Collections: Objects of the Month
August 2011: Jake Flax at Republic Pictures, c. 1950
Object #: 2010.25.4
Donor: Steven Blacher
Description: Photograph of Jake Flax holding a lasso while seated on a horse on location at Republic Pictures during a Variety Club convention in Hollywood. His sister Gertrude (woman on the right) watches in the background. c. 1950
Background: By 1913, brothers Sam (aged 26) and Jake Flax (aged 19) were both working as film distributors. Distributors, who found potential movie exhibitors in their local market, generally worked from buildings called film exchanges, which were owned by studios. Film exchanges stored films and often contained screening rooms.
In 1920, the Flax brothers joined together to own and operate Liberty Film Exchange. When Liberty’s parent company unified its distributors, the Flaxes’ office became Republic Pictures Corporation of Washington, D.C. Republic Pictures was one of the first major independent movie studios. It was known for Westerns, launching the careers of cowboy icons John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rodgers. The Flaxes’ office was the first of 39 Republic exchanges to operate under the new company.
The Washington Post reported that a crowd in excess of 600 including “practically all of the ‘show people’ in the Washington territory” attended the seven-hour housewarming at Republic Pictures’ new building at 925 New Jersey Avenue, NW, on May 20, 1935. Congratulatory telegrams, letters, and flowers arrived from across the country. When Sam died five years later, Jake continued with the business. Jake was also very active in the Variety Club, an organization of people in the entertainment industry that raised money for charities. Around the time of this photo, Jake was president of the local chapter, Tent No. 11. In 1947, he sold his Republic Pictures franchise but served as a branch manager until retiring in 1958. He passed away about a year later.
The Flax brothers were far from the only Washington-area Jews in the movie business. Because Jews were often shut out of traditional white-collar jobs, they were drawn to the opportunities offered by a new, high-risk enterprise in which they could be independent decision-makers. Aaron and Julius Brylawski, Max Burka, Fred Kogod, and Sidney Lust were among the local Jewish theater owners of the era.
Do you have material documenting local Jewish-owned entertainment industry that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 789-0900.