Greenbriar Attends MGM's 25th Anniversary Workshop --- Part One
Do you have the DVD set of That’s Entertainment? If so, find the extra devoted to raw newsreel footage of MGM’s 25th Anniversary luncheon. It runs about ten minutes and is riveting. Parts were used years ago in an ABC special, Hollywood: The Dream Factory (1972), but there’s lots more here. I decided to time tunnel back to that event ... call it April fooling ... in the guise of a company field representative, to join 700 revelers on enormous studio stage 30 (the studio’s biggest). My instrument is set for Thursday, February 10, 1949. No, scratch that. I’m timing my arrival for the previous Sunday, February 6. That’s when Metro’s army begins checking in at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where the company’s Preview Of Product kicks off its week-long series of meetings to coordinate all facets of the company’s activities to make the world conscious of MGM’s anniversary. It won’t be like the last showman’s party they threw in 1937. This one’s a new efficiency version, according to The Motion Picture Herald. No more of those well-lubricated transcontinental junkets with compliant Hollywood starlets to greet us on arrival. This time it’ll be Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and George Murphy laying out welcome mats (what … no Ava Gardner?). Sounds more like business, says the Herald, and sure enough this confab is plenty subdued beside the blowout we enjoyed twelve years ago. Back then, Louis B. marched through rains of confetti in a parade way better than what Shriners put on, and promised lotsa beautiful girls to show us a good time. From what I hear though, things got bad out of hand when one of us … well, maybe it’s better to let David Stenn tell you about that sordid mess in his documentary, Girl 27. I’m just out here to have a good time, even if that comes minus starlets.
I’m checked in the Ambassador with eighty-one guys from all over the country. We’re the home office executives, sales managers, district and branch managers, and field assistants to the sales managers. They’re driving us out to Culver City first thing Monday morning to start the meetings. A great big conference room awaits (that’s it and us below) where we get to spend the week listening to Mayer, Dore Schary and others give looong speeches. At least there’s screenings to break monotony. They want us to look at the stuff we’re expected to sell exhibitors back home. Personally, I don’t think the Metro product’s been all that hot lately, but for my job’s sake, I’ll keep mum about it. All the execs are hot for Take Me Out To The Ball Game, so much so that they’re switching its March release with an apparent dud entitled Caught, which was originally tabbed for May. That one’s directed by someone named Max Ophüls. So what’s he done for the boxoffice lately? Just heard too that Herbert Stothart died on February 1. Where’s Metro going to get background music now that this guy’s gone? The next we’re looking at is The Secret Garden. My theatres back home will figure it for small pox. Long time since Margaret O’Brien had a hit. Are they going to keep using the kid until she’s doing Ethel Barrymore’s stuff? I say put her with Beery again and give us another Bad Bascomb. One thing I’m not liking is head dog sales manager William F. Rodgers warning us not to violate the new anti-trust laws. He’s making with lots of will not tolerates and living up to court dictates talk. They didn’t use to be so fussy about how we booked their seasons. Rodgers is really trying to throw a scare into us. Remember, he says, the company can’t go to jail, but you may if you are found to be in contempt of the court. Way to throw a wet blanket on my working vacation, Bill.
Dore Schary’s a particular drag to listen to. All that optimism jazz goes down ragged on hard chairs. He’s blabbing about plans to do Quo Vadis again. Only a studio with our vast resources would dare contemplate bringing to the screen and to the audiences of the world a picture with the size and shape … blah and blah. And what’s Mayer going to say when he reads Sunday’s New York Times (February 6) where they interview MGM’s recently installed Production Head? … Schary right now is very probably the most important man in the movie industry, it says. If what I hear about LB is half true, there’s going to be H to pay for this squib. Mayer’s telling us about how he’s giving up his racing stables to devote more time to Metro operations. Some guys during the break wondered if we might be better off with him spending more time at the track rather than less. They feel that Mayer’s behind the times. Is this what’s making it so tough for us to sell MGM nowadays? You bosses can say the future looks bright indeed, but that doesn’t make it so. Schary claims they’re going to get out 67 features for 1949-50. There were only 24 in all of 1948. Are we supposed to calculate our groceries on this? The show we watched Wednesday was The Barkleys Of Broadway, with Astaire and Ginger Rogers together again. Now that makes sense from a money perspective, but then they sat us through something called The Great Sinner, which made me figure the greater sin was MGM’s making this stinker. You’ll pardon me, Metro, for doubting assurances that no other medium could create such entertainment. When it comes to product like The Great Sinner, would any of them want to? I guess to console us, Schary brought up another one they’ve got coming for the anniversary year, something about Clark Gable as a big shot gambler: If we can’t make money with this one, fellows, we all better go back to vaudeville, said he to group laughter. Well Dore, if you don’t start upgrading his vehicles, it may be Gable going back to vaudeville.
Director of advertising and publicity Howard Dietz went through some flotsam about new frontiers of selling, whatever that means. Then they announced a featurette in preparation called Some Of The Best. It’s said to be a compilation of MGM highlights going back to 1924 when they stated. The studio’s advertising director, Frank Whitbeck, says it will cost $25,000 to put together the forty-minute film, and that it will be available free to exhibitors. Audience reaction is expected to guide them as to which oldies should be reissued. Some of those have done all right, by the way. A Night At The Opera and San Francisco were back in circulation last year and sold. So did a couple of Tarzans from seven or eight years back. Finally, we got to visit some sets for Madame Bovary and The Forsyte Saga, both of which were costume-types, plus a modern thriller-looking something called Border Incident about sneaking Mexicans across US lines (wonder if much of that really goes on). The screenings dragged along with Neptune’s Daughter (looks OK) and The Stratton Story (little worried about Jimmy Stewart getting his leg blown off --- might scare away women and kids). By now it’s Thursday morning and four days into these workshops. I’d hoped to sneak off and see Busch Gardens, but too many supervisors are watching. Our big reward for listening to so much chin music is a luncheon they’re throwing on Stage 30. We’ve been promised a lavish feed and every star on the lot to shake our hands. They’re even serving chocolate ice cream in the shape of Leo The Lion.