York, and later that same year real estate developer George S. Kaufman, in partnership with Alan King, Johnny Carson and others, obtained the lease from the city.
Today Kaufman Astoria Studios anchors the recently designated Kaufman Arts District. It has been the site of many Oscar-winning feature films, including Scent of a Woman, Moonstruck and All That Jazz, and is home to productions such as Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie and Sesame Street.
Learn more about the films made at Kaufman Astoria Studios at Films Through the Ages.