The Concession Stand

Monday, June 12, 2017

MGM Week: A Legend Begins


During the golden age of film, no studio was more successful or more efficient at making pictures than MGM. Despite being one of the last studios to embrace sound, MGM dominated the movie industry in its golden age, becoming synonymous with big budget, high quality films. 

Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer was formed as a shotgun marriage between three different movie studios, each with its own strong willed leader. Marcus Loew was a theater owner who wanted a reliable stream of product to place in his theaters. He purchased Metro Pictures to supply him with the product he needed, but he soon found that film making was more complicated than he had originally believed. Metro's films were obviously of lower quality than those of other studios, so Loew decided to do something about it.


Goldwyn Pictures was in a tailspin. Its founder, Samuel Goldwyn, had left the company after a bitter dispute and the studio was seemingly directionless. Despite this, Goldwyn Pictures was producing amazing content in a stark contrast to Metro's lesser product. The company fell under the control of Lee Schubert, whose expertise lie more with live productions and theater exposition. Schubert approached Loew to discuss a merger. Loew eagerly agreed, hoping that this deal would resolve his quality issues. MGM's distinctive future logo would come from this pairing; Leo the lion had been a Goldwyn trademark.


Now the combined studio had theaters and quality, but it didn't have a studio head. Marcus Loew's trusted assistant, Nicholas Schenck was needed at the company's New York headquarters, so who could oversee the company's Hollywood production operations? Enter Louis B. Mayer. Mr. Mayer was running his own studio, but saw that he would eventually run into financing limits. His ambition and vision called for a much larger operation than he was capable of accomplishing on his own, so he saw an opportunity with Metro-Goldwyn. Marcus Loew now had all of the pieces in place; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was born.

Louis B. Mayer

This ideal situation would not stay ideal for long. Mayer and Schenck became bitter rivals who often had to be reigned in by Loew. Loew grew tired of being a mediator and sought to fix the rift. Unfortunately, he passed away before getting that chance. Schenck began solidifying his power and arranged a sale of the Loew family shares to the Fox Film Corporation. Louis B. Mayer was incensed and began an internal fight for control. Mayer took his fight to Sacramento, using his ties to the Republican Party to try to get the deal between MGM and Fox overturned. The delays and the Great Depression took their toll on Fox's finances and the deal was called off. This wouldn't be the last time that an MGM/Fox merger was proposed, but for now the deal was dead.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would go on to become a Hollywood powerhouse. No matter the public face it put on, however, the studio had some darker edges right beneath the surface. This week, we'll look at a few of these darker stories from MGM's history.