Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Essay, Research Paper
The history of the illustrious film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, more commonly known as MGM, begins with Marcus Loew, a first-generation American and son of Austrian immigrants, who began purchasing penny arcades in 1905 with his business partner, Adolph Zukor. They were soon buying up motion-picture theaters, and by 1912, when Zukor struck out to form the production company Famous Players (which eventually became Paramount), Loew had his own business, Loew's Theatrical Enterprises, which owned hundreds of movie houses. Russian-born Louis B. Mayer, who'd come to the States as a child with his parents, was a successful film distributor by 1915, thanks to the profits from his handling the New England release of D.W. Griffith's classic The Birth Of A Nation. Merging with other small distributors, he formed the production company Metro Pictures Corporation in that year. Metro found success in the teens releasing popular films starring Mary Miles Minter (Always In Way, 1915; Barbara Frietchie, 1915), Ethel Barrymore (The Awakening Of Helen Richie, 1916; Our Mrs. McChesney, 1918), Viola Dana (The Gates Of Eden, 1916; The Microbe, 1919), Alla Nazimova (Eye For Eye, 1918; The Brat, 1919), and the one-reel comedies of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew (At The Count Of Ten, 1916; The Hypochondriac, 1917). In 1918 Mayer launched his own company, Louis B. Mayer Productions, and released several films starring Anita Stewart, including In Old Kentucky (1919). In the early 1920s Metro released a series of outstanding two-reel comedies from Buster Keaton, including One Week and The Goat; Keaton was also starred in a feature, The Saphead (1920). Loew and his associate Nicholas M. Schenck purchased Metro in 1920, insuring a steady supply for the theaters of Loew's, Inc. Metro's notable features of the early '20s include three hits directed by Rex Ingram: the war film The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1921), which made a star of Rudolph Valentino, and the swashbucklers The Prisoner Of Zenda (1922) and Scaramouche (1923). Keaton began directing his own features and made his first classics for Metro: Three Ages (1923), Our Hospitality (1923), Sherlock, Jr. (1924). Henry King directed Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman in the romantic drama The White Sister (1923); Nazimova starred in Camille (1921); and Viola Dana made such popular romantic comedies as Life's Darn Funny (1921) and Rouged Lips (1923).Mayer's company had less money than Metro, but it had the astute guidance of vice president and head of production, Irving Thalberg, whom Mayer had hired from Universal in 1923. His releases included several films directed by John M. Stahl (The Song Of Life, 1922; The Wanters, 1923; Why Men Leave Home, 1924) and Fred Niblo (The Famous Mrs. Fair, 1923; Thy Name Is Woman, 1924), as well as King Vidor's His Hour (1924) with John Gilbert. In the meantime, another independent production company, the Goldwyn Pictures Corp., started in 1917 and had released successful films starring Mary Miles Minter (Polly Of The Circus, 1917; The Bondage Of Barbara, 1919), Mabel Normand (Joan Of Plattsburg, 1918; The Pest, 1919), Geraldine Farrar (The Hell Cat, 1918; Shadows, 1919), and Will Rogers (Jubilo, 1919; Jes' Call Me Jim, 1920). Yet Goldwyn was in financial trouble by the early 1920s, despite such popular films as Sherlock Holmes (1922) with John Barrymore and the horror tale A Blind Bargain (1922) with Lon Chaney. In 1922, producer Samuel Goldwyn was forced out of the company he'd helped form, and in 1924 Marcus Loew merged with Goldwyn to form Metro-Goldwyn Pictures. From 1924-25 MG releases included Keaton's The Navigator (1924); Vidor's Wine Of Youth (1924) and Proud Flesh (1925); Tess Of The D'Urbervilles (1924) and The Sporting Venus (1925) with Blanche Sweet; and The Monster (1925) with Chaney. Mayer and his Louis B. Mayer Productions — along with Thalberg — also merged with MG, and in 1925, the studio, under the control of Loew's, Inc., was officially called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with Mayer as vice president and general manager. Two big-budget productions which MGM inherited from Goldwyn met very different fates at the new studio. The epic Ben-Hur (1926), directd by Fred Niblo, opened to great fanfare and acclaim; a marathon adaptation of the Frank Norris novel "McTeague" by writer/director Erich von Stroheim was slashed from 24 reels to 10 and released as Greed (1924). Thalberg let von Stroheim direct The Merry Widow (1925), but kept him on a tight rein; after its completion, he left MGM. In the last years of the 1920s, MGM made its reputation for quality with a stream of hit silents. King Vidor directed the war film The Big Parade (1925) and the classic drama of ordinary people, The Crowd (1928). Lillian Gish starred in two admired films directed by Sweden's Victor Seastrom, the Hawthorne adaptation The Scarlet Letter (1926) and the classic frontier melodrama The Wind (1928). Sweden also provided MGM with an actress who quickly became one of the studio's superstars: Greta Garbo. The public embraced her in a series of romantic dramas, most notably her films opposite John Gilbert, Flesh And The Devil (1927), Love (1927), and A Woman Of Affairs (1928). Buster Keaton made Seven Chances (1925), Go West (1925), and his biggest box-office hit, Battling Butler (1926), for MGM; he then joined United Artists but returned to MGM for his final silents, The Cameraman (1928) and Spite Marriage (1929). Ernst Lubitsch directed Norma Shearer in The Student Prince (1927), which was released shortly before her marriage to Irving Thalberg. Director Tod Browning teamed with actor Lon Chaney for a memorable series of thrillers, including The Unholy Three (1925), The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), and West Of Zanzibar (1928). The idependent comedy producer Hal Roach began distributing his films through MGM in 1927, which brought such beloved comic talent as Laurel & Hardy, Charley Chase, and the "Our Gang" kids under the studio's banner. By the end of the decade, MGM's vast array of movie theaters and its many quality films had made it one of the great five "integrated major" studios, along with Paramount, Fox, RKO, and Warner Bros. MGM began making partial-talkies in 1928, and switched permanently to sound the following year, after releasing the hit musical The Broadway Melody (1929). In the early '30s, MGM presented the most popular and glamorous movie stars in polished films, thanks to the careful guidance of Thalberg and Mayer. The ailing Thalberg died in 1936 at age 37, after having personally overseen many of MGM's best efforts. His legacy includes the Eugene O'Neill adaptations Anna Christie (1930) with Greta Garbo and Strange Interlude (1932) with Norma Shearer and Clark Gable; the seminal prison film The Big House (1930); Tod Browning's horror clasic Freaks (1932); Grand Hotel (1932) with Garbo and John Barrymore; the sequel-spawning Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932) with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan; The Merry Widow (1934) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, directed by Lubitsch; The Barretts Of Wimpole Street (1934) with Fredric March and Norma Shearer as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) with Gable and Charles Laughton; Romeo And Juliet (1936) with Shearer and Leslie Howard, and Camille (1936) with Garbo, both directed by George Cukor; and the Marx Brothers comedies A Night At The Opera (1935) and A Day At The Races (1936). Producer David O. Selznick was MGM's vice president from 1933 to 1935, and made such memorable films as Dinner At Eight (1933) and David Copperfield (1935), both directed by Cukor; Viva Villa! (1934) with Wallace Beery and A Tale Of Two Cities (1935) with Ronald Colman, both directed by Jack Conway; and the gangster film Manhattan Melodrama (1934) with Clark Gable. At the end of the '30s, the independent Selznick released through MGM his mega-hit romantic drama set against the Civil War, Gone With The Wind (1939). Other notable MGM releases of the '30s include producer/director King Vidor's The Champ (1932) with Wallace Beery; the first American film of director Fritz Lang, Fury (1936) with Spencer Tracy; the series of mystery/comedies begun by The Thin Man (1934) with William Powell and Myrna Loy; the operetta adaptations of producer Hunt Stromberg, which starred Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and started with Naughty Marietta (1935); the Kipling adaptation Captains Courageous (1937) with Spencer Tracy; the series of "Andy Hardy" films starring Mickey Rooney, which was officially launched with You're Only Young Once (1938), and the "Dr. Kildare" series with Lew Ayres, which officially began with Young Dr. Kildare (1938); and two classics from 1939, Lubitsch's romantic comedy Ninotchka with Garbo and the fantasy/musical The Wizard Of Oz with Judy Garland. MGM maintained its box-office clout in the war years, giving the public hit romantic comedies (Cukor's The Philadelphia Story (1940) with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart; Lubitsch's The Shop Around The Corner (1940) with Stewart and Margaret Sullavan; George Stevens' Woman Of The Year (1942) with Hepburn and Spencer Tracy); wartime morale boosters (William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver (1942) with Greer Garson; Mervyn LeRoy's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) with Tracy; John Ford's They Were Expendable (1945) with John Wayne); and tear-jerking dramas (LeRoy's Blossoms In The Dust (1941) and Random Harvest (1941), both with Greer Garson). With the talent of new director Vincente Minnelli, MGM also kept the hit musicals coming: the all-black Cabin In The Sky (1943) with Lena Horne; the Americana classic Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) with Judy Garland; and the all-star Ziegfeld Follies (1945). After the war, MGM's production included such notable films as the drama The Yearling (1946) and the William Faulkner adaptation Intruder In The Dust (1949), both directed by Clarence Brown; the Minnelli musicals Yolanda And The Thief (1946) and The Pirate (1947); director Fred Zinnemann's postwar drama The Search (1948), the first film of actor Montgomery Clift; Ford's Western 3 Godfathers (1948) with John Wayne; Frank Capra's political satire State Of The Union (1948) with Tracy and Hepburn; and director William A. Wellman's war film Battleground (1949), produced by the studio's new chief of production, Dore Schary. A government antitrust action in 1952 forced Loew's, Inc., to split its production and distribution businesses. As a separate corporation, MGM no longer had its network of theaters, and its finances were sharply curtailed. The growth of television was also a drain on the studio's profits, while internal power struggles further weakened MGM: Schary ousted Mayer in 1951, and was himself axed in 1956, along with Schenck. Yet during the 1950s many of the studio's most beloved films were released. Writer/director John Huston made the classic caper film The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and the Stephen Crane adaptation The Red Badge Of Courage (1951) (which was butchered by studio editing). George Cukor directed Tracy and Hepburn in the comedy Adam's Rib (1950). Minnelli made the musicals An American In Paris (1951) with Gene Kelly and The Band Wagon (1952) with Fred Astaire, and Gigi (1957) with Leslie Caron; he also directed the Hollywood drama The Bad And The Beautiful (1952) and the Van Gogh biopic Lust For Life (1955), both starring Kirk Douglas, and the James Jones adaptation Some Came Running (1958). Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directed the classic musical Singin' In The Rain (1952), and Donen helmed Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954). LeRoy directed the epic Quo Vadis? (1951) with Robert Taylor, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed the Shakespeare adaptation Julius Caesar (1953) with Marlon Brando. John Ford directed Clark Gable in the African drama Mogambo (1953) and John Wayne in The Wings Of Eagles (1957). Spencer Tracy starred in the thriller Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), directed by John Sturges, and Alfred Hitchcock produced and directed his espionage classic North By Northwest (1959) with Cary Grant. Richard Brooks directed the juvenile-delinquent drama Blackboard Jungle (1956) and the Tennessee Williams adaptation Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958). Wiliam Wyler directed the box-office smash Ben-Hur (1959).The 1960s were an extremely rocky time for MGM. The studio lost a fortune on its remake of Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando. There were also several hits over the decade: Stanley Kubrick's Vladimir Nabokov adaptation Lolita (1961) and his science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); the sprawling Cinerama Western How The West Was Won (1963); David Lean's Boris Pasternak adaptation Dr. Zhivago (1965); and the war actioner The Dirty Dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich. The studio also released such acclaimed films as Sam Peckinpah's Western classic Ride The High Country (1962); the Tennessee Williams adaptations Sweet Bird Of Youth (1962), directed by Richard Brooks, and The Night Of The Iguana (1964) directed by John Huston; the stylish fantasy 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao (1964); the the Paddy Chayefsky satire The Americanization Of Emily (1964), directed by Arthur Hiller; the last film of director John Ford, 7 Women (1966); and Michelangelo Antonioni's English-language films Blow-Up (1966) and Zabriskie Point (1969). But by the end of the decade Kirk Kerkorian took over MGM. He brought in James T. Aubrey, the former production chief of CBS, as president, and his belt-tightening methods further diminished MGM: He pulled the plug on Fred Zinnemann's adaptation of the Andr? Malraux novel "Man's Fate" just before shooting could commence, and slashed to ribbons such noteworthy films as Ken Russell's musical The Boy Friend (1971), Sam Peckinpah's Western Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973), and Blake Edwards' Wild Rovers (1971) and The Carey Treatment (1972). David Lean's sprawling and expensive romantic drama Ryan's Daughter (1970) fared less well than Dr. Zhivago had, and Joseph Losey's The Go-Between (1970) and The Assassination Of Trotsky (1972) didn't bring much in the way of profits. By 1973 MGM was no longer distributing its films: United Artists handled its domestic releases, and CIC the foreign distribution. Several MGM films of the late '70s proved successful: the musical-highlight compilation films That's Entertainment! (1974) and That's Entertainment!, Part 2 (1976); Neil Simon's comedies The Sunshine Boys (1975) and The Goodbye Girl (1977, an MGM/Warner Bros. co-production), both directed by Herbert Ross; and the Paddy Chayefsky satire Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet. Yet the studio's biggest profits of the late '70s came from its investments and casino ownerships rather than from its films. MGM acquired United Artists in 1981, and changed its name to MGM/UA Entertainment in 1983; the initial hits in this change over included Alan Parker's musical Fame (1980), Barry Levinson's comedy Diner (1982), Tobe Hooper's sequel-spawning horror film Poltergeist (1982), Blake Edwards' transgender musical Victor/Victoria (1982), and the James Bond movies Octopussy (1983) and A View To A Kill (1985). But there were also such flops as the Korean War epic Inchon (1982), the Bette Midler comedy Jinxed (1982), and Yes, Giorgio (1982) with Luciano Pavarotti. In 1986 the Turner Broadcasting System purchased MGM/UA, kept the library of MGM classics (plus the RKO and Warner Bros. releases MGM had bought up), and sold off United Artists as well as the MGM film and television production and distribution. A period of corporate instability followed, and the studio released a trickle of negligible efforts, despite such successes as Moonstruck (1987), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), and Rain Man (1988). The Italian conglomerate Path? Communications, run by Giancarlo Parretti, took over the MGM/UA Communications Corp. in 1990, and set up Yoram Globus as president of MGM-Path? Communications. The next year, Parretti was out and producer Alan Ladd Jr. was the chairman and CEO of MGM-Path?. In 1992, MGM-Path? was bought up by its creditor, French bank Credit Lyonnais, which renamed the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. A year later, Ladd was replaced by the former chairman of Paramount, Frank Mancuso. Most of the studio's '90s releases have been as feeble as its '80s efforts. Yet there have also been such hits as Thelma And Louise (1991), Stargate (1994), GoldenEye (1995), The Birdcage (1996), and Get Shorty (1996). These successes may be no more capable of restoring MGM's stature as its handful of late-'80s hits were. But regardless of the studio's future, its past will always bring to the name of MGM a brilliant glow of respect, glamour, and imagination.