Paramount at 100: Ready for its closeup

(CBS News) The only movie studio still located in the Hollywood zip code is Paramount. And on the occasion of its one-hundredth anniversary Lee Cowan tells us Paramount is ready for ITS close-up:

There are few landmarks in Hollywood more storied than the gates of Paramount Studios - now, and way back when . . . as seen in "Sunset Boulevard."

It's not just that gate that symbolizes the far-off glamour of the movies . . .

It's that mythical Paramount peak, too - what Bob Hope called his "bread and butter."

From Hope and Crosby, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, to Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly . . . even Moses and the Israelites - they all found their way to Paramount.

Brad Grey is only the eighth studio head to take charge behind those gates, and that's saying a lot, given that Paramount just passed the century mark.

"When you're here late at night, do the ghosts of the old studio haunt you a little bit?" Cowan asked.

"Yeah, I think there's ghosts all over this lot, to be honest with you!" Grey said.

The studio threw a 100th birthday party like only a dream factory could throw. Nearly every living star in the studio's galaxy turned out to celebrate: Barbra Streisand, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Travolta, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman . . .

"There was no place you could turn if you're a fan of our business, and not think, 'I am completely overwhelmed by the body of work that's standing here,'" said Grey.

The studio that brought you "Iron Man," Indiana Jones, "Top Gun," even Woody Allen, started with a single silent picture.

A penny arcade operator named Adolph Zukor realized that moving pictures could be more than just the shorts at nickelodeons.

So he bought the rights to a French film called "Queen Elizabeth," starring Sarah Bernhardt. When it opened in 1912 - at a whopping 44 minutes long - the feature-length film had come to America - and soon Paramount Studios was, too.

"Zukor understood that people would come to a movie if there was somebody really interesting and famous that they would see," said Paramount's Vice President of Archives Andrea Kalas.

"The notion of the star system was really his?" said Cowan.

"Exactly, exactly. Not only did he recognize it, he knew how to capitalize on it," said Kalas.

She spends a lot of time in cold storage these days, where Paramount is chilling its fragile celluloid history - to preserve it.

Paramount's real-life screenplay has as many twists and turns as a good whodunit. In 1929 its highly anticipated "Wings" won the very FIRST Academy Award.

Remembering "Wings," the 1st Best Picture

But it was the same year as the Great Depression, and Paramount soon found itself bankrupt.

Movies were a luxury few could afford, said film historian Leonard Maltin. "It just had a devastating effect on everybody, including Paramount," he said.