Monday, May 23, 2016

MGM Studio founded in 1924 in Culver City Californa. Here's a bit of Hollywood History from my family archives









Newly formed MGM, 1924. From my grandfather's archives. 
Buster Keaton, Hardy Rapst, Irving Thalberg, (Head of Production,) Nick Schende, Natale Talmadge, (Mrs. Buster Keaton.) Louie B. Mayer, Eddie Mannix, (general manager and head of publicity,) Hunt Stomberg, (Producer.)



MGM and its legendary roaring lion logo was formed in April 1924, by theater magnate Marcus Loew, who orchestrated the merger of Metro Pictures Corp., Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions

Metro Pictures had the look, the style and the stars needed to attract a growing audience, but the little studio on Gower Street in Hollywood became too limited to meet it's growing needs.  In 1924 Goldwyn Pictures with its valuable studio property in Culver City was purchased and MGM was born.  Mayer and my grandfather, Andy Mac Donald, moved Metro's sets together in Andy's truck, to the new lot in Culver City.


 Mayer now the head of M.G.M. gave my grandfather the position of head of construction and eventually head of 7 MGM departments.  Metro Goldwyn Mayer's magnificent entrance on Washington Blvd.,  looked like a turret of a Castle.   The offices, shops, and main stages were up front on the main lot and the
other two back lots held street scenes, college malls, quaint village
squares, meadow, forest and even a jungle with a  man-made pool for the Tarzan.  The outlying studio ranches used for Westerns
were located in the San Fernando Valley and the nearby convenience of ocean, wild country and desert afforded a variety of natural settings.

M.G.M.'s now celebrated and polished films required only the
best in every department.  The Studio's level of expertise excelled over any other studio and became the quintessential glamour and star factory in Hollywood.


Louie B. Mayer ran the Studio like a boot camp.  If there were any slackers on a job, they were quickly fired. He demanded excellence and loyalty and under his rule, M.G.M. became the most authoritarian studio  in the industry.   He instituted an important break with the early movie tradition of allowing directors to serve as a overseers of the art... "Griffith style." 

 At M.G.M.  film making became an assembly line of departments each answerable to a producer,  each producer answerable to the head of production and the head of production answerable to Mayer.  M.G.M's. stars became nothing like the merry old player of the old days, insisting on their favorite directors, idea men and supporting players and actors were never allowed to choose their own properties.



Mayer's directors  directed,  his writers wrote and his actors acted. All separately.   Free spirits were no longer tolerated. Team
players and company men were the only people allowed to play ball with Mayer. 

My grandfather, Andy Mac Donald on the left with his men, on a set they constructed

As head of construction,  Andy was expected to respect Mayer's style rather than rely on his own.  Authority started at the top and worked down.  Andy's men took direction from him, he took direction from an art director and the art director took direction from the Mayer.

Economics ruled under Mayer's reign and there was no waste. Andy figured out a way to construct detachable sets that could be used over and over again. Walls, bookshelves, staircases etc. could be taken apart and put back together in different ways.  When they weren't in use they could be stored for future projects. Elaborate sets, especially exteriors were kept standing on the back lots and when a scene called for it, a whole town could be constructed quickly, or be reassembled to look like a new town.

 A facade of a Mediterranean Villa nestled in a grove of fake palm trees created the feeling of the Italian Renaissance and when the film was over it could be repainted and redecorated to give the impression of an entirely different part of the world.


Andy's innovative ways of constructing difficult sets and props

for "Ben Hur,"  M.G.M. 's first major picture after the merger, was
legendary and Mayer increased his salary to an all time high.

Natalie Talmadge and Buster Keaton
The 1920's were prosperous for most people in America, but for those with big positions at a major studio, it was unimaginable. Money was worth much more, because income tax and unions  were still a long way off and the price of homes and fancy cars was still reasonable.

Read more about Louie B. Mayer, MGM and my grandfather's 55 year career at the Studio in my book, The Maybelline Story. I know you'll find it hard to put down. 


My mother Pauline Mac Donald, was born in 1924, the year MGM moved to Culver City.  She grew up watching her father, Andy oversee every set built for every picture made at the Studio, including Gone with the With Wind and the Wizard of Oz in 1939.  You're going to love this memoir....


Culver City Celebrates it's 100 year Anniversary Sept 26 - Oct 1
Here's the details   http://culvercity100.org/

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