History lesson: Who is the K in RKO?

From “The New York Star” (March 27, 1909), Vol.1, No.26, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27258839.

Film buffs know RKO Pictures as one of the “Big 5” studios of Hollywood’s Golden Era, along with MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount and 20th Century Fox. (See this Wikipedia article for more on that.) Film historians might also know that “R” stands for “Radio” and “O” for “Orpheum.” But few can tell you where the K came from.

Well, meet Benjamin Franklin Keith. Born just eight years after the first photograph of a person was ever taken, Keith straddled history by working with P.T. Barnum, opening arguably the first cinema in the United States (New York’s Union Square Theatre in 1896) and ultimately lending his name to RKO Pictures, though he died 14 years before the studio was founded. It’s quite a 20th-century entertainment and cultural legacy for a man who never once watched a synchronized-sound motion picture or witnessed a world war.

Now you know the name behind King Kong’s roar and Charles Foster Kane’s sled.


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