Today's films are more often than not devised and created to make money, or have that huge opening weekend that gets headlines. Special effects can be amazing and leave the audience dazzled, however, I frequently find that something is missing - the heart and soul of the film. Watching an old film on television or on a DVD or even on one of my old Beta tapes, still makes me feel something deep inside.
For all of their so-called faults, L.B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, Daryl Zanuck and all of the other moguls who ran the studios during Hollywood's Golden Age, loved movies. They loved entertaining people and the bottom line was not always about making a buck.
Growing up, I quickly became familiar with the logos from the various studios. I loved the fanfare that announced a 20th Century Fox Film and thought that Columbia's lady with the torch was so classy. Universal's plane flying around a dazzling globe and RKO's tower all represented to me that something special was about to happen. Nothing, however, set the tone like the roar of Leo the MGM Lion. There was something about an MGM film that set my heart beating just a bit faster and made my pulse race.
Years later, in 1974, when I attended the opening of "That's Entertainment" at the Beverly Theatre in Beverly Hills, those feelings were still there. I sat in a crowded theatre along with the likes of Fred and Ginger, Gloria Swanson, Marjorie Main, Myrna Loy, Gene Kelly, Ava Gardner and dozens of other luminaries who had played a role in the history of the Culver City lot that housed MGM.
As the compilation film unfolded on the giant screen, I realized that so many of my favorite films had been MGM pictures.
There was something about a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film that set it apart from any other movie. Perhaps it was the people who worked behind the scenes creating a certain sheen or look that was second to none.
Cedric Gibbons knew how to design a set and Sydney Guilaroff knew how to make a leading man or leading lady look stunningly coiffed. Jack Dawn and later William Tuttle knew how to erase any signs of a late night that a star might be showing on their face and make them up as though they'd just arisen from a 12 hour sleep.
When it came to wardrobe, Adrian and later Irene and Helen Rose were among the best in the business and their on-screen creations often became popular off the screen.
And then there were the stars!! With a handful of exceptions, any star worth their weight wanted to work at MGM. Everything was just a cut above any other studio in town and an affiliation with Metro was a big plus on your Resume.
Next time I'll talk about some of the stars who worked at MGM that I was fortunate enough to know and what they told me about life with "Leo the Lion"!!