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The Oriental twist

MGM is one of Hollywood's most famous dream factories. Recently, Sony acquired it, including its historic library with over 7,000 titles. V. GANGADHAR writes...



One of MGM's unforgettable classics ... Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, in "Gone With The Wind."

TO CAPTURE the U.S., one's targets should be the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Grand Canyon, Brooklyn Bridge and so on. But the list will not be complete without Leo the Lion, the symbol of the mighty Metro Goldwyn Mayer films.

Remember the times when the MGM Lion roared from the screen as viewers settled down to watch wonderful movies like "Gone With The Wind," "Ben - Hur" or "An American in Paris?" MGM was one big dream factory, which churned out hundreds of films every year, — romances, westerns, musicals, historical and so on.

There was also an endless list of fabulous stars who were under contract to MGM. On it were names like `King' Clark Gable, Liz Taylor, James Stewart, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Robert Taylor and Judy Garland among others. Under competent directors, they acted in unforgettable films which brought the studio 200 Oscars, "Ben-Hur" leading the list with eight.

The 1930s onwards were the days of the big studios and their big, powerful, egoistic bosses. MGM had Sam Goldwyn and the highly creative Irving Thalberg, Jack Warner ruled over Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox earned billions under the autocratic Darryl F. Zanuck, while the irascible Harry Cohen, the boss at Columbia boasted, ``Ulcers! I don't have them. I give them to others... ''

The highly eccentric Howard Hughes splurged money to make movies for RKO Studios, though his most notable achievement was the creation of a special underwear to enhance the charms of the already well-endowed Jane Russel, heroine of his film, "The Outlaw." The studio bosses' words were the law, they created the star system and dictated terms to the actors, however gifted they were. They pushed an unwilling Marlon Brando, basking in the success of films like "Viva Zapata" and "On the Waterfront," to play Napoleon in the period drama, "Desiree." Brando sleepwalked through the film. The bosses remembered and kept Brando on tenterhooks decades later, when he desperately wanted to play Don Corleone in "Godfather." Another talented MGM actor, Robert Taylor, after a superb performance in "Waterloo Bridge" was wasted in Biblical films like "Quo Vadis" and inane historical romances like "Ivanhoe" and "Quentin Durward."

Richard Burton, the brilliant stage actor who had immortalised Hamlet in England, was imported to Hollywood. He remembered with a shudder his role of a Roman general in "The Robe." ``I made a lot of money but what a disastrous role,'' Burton confessed. The studio bosses were right. "The Robe," the first ever film in Cinemascope made millions.

The studio bosses did not hesitate to control the private lives of the stars under contract to their studios. They chaperoned teenage stars Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, hinting at the possibility of an exciting romance.

Handsome hero, Rock Hudson, was gay. Not willing to let this information out about one of their popular actors, the bosses `arranged' Hudson's marriage with one of his secretaries, Phyllis, and the truth remained hidden for some years.

But the money-making instincts of the big studios were generally correct. Zanuck stuck to this idea of making a documentary-like film on the Second World War. `The Longest Day,' and the film was a hit. Jack Warner did not hesitate to replace Julie Andrews with Audrey Hepburn for the lead role in "My Fair Lady," though Andrews had successfully starred in the stage version of the popular musical. The move worked, and "My Fair Lady" brought awards and profits to the studio. But the year's Best Actress award went to Julie Andrews for her role in another musical, "The Sound of Music." Perhaps, that was not so important to Zanuck.

Things began to change as movie making became more commercial in the hands of individuals who had no `feeling' for the art.

The marauding Japanese businessmen (Sony Enterprises) purchased Columbia studios (in 1989) and all the films made by it. Recently, the same Japanese electronics and television giant, after paying $4.86 billions, acquired MGM including its historic library with more than 7,000 titles.

The richest treasure house of Hollywood cinema passed into the hands of the Japanese firm, which now owns nearly 40 per cent of all films made by Hollywood.

Sony outbid Time-Warner for the acquisition, overlooking the fact that its purchase of Columbia Films had not led to immediate profits.

But this is different. Sony could make a fortune through DVD rights for all those fabulous movies. The MGM saga is history and now it has taken a new turn.

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