|Greta Garbo reluctantly poses with Leo the Lion. Whose idea was this??|
April 17, 2014 marks the 90th anniversary of one of the biggest and most successful Hollywood studios the world has ever seen. Yes ladies and gents, I'm talking 'bout Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Instead of occupying your time with gobs and gobs of information, I'm going to go ahead and list the facts - only the facts - here goes:
- MGM was formed on April 17, 1924 when entertainment mogul Marcus Loew gained control of three different studios: Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures,
- Ars Gratia Artis is the MGM studio motto - it is a Latin phrase meaning Art for art's sake and was chosen by Howard Dietz, MGM's chief publicist at the time,
- Dietz also designed the famous MGM logo which features Leo the Lion surrounded by a role of film (interesting tidbit of information: this logo was originally designed by Dietz for Goldwyn Pictures Corporation back in 1916 and was later re-designed for the bigger studio's inception),
- the studio's heyday existed throughout the 1930s and the 1940s when MGM billed itself as having "more stars than there are in heaven." Dudes weren't lying either! Classic film stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, John Barrymore, and Mickey Rooney were just some of the studio's permanent fleet of contracted stars.
- MGM was the last Hollywood studio to convert to making sound pictures,
- Louis B. Mayer, MGM's reviled studio chief was terminated and eventually replaced by Dore Schary in August 1951,
- the studio's famed "Arthur Freed Unit" produced some of the best film musicals ever made during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s (On The Town, Gigi, Meet Me In St. Louis, An American In Paris, Singin' In the Rain, The Bandwagon, etc), and
- MGM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 3, 2010 but emerged from it just over one month later on December 20th (Merry Christmas indeed!).
On a more personal note, MGM was the very first movie studio I fell in love with back when I started discovering classic film. For that reason, it's always held a special place in my heart. At the time, being six or seven years old, my brain wasn't sophisticated enough to appreciate such film genres such as noir, suspense, or gangster flicks. Brightly coloured, family-friendly musicals were more my game at that age and so I chose to focus my attention on films such as The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade, and Summer Stock. Singin' In the Rain had me crushing BIG TIME on Donald O'Connor and Meet Me In St. Louis had me wishing I lived in a giant Victorian house just like the Smith family did.
|A shot of MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, $24.54 on amazon.ca|
One of the best books I've come across that is devoted to the giant studio is MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan. This hardcover coffee table book was released back in February 2011 and is still available on amazon to order - and I wholeheartedly suggest you invest in a copy! It basically delves into the movie studio's ginormous backlot and explains what each one was used for and lists all the films that each appears in. This is an utterly fascinating behind-the-scenes look at some of our favourite films and the exterior sets that were used in the making of them.
The first time I made my way through this book I had such fun picking out the sets and sound stages that I recognized from years of watching MGM films. Oh look! There's Esther Williams' water tank! And Camille's cottage! Oooh, and the Hardy's house! Believe me, the excitement was almost much too much for me and I nearly had to have a lie down. Take a sneak peek at all of the A-list stars' dressing rooms and see how those ritzy vast interiors were constructed by countless faceless workmen, many of them working around the clock to meet rigid studio deadlines.
TCM celebrates the 90th anniversary of MGM beginning at 6 AM EST on April 17th with the showing of silent feature Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). The MGM marathon continues for the next forty-eight hours and is sure to be a hit with viewers of the network! Unfortunately, I'll be at the office slaving away yet something tells me my cable box will be working overtime, recording two-days' worth of stellar MGM films!