MGM Once Boasted It Had 'More Stars Than There Are in Heaven' With AM-Turner-MGM.
Aug. 07, 1985
HOLLYWOOD (AP) _ The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios boasted of having ''more stars than there are in heaven'' back when Hollywood was loud and lusty and Leo the Lion reigned as king of the movie jungle.
Now there's a new tiger in town.
Turner Broadcasting System Inc. agreed Wednesday to acquire MGM-UA Entertainment Co. in a $1.5 billion deal. Turner would get a studio rich in Hollywood history, and acquire a vast film library of 2,200 titles.
It was the the latest twist in the 61-year history of the movie giant that dominated filmmaking in the 1930s and '40s.
The boy-wonder era of Irving Thalberg, movie mogul Louis B. Mayer's view of the star family and classic motion pictures such as ''Gone With the Wind,'' ''Mutiny on the Bounty,'' ''The Wizard of Oz'' and ''Dr. Zhivago'' were MGM creations.
In its heyday during the 1930s and '40s, MGM employed the biggest stars - Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Fred Astaire, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Greer Garson, Ronald Colman, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow and a young Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis.
A quarter-century before becoming governor of California, Reagan performed before the MGM cameras in ''The Bad Man,'' and in 1949 Nancy Davis starred in ''Shadow on the Wall.'' In 1954, Reagan starred in MGM's ''Prisoner of War.''
James Stewart began his film career at MGM in 1935.
Moviegoers escaped to MGM's epics ''Mrs. Miniver,'' ''Ben-Hur,'' ''Quo Vadis,'' ''The Unsinkable Molly Brown'' and ''Gigi.'' Mickey Rooney grew up at MGM with the ''Hardy'' movies.
The once greatest of film factories was founded May 17, 1924, and Lot 2 at the Culver City backlot, since sold off for commercial development, was the Lion's den of activity.
Lot 2: Location of the procession in ''Easter Parade'' with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland; Gene Kelly skating through the street facade of ''It's Always Fair Weather;'' Glenn Ford teaching Sidney Poitier at an MGM schoolhouse in ''The Blackboard Jungle.''
The Philadelphia Story'' was shot on Lot 2, now a shopping center, and Richard Burton was kicked out of the MGM church in ''Night of the Iguana.''
MGM's slogans were famous and vulnerable to jest. The lofty motto on Leo's scroll, ''Ars Gratia Artis' (meaning roughly, Art for Art's Sake) invited sardonic comment and ''More Stars than there are in heaven'' was dropped when somebody thought it referred to the dear departed.
During MGM's quality era, Thalberg was the brilliant director of the studio's production fortunes while Louis B. Mayer supported him on the business end.
After Thalberg's death in 1936, Mayer took complete charge and built the biggest stable of stars in Hollywood history. While films were not the same quality attractions that Thalberg had made, the company flourished by its very bigness through the war years and into the postwar period.
Important was Mayer's concept of the studio as a family unit. He saw himself as a father figure, the stars as his children. He encouraged the shy ones, scolded the naughty ones, preached thrift to those who asked for more money and reminded them all of the cold, cruel world awaiting those who ran away.
MGM's short subjects were also lucrative, burgeoning to an average annual total of 80, including nearby Hal Roach studios comedies ''Laurel and Hardy,'' ''Our Gang.'' MGM also brought moviegoers and eventually Saturday morning TV audiences such cartoons as ''Tom & Jerry,'' ''Popeye'' and ''The Pink Panther.''
But the troubles that assailed the film industry in the 1950s hit MGM hardest of all, the big studio becoming the industry's ''beached whale.'' Mayer was deposed; so was his successor, Dore Schary. The company went through a series of management changes, none improving MGM's condition.
MGM began cutting back movie production and distribution 12 years ago to focus on TV and other leisure and entertainment activities.
In addition to the ''Rocky'' films, recent MGM projects included such fare as ''Tarzan the Ape Man,'' ''Clash of the Titans,''''Rich and Famous,'' ''Shoot the Moon,'' ''Pennies From Heaven,'' ''All the Marbles, '' ''Who's Life Is It, Anyway?'' ''Buddy Buddy,'' ''Cannery Row,'' ''A Stranger is Watching.''
MGM in recent years suffered through a brutal losing streak in the high- stakes audience game. By 1975, the glamour was gone from MGM, which had moved to Nevada to tap gambling riches.
''Shampoo,'' ''Tommy'' and ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' were credited with saving MGM from financial ruin.
In 1982, the studio merged with United Artists after UA was ravaged by the spectacular failure of ''Heaven's Gate,'' a $43 million box-office bomb that triggered a reassessment of the megabucks investments by spend-happy Hollywood.
''Diner,'' ''Poltergeist,'' ''My Favorite Year'' and others pulled in healthy box office returns, as did the video market.