The Concession Stand

Friday, June 16, 2017

MGM Week: The Dynasty Falls

The collapse of the studio system seemed like it would be catastrophic to Hollywood. The city was built on turning the art of Show into a business. Run by larger than life moguls, how would the studios survive the end of the system that had defined it for decades?


While the weakest of the majors, RKO, would unsurprisingly find itself DOA. Astonishingly, the industry would find its strongest studio stumble as well. The mighty lion of MGM would soon find his roar become a whimper. Why did this mighty studio fall? Was it the greedy venture capitalist who just wanted to strip mine the company to finance his casinos? As it turned out, the studio was already weakened before it fell to Kirk Kirkorian.


Some people traced MGM's fall to the loss of the company's top boss- Louis B. Mayer. How could a studio with such a charismatic figure at the top survive his death? Ask Walt Disney Productions. It survived the death of its founder who was arguably more tied to the company that bore his name than Louis B. Mayer was to MGM. Besides, many people felt that MGM was already in decline before Mayer's death.


Doubtless all of these things contributed to the studio's fall from grace, but the primary reason for the studio's failure was what made it successful during its heyday- its efficient method of making films. During the height of the studio system, MGM's massive overhead was more than paid for by its immense product. Louis B. Mayer never let his mighty studio's assemblyline lie fallow for too long. As times changed, Mayer's operations didn't change at all. It was a fatal mistake that spelled the end of MGM's dominance. Previously smaller studios like Columbia and Disney flourished, since their lack of overhead made them ideally suited to take advantage of the new Hollywood reality. MGM would literally become a shell of its former self; its vaunted backlot was parceled out for condos, with the remaining backlot sold off. Its legendary props were sold off, as was its film library. A sad end for the mighty lion.