Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A WALK THROUGH SONY PICTURES ...


One of the things I like most about my job is that I get to go behind-the-scenes at the movie studios and music labels. Sometimes I write about these adventures here, but until this point there's one location I've mostly left alone in my blog: Sony Pictures. The reason for this is that, in my opinion, this lot -- the site of the fabled Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio in Culver City -- has a tragic history. It's a story of mismanagement and greed, complete with a plot worthy of Hollywood. In the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, MGM was king of the heap, the studio everyone wanted to work at, cranking out one blockbuster movie after another. It was the era of the "star system" where actors were under contract to studios and MGM, under Louis B. Mayer, signed, groomed and created a stable of A-List actors. Their motto was "More stars than there are in heaven." But things started getting star-crossed for them when actors became "free agents," signing separate deals with multiple studios. For a studio whose whole branding strategy was based on its actors, this was a disaster ... and it was compounded by a string of flops and mismanagement. To survive, they sold off their vast real estate -- most of the back lot where movies were shot -- and auctioned off movie memorabilia to the highest bidder (which for many items turned out to be Debbie Reynolds). The facility itself ended up in the hands of Lorimar, then Warner Bros. and finally Sony, who bought it in 1990, back when the Japanese were on a Hollywood buying spree. Sony had already acquired Columbia Pictures in 1989, so they just moved everything over to the former MGM lot in Culver City. The building pictured above, the Thalberg Building, was the site of Louis B. Mayer's office and it's named for Irving Thalberg, who died young but was the creative dynamo responsible for much of MGM's success in the 1930s. Mayer must be rolling over in his grave to see the Columbia logo slapped onto his old building. Back in Mayer's day, Columbia -- a struggling "B-list" studio -- was nicknamed "Siberia" by MGM staffers. MGM sometimes "lent" actors to other studios and Mayer sent folks to Columbia when he wanted to punish them.


This is the main walkway through the studio. Sony has made the most of its limited space. At other studios, you'll find "fake" buildings/movie sets where films are shot. At Sony, some of these "fake" storefront buildings -- mostly along this walkway -- serve double-duty as real offices. There are people working inside buildings which look on the outside like shops including an ice cream parlour, bowling alley, sporting goods store and a police station. The original MGM commissary and some of the movie stars dressing rooms are also just off this walkway.



Sony wisely merged Columbia's heritage with MGMs. The result is sort of a mish-mash if you're looking for vestiges of the original MGM. Here is the "Capra Building," named for Director Frank Capra who helped put Columbia on the map.



And here's a shot including old MGM dressing rooms and offices, not far from the original studio commissary, where actors, management and stage hands ate together. One of the actresses under contract to MGM, Marion Davies, had a special dressing room designed just for her (and paid for by her significant other, William Randolph Hearst). When she left MGM, she had the dressing room moved to Santa Monica Canyon, not too far from 7th and Montana, where it's still used as a house. It was up for sale last year for about $2 million, as I recall. As for the MGM studio itself, the company which once practically owned Culver City, what's left of it sits in a nondescript office tower in Century City, a cautionary tale for any business which fails to change with the times.

4 comments:

Kattytrick said...

Thank you so much for sharing this little piece of history...I imagine some of these stories are old news to most of your end of the state but on my end, it's not and all was new information to me...I Am vaguely familer with the closing of some of the studios, but not the Why's and where fores!...I'd like to hear more of this kind of thing when you have the time & or the inclination okay ___=^..^=___Kittie

Paula said...

You certainly have an interesting job. It was a pleasure to read your entry today and always is. Thank you for sharing something I would have never known.

emikk said...

Kind of a sad story for sure.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Thanks for the tour :o)