Today in 1919, the United Artists Corporation was founded by Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. They were all major figures in the burgeoning film industry, who sought to form their own studio to ensure they had creative control over their movies.
United Artists produced multiple popular films, including movies helmed by Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. UA made a tremendous amount of money, largely thanks to their embrace of movies with recorded sound.
UA became significantly less profitable in the 40's, and the studio started to circle the drain. It was sold in 1951, with its studio being converted to a distribution facility.
United Artists saw a revamp later in the 1950's, buoyed by hits like The African Queen, High Noon, West Side Story and Some Like it Hot. UA also helmed the hugely popular James Bond movies.
The company went public in 1957 and continued to grow. It had hits throughout the seventies before it splintered. Five UA executives bailed to found Orion Pictures, a rival film studio that was financed by Warner Brothers. UA once again fell on hard times, thanks to the Orion fracture as well as a bad investment in the legendarily expensive and dismal 1980 film Heaven's Gate.
MGM purchased UA in 1983. The company was then purchased by Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, in 1992. Credit Lyonnais changed the company's name to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
UA ping-ponged around, changing owners frequently, until it wound up being niched as a limited-release, arthouse type studio. It is still producing films.