Leon D. Britton

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(b. Boston, 10/12/1889 – d. Tokyo, 09/01/1966). Producer, sales executive. Born as Leon Donald Baum, Leonard Britton was the youngest of the seven children of parents who had come to the United States from Eastern Europe. In 1915 he was working for the Latin American Publishing Co. in Boston, but by 1917 he had left for New York. The move clearly prompted him to try another line of business, notably with the Hallmark Pictures Corporation, a film distribution and production company that survived for little more than a year. For Hallmark he acted in various capacities, but in many ways it was the start of a career that was to involve constant travelling to the far corners of the earth. While the Motion Picture Studio Directory of 1919 still lists him as Leon D. Baum and indicates that he had a stage career with Sir Henry Irving and the Howitt-Phillips Company, by the end of that year he was known as Leon D. Britton.

Shortly afterwards he came to South Africa as production manager for the film Swallow and the ship’s manifest of the Balmoral Castle records that in 1920 he, director Leander De Cordova and cameraman Edward C. Earle were all on the ship headed for East London. He arrived back in the United States in December 1921 and subsequently became well-known as a producer of films providing exciting records of notable boxing matches, many of them involving Jack Dempsey. In the absence of television, these screenings drew large audiences all over the United States and elsewhere. At one stage he was involved in a court case when a rival company announced that it would be screening the Dempsey-Tunney fight, for which Britton claimed to own the exclusive rights. His associate in this venture was Tex Rickard, the noted sports promoter. During this time he also made a film of the rodeo staged by Tex Austin at the newly opened Wembley Stadium (1924) and created a bit of a fuss when he offered to buy the adjacent Amusement Park after the closure of the Empire Exhibition. Towards the end of 1925 he was apparently back in South Africa. Though we don’t know why, it may have had something to do with finding a local outlet for his boxing films.

One source mentions “Leon Britton, a British engineer” bringing the first sound films to the Philippines in October 1929. However, in a Straits Times of that year there appears an advert announcing the screening of the first talking pictures in Singapore as presented by Leon Britton and Charles Hugo and there is reason to suppose that this was the first manifestation of a long relationship with filmmaking in the Far East. In the early 1930s he launched a film studio in Shanghai, hoping to make both features and documentary shorts and sending an expedition to Mongolia, Tibet and Turkestan. His presence in Shanghai also resulted in him obtaining footage of the 1932 conflict between China and Japan. In 1936 he was with the Peacock Motion Picture Co. and in 1939 he became the General Manager for RKO in the Far East. World War II resulted in him having to leave China and in 1942 RKO sent him to represent the company in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. However, after the war he returned to his old stamping grounds, working for RKO and then for Seven Arts Productions. Later he served with Associated Artists Productions and finally with United Artists Television.

Leon Britton married twice: first to Helen Mae Scroggins of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania (in 1937) and then to Ryoko Suganami, who was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He died in Tokyo in 1966. (FO)

Sources

The Film Daily, 16 October 1919

The Film Daily, 13 August 1932

The Film Daily, 4 June 1942

The Film Daily, 14 September 1945

International Television Almanac 1964

Steible, Dan - Fight pictures: a history of boxing and early cinema

http://nlpdl.nlp.gov.ph:9000/shares/finders/CC01/NLP00VM052mcd/v8/v2.pdf

Family history and career research: Robert Garber (robgarber30@gmail.com)


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