The Concession Stand

Thursday, July 21, 2016

MGM: The Grandest Backlot Ever

In the golden age of Hollywood, the studios would pride themselves on how large their studio backlot was. It was actually considered a selling point for a studio to brag about its backlot; how many acres it was and how many soundstages it had. No studio was prouder of its storied backlot than MGM.

And it had a good reason to be. At its peak, it was the largest, most extravagant backlot anywhere. Other studios could only dream of its amenities- there were small town sets, big city sets, even an entire lake and part of a river.

While Universal Studios had a larger sized lot, it was mostly undeveloped at the time due to the studio's shaky finances. MGM's lot, however, was fully realized. The other titans of film could only dream of having MGM's resources and they often jockeyed to borrow or rent MGM's facilities when needed. They did this grudgingly, however, because studio head Louis B. Mayer would often lord it over them.

Sadly, this wonderland of film would not survive the 1960's. The company, weakened by the onslaught of television and the public's shifting taste in films, was sold to Kirk Kirkorian, whose only desire was to use MGM's name for his huge new casinos and everything that wasn't nailed down to help finance them. Warehouses full of priceless props used in the glory days of MGM were raided for a series of auctions. Hollywood history vanished into the private collections of the wealthy who bought ruby slippers, famous costumes and more. Culver City, which had been home to MGM's grand studio lot, was going through a building boom so Mr. Kirkorian took advantage to sell off the storied lot piece by piece to developers who replaced Hollywood history with condominiums. The lot, a fraction of its size during its heyday was eventually sold to Columbia Pictures and is now owned by Sony.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Garry Marshall, Director

While he was arguably best known for his work in television, Garry Marshall was also a very successful director. Among his biggest hits were Beaches


"I am a total believer of making the process a good time - make it memorable, have some fun, try to shoot high in your quality and then don't get crazy, see what happens."

-Garry Marshall

He also directed Pretty Woman, the film that made Julia Roberts a star:


And who could forget The Princess Diaries?


If you’ve got the comedy eye, you can look at any situation and see the humor in it while others don’t.
-Garry Marshall

Monday, July 18, 2016

Saul Bass, Hollywood Icon

Saul Bass was one of the most iconic poster and credit sequence designers in Hollywood, a rare legend whose posters became as famous as the movies they promoted.




But he also designed various logos, including this one for Wienerschnitzel:


Not too many fast food chains can say their logo was designed by a legend.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Tragic Latin Lover

Ramon Novarro isn't a widely recognized name these days. The son of a wealthy Mexican family who fled the country during the Mexican Revolution, he was uprooted from Mexico City and soon found himself in Los Angeles, California.


He quickly decided that he wanted to join the city's then nascent industry- motion pictures. His handsome looks led to bit parts in silent pictures. He befriended two big name stars of the time- Rex Ingram and Alice Terry, who pushed him to the studios as another "Latin Lover" like Rudolph Valentino. Louis B. Mayer signed Mr. Novarro to MGM and he soon began "competing" with Valentino for roles. When Valentino tragically died at a young age, it seemed like nothing could stop Ramon. 


While he booked his biggest role up to that point- the lead in the 1925 version of Ben Hur, it was his secret life that seemingly held him back. Mr. Novarro was gay in a time period in which that particular sexual orientation was stigmatized. Still, Ramon was making a staggering (for the time period) $100,000 per picture. Louis B. Mayer, who feared that Ramon's box office pull would end if his fans discovered his secret, pleaded with Ramon to marry a woman to silence the murmurs among the Hollywood elite. Ramon refused and MGM chose not to renew his contract. Ramon only found work sporadically after that time. When rumors of him being a communist started to surface, his film career was over.

Luckily for Ramon, he was a great investor and he didn't really need to work any more. He chose to retire in style, living in an expensive mansion in Los Angeles' famed Laurel Canyon. Sadly, he was murdered by two hustlers in 1968. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hedy Lamarr, Inventor

Hedy Lamarr was born in 1914 in Vienna. After being discovered by a German filmmaker, she studied acting in Munich, performing mostly in live theater. Upon her return to Vienna, she started appearing in German films, but fled to Paris to escape her abusive husband. It was in Paris that she met MGM's Louis B. Mayer who admired her beauty and quickly signed her to a deal.


Hedy found her Hollywood roles to be far too superficial for her talents and became bored with acting. To keep her sanity, she began putting her aptitude for mathematics to work. Her first inventions were an improved stoplight for intersections and a tablet that would, when put into a glass of water, become a carbonated beverage. Neither set the world on fire, but her biggest invention would quite literally change the world.

Partnering with composer George Antheil, who was no traditional inventor himself, they sought to develop a guidance system for torpedoes that would be resistant to jamming. They developed a frequency hopping method that would make it impossible for an enemy to jam a signal and send a torpedo off course. The Pentagon, who didn't like using technology originating outside the military, balked at employing it during World War II, disappointing Ms. Lamarr. They would later embrace the technology, using it during the 1960's.

Ms. Lamarr passed away in 2000, living long enough to see her invention get wider use. If you're viewing this on a cellular phone, tablet or using Wi-Fi, you can thank Ms. Lamarr. Her method is still used in these technologies even today.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Rest in Peace, Michael Cimino

Famed The Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino has died at age 77.

Mr. Cimino was born in New York City in 1939. He attended Yale University and upon graduating quickly found work in advertising. After setting his sights higher, he moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, co-writing the Dirty Harry film Magnum Force. Cimino caught the eye of star Clint Eastwood, who bought the script for Cimino's directorial debut- Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The success of the film made Cimino a hot product in Hollywood at a time when studios were finding great success in giving directors full latitude in all aspects of their films, which led to his masterpiece- The Deer Hunter. The film would earn five Academy Awards including two for Mr. Cimino.

While Mr. Cimino was able to take advantage of the unprecedented freedom given to directors in the 1970's, some blame his next project for ending everything in 1980. Heaven's Gate was a huge critical and box office disaster, resulting in the collapse of United Artists and the end of the freedom given to directors in the 1970's by the major studios.

Cimino left Hollywood and did little work afterwards. In recent years, his biggest flop was being re-evaluated by critics and audiences and saw a hugely successful DVD reissue in a Director's Cut version.

Independence Day Weekend