RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) studio were brought together under the control of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in October 1928.[a] RCA chief David Sarnoff engineered the merger to create a market for the company's sound-on-film technology, RCA Photophone. By the mid-1940's, the studio was under the control of investor Floyd Odlum.
RKO has long been celebrated for its series of musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the mid-to-late 1930s. Actors Katharine Hepburn and, later, Robert Mitchum had their first major successes at the studio. Cary Grant was a mainstay for years. The work of producer Val Lewton's low-budget horror unit and RKO's many ventures into the field now known as film noir have been acclaimed, largely after the fact, by film critics and historians. The studio produced two of the most famous films in motion picture history: King Kong and Citizen Kane.
Maverick industrialist Howard Hughes took over RKO in 1948. After years of decline under his control, the studio was acquired by the General Tire and Rubber Company in 1955. The original RKO Pictures ceased production in 1957 and was effectively dissolved two years later. In 1981, broadcaster RKO General, the corporate heir, revived it as a production subsidiary, RKO Pictures Inc. In 1989, this business with its few remaining assets, the trademarks and remake rights to many classic RKO films, was sold to new owners, who now operate the small independent company RKO Pictures LLC.