While the studio’s origins date back to 1912, and the release of the Sarah Bernhardt feature Queen Elizabeth, the mountain logo was first used in 1916, both in print advertising and onscreen. It has gone through a number of often-subtle permutations over the years, including an animated version from the studio’s cartoon unit in the 1950s and a modern graphic treatment in the late 1960s and 1970s when it was owned by Gulf + Western. In those days, through the early 1980s, the trademark no longer read “A Paramount Picture” but simply “Paramount.”
Diehards like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas insisted on using the older logo when they made Raiders of the Lost Ark, and continued to do so for its sequels. A vintage black & white version set the stage for Chinatown, and, for whatever reason, Big Top Pee-Wee also hearkened back to the color logo audiences would have seen in the 1950s.
I was working on the Paramount studio lot, for Entertainment Tonight, when the company was acquired by Viacom. I happened to run into a couple of executives I knew on the way to the commissary one day and urged them to restore the vintage logo, reading A Paramount Picture, now that Gulf + Western was out of the picture. If it was good enough for Lucas and Spielberg, I said, it ought to be good enough for anyone. They smiled politely and moved on.
Even now, the legend “A Viacom Company” appears on the logo, but in a strange, sans-serif typeface that doesn’t complement the Paramount script in any way, shape or form. I guess it’s all a matter of taste.
I saw the new Paramount 100th logo in IMAX last week at a screening of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and it brought a smile to my face. But my favorite rendering of the trademark remains the one that was executed in the 1950s when the company introduced its precursor to IMAX, VistaVision. The view of a peak in the Wasatch mountain range was now seen from a greater distance, encompassing the valley below and the cloud-filled skies above. Accompanied by a new musical fanfare by Van Cleave, the logo revealed itself in three parts: A Paramount Picture…in…(cue the zoom of a giant V to center screen)…VistaVision… Motion Picture High Fidelity. The rendering and animation, matched to a sweeping piece of music, was genuinely exciting to behold on a big theater screen. It made a big impression on me as a kid and I’ve loved it ever since.
Nowadays, every production company has a logo, and some films open with four or five of them in a row, dissipating the impact of any individual one. (The Family Guy made fun of this trend in an episode not long ago.) But the studio trademarks that have had staying power, like Paramount’s, are unmistakable—and unforgettable.