|Founded||April 17, 1924|
Louis B. Mayer
|Headquarters||Beverly Hills, California, U.S.|
(Chairman and CEO)
Jonathan Glickman, President of Film Division
|Parent||MGM Holdings, Inc.|
MGM Home Entertainment
United Artists Corporation|
Orion Pictures Corporation
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (abbreviated as MGM or M-G-M, also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or Metro, and for a former interval known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists., or MGM/UA) is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of feature films and television programs.
Once the largest, most glamorous, and most revered film studio, MGM was founded in 1924 when the entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Its headquarters are in Beverly Hills, California. It is one of the world's oldest film studios.
In 1971, it was announced that MGM would merge with 20th Century Fox, a plan which never came into fruition. Over the next thirty-nine years, the studio was bought and sold at various points in its history until, on November 3, 2010, MGM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. MGM emerged from bankruptcy on December 20, 2010, at which time the executives of Spyglass Entertainment, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, became co-Chairmen and co-CEOs of the holding company of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
MGM was the last studio to convert to sound pictures, but in spite of this fact, from the end of the silent film era through the late 1950s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the dominant motion picture studio in Hollywood. Always slow to respond to the changing legal, economic, and demographic nature of the motion picture industry during the 1950s and 1960s, and although at times its films did well at the box office, the studio lost significant amounts of money throughout the 1960s. In 1966, MGM was sold to Canadian investor Edgar Bronfman Sr., whose son Edgar Jr. would later buy Universal Studios. Three years later, an increasingly unprofitable MGM was bought by Kirk Kerkorian, who slashed staff and production costs, forced the studio to produce low-budget fare, and then shut down theatrical distribution in 1973. The studio continued to produce five to six films a year that were released through other studios, mostly United Artists. Kerkorian did, however, commit to increased production and an expanded film library when he bought United Artists in 1981.
MGM ramped up internal production, as well as keeping production going at UA, which included the lucrative James Bond film franchise. It also incurred significant amounts of debt to increase production. The studio took on additional debt as a series of owners took charge in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1986, Ted Turner bought MGM, but a few months later, sold the company back to Kerkorian to recoup massive debt, while keeping the library assets for himself. The series of deals left MGM even more heavily in debt. MGM was bought by Pathé Communications (led by Italian publishing magnate Giancarlo Parretti) in 1990, but Parretti lost control of Pathé and defaulted on the loans used to purchase the studio. The French banking conglomerate Crédit Lyonnais, the studio's major creditor, then took control of MGM. Even more deeply in debt, MGM was purchased by a joint venture between Kerkorian, producer Frank Mancuso, and Australia's Seven Network in 1996.
The debt load from these and subsequent business deals negatively affected MGM's ability to survive as an independent motion picture studio. After a bidding war which included Time Warner (the current parent of Turner Broadcasting) and General Electric, MGM was acquired on September 23, 2004 by a partnership consisting of Sony Corporation of America, Comcast, Texas Pacific Group (now TPG Capital, L.P.), Providence Equity Partners, and other investors.
Leo logo and mottos
The studio's official motto, "Ars Gratia Artis", is a Latin phrase meaning "Art for art's sake"; it was chosen by Howard Dietz, the studio's chief publicist. The studio's logo is a roaring lion surrounded by a ring of film inscribed with the studio's motto. The logo, which features Leo the Lion, was created by Dietz in 1916 for Goldwyn Pictures and updated in 1924 for MGM's use. Dietz based the logo on his alma mater's mascot, the Columbia University lion. Originally silent, the sound of Leo the Lion's roar was added to films for the first time in August 1928. In the 1930s and 1940s, the studio billed itself as having "more stars than there are in heaven", a reference to the large number of A-list movie stars under contract to the company. This second motto was also coined by Dietz and was first used in 1932.
In 1924, movie theater magnate Marcus Loew had a problem. He had bought Metro Pictures Corporation in 1919 for a steady supply of films for his large Loew's Theatres chain. With Loew's lackluster assortment of Metro films, Loew purchased Goldwyn Pictures in 1924 to improve the quality. However, these purchases created a need for someone to oversee his new Hollywood operations, since longtime assistant Nicholas Schenck was needed in New York headquarters to oversee the 150 theaters. Approached by Louis B. Mayer, Loew addressed the situation by buying Louis B. Mayer Pictures on April 17, 1924. Mayer became head of the renamed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with Irving Thalberg as head of production.
MGM produced more than 100 feature films in its first two years. In 1925, MGM released the extravagant and successful Ben-Hur, taking a $4.7 million profit that year, its first full year.
Marcus Loew died in 1927, and control of Loew's passed to Nicholas Schenck. In 1929, William Fox of Fox Film Corporation bought the Loew family's holdings with Schenck's assent. Mayer and Thalberg disagreed with the decision. Mayer was active in the California Republican Party and used his political connections to persuade the Justice Department to delay final approval of the deal on antitrust grounds. During this time, in the summer of 1929, Fox was badly hurt in an automobile accident. By the time he recovered, the stock market crash in the fall of 1929 had nearly wiped Fox out and ended any chance of the Loew's merger going through. Schenck and Mayer had never gotten along (Mayer reportedly referred to his boss as "Mr. Skunk"), and the abortive Fox merger increased the animosity between the two men.
From the outset, MGM tapped into the audience's need for glamor and sophistication. Having inherited few big names from their predecessor companies, Mayer and Thalberg began at once to create and publicize a host of new stars, among them Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, William Haines, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer (who followed Thalberg from Universal) . Established names like Lon Chaney, William Powell, Buster Keaton, and Wallace Beery were hired from other studios. They also hired top directors such as King Vidor, Clarence Brown, Erich von Stroheim, Tod Browning, and Victor Seastrom. The arrival of talking pictures in 1928–29 gave opportunities to other new stars, many of whom would carry MGM through the 1930s: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Robert Montgomery, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, Jeanette MacDonald, and Nelson Eddy among them.
MGM was one of the first studios to experiment with filming in Technicolor. Using the two-color Technicolor process then available, MGM filmed portions of The Uninvited Guest (1923), The Big Parade (1925), and Ben–Hur (1925), among others, in the process. In 1928, MGM released The Viking, the first complete Technicolor feature with sound (including a synchronized score and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue).
With the arrival of talkies, MGM moved slowly and reluctantly into sound, releasing features like White Shadows in the South Seas with music and sound effects, and Alias Jimmy Valentine with limited dialogue sequences. Their first full-fledged talkie, the musical The Broadway Melody in 1929, however, was both a box-office success and won the Academy Award as Best Picture of the Year; and brought MGM into the sound era.
MGM, however, was the very last studio to convert to "talkies" with its first all-color, "all-talking" sound feature with dialogue The Rogue Song, a 1930 musical. In 1934, MGM included a sequence made in Technicolor's superior new three-color process, a musical number in the otherwise black-and-white The Cat and the Fiddle, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Ramon Novarro. The studio then produced a number of three-color short subjects including 1935's musical La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, but waited until 1938 to film a complete feature in the process, Sweethearts with MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, the earlier of the popular singing team's two films in color. From then on, MGM regularly produced several films a year in Technicolor with Northwest Passage being one of the most notable.
In addition to a large short-subjects program of its own, MGM also released the shorts and features produced by Hal Roach Studios, including comedy shorts starring Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and Charley Chase. MGM's distribution deal with Roach lasted from 1927 to 1938, and MGM benefited in particular from the success of the popular Laurel and Hardy films. In 1938, MGM purchased the rights to Our Gang and moved the production in-house, continuing production of the successful series of children's comedies until 1944. From 1929 to 1931, MGM produced a series of comedy shorts called All Barkie Dogville Comedies, in which trained dogs were dressed up to parody contemporary films and were voiced by actors. One of the shorts, The Dogway Melody (1930), spoofed MGM's hit 1929 musical The Broadway Melody.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer entered the music industry by purchasing the "Big Three" starting with Miller Music Publishing Co. in 1934 then Robbins Music Corporation. In 1935, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired a controlling interest in the capital stock of Leo Feist, Inc., the last of the Big 3.
MGM produced around 50 pictures a year, though it never met its goal of releasing a new motion picture each and every week (It was only able to release one feature film every nine days). Loew's 153 theatres were mostly located in New York, the Northeast, and Deep South; Gone with the Wind had its world premiere at Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. A fine reputation was gained for lavish productions that were sophisticated and polished to cater to an urban audience. Still, as the Great Depression deepened, MGM began to economize by "recycling" existing sets, costumes, and furnishings from yesteryear projects. This recycling practice never let up once started. In addition, MGM saved money because it was the only one of the big five studios that did not own an off-site movie ranch. Until the mid-1950s, MGM could make a claim its rivals could not: it never lost money, although it did have an occasional disaster like Parnell (1937), Clark Gable's biggest flop. It was the only Hollywood studio that continued to pay dividends during the 1930s.
MGM stars dominated the box office during the 1930s, and the studio was credited for inventing the Hollywood stable of stars system, as well. MGM contracted with the American Musical Academy of Arts Association to handle all of their press and artist development. The AMAAA's main function was to develop the budding stars and to make them appealing to the public. Stars such as Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy and Jeanette MacDonald reigned as the top-paid figures at the studio. Another MGM sex symbol actress, Jean Harlow, who had previously appeared in the Howard Hughes film Hell's Angels, now had a big break and became one of MGM's most admired stars, as well. Despite Miss Harlow's gain, Garbo still was a big star for MGM. Shearer was still a money maker despite screen appearances becoming scarce, and Crawford continued her box-office power until 1937. MGM would also receive a boost through the man who would become "King of Hollywood", Clark Gable. Gable's career took off to new heights after he won an Oscar for the 1934 Columbia film It Happened One Night. Mayer and Irving Thalberg's relationship began warmly, but eventually the two became estranged; Thalberg preferred literary works to the crowd-pleasers Mayer wanted. Thalberg, always physically frail, was removed as head of production in 1932. Mayer encouraged other staff producers, among them his son-in-law David O. Selznick, but no one seemed to have the sure touch of Thalberg. As Thalberg fell increasingly ill in 1936, Louis Mayer could now serve as his temporary replacement. Rumors flew that Thalberg was leaving to set up his own independent company; his early death in 1936, at age 37, cost MGM dearly.
After Thalberg's death, Mayer became head of production, as well as studio chief, becoming the first million-dollar executive in American history. The company remained profitable, although a change toward "series" pictures (Andy Hardy starring Mickey Rooney, Maisie starring Ann Sothern, Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, et al.) is seen by some as evidence of Mayer's restored influence. Also playing a huge role was Ida Koverman, Mayer's secretary and right hand.
Hits in 1939 included The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Although Gone With the Wind was produced by Selznick International Pictures, it was distributed by MGM as part of a deal for producer David O. Selznick, L.B. Mayer's son-in-law, to obtain the services of Clark Gable as well as financial assistance to complete the film. MGM acquired all rights to Gone With the Wind in 1944 after the foundering of Selznick International.
Within one year, beginning in 1942, L.B. Mayer released his five highest-paid actresses from their studio contracts; Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy and Jeanette MacDonald. After a two-year hiatus, Crawford moved to Warner Bros., where her career took a dramatic upturn. Shearer and Garbo never made another film after leaving the lot. Of the five stars, Loy and MacDonald were the only two whom Mayer rehired, in 1947 and 1948 respectively.
Increasingly, before and during World War II, Mayer came to rely on his "College of Cardinals" — senior producers who controlled the studio's output. This management-by-committee may explain why MGM seemed to lose its momentum, developing few new stars and relying on the safety of sequels and bland material. (Dorothy Parker memorably referred to it as "Metro-Goldwyn-Merde.") Production values remained high, and even "B" pictures carried a polish and gloss that made them expensive to mount. After 1940, production was cut from 50 pictures a year to a more manageable 25 features per year. During this time, MGM released very successful musicals with players such as Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few.
Audiences began drifting to television in the late forties. MGM found it difficult to attract them to theaters. With its high overhead expenses, MGM's profit margins continued to decrease. Word came from Nicholas Schenck in New York: find "a new Thalberg" who could improve quality while paring costs. Mayer thought he had found this savior in Dore Schary, a writer and producer who had found success at running RKO. Top notch musicals were Schary's focus, with hits like Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, keeping MGM afloat.
Gradually cutting loose expensive contract players (perhaps most famously, $6,000-a-week Judy Garland in 1950), saving money by recycling existing movie sets instead of building costly new scenery, and reworking pricey old costumes, Schary managed to keep the studio running much as it had through the early 1940s though his sensibilities for hard-edged, message movies would never bear much fruit. One bright spot was MGM musical pictures, under the aegis of producer Arthur Freed, who was operating what amounted to an independent unit within the studio. MGM produced some well-regarded and profitable musicals that would be later acknowledged as classics, among them An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). However, Brigadoon (1954), Deep in My Heart (1954), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), and Invitation to the Dance (1956), were extravagant song and dance flops, and even the now-classic The Band Wagon (1953) lost money in its initial release. Movie audiences more and more were staying home and watching television.
In 1952, as a settlement of the government's restraint-of-trade action, United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. 334 US 131 (1948), Loews, Inc. gave up control of MGM. It would take another five years before the interlocking arrangements were completely undone, by which time both Loews and MGM were sinking. Schary bowed out of MGM in 1956 in another power struggle against the New York-based executives.
As the studio system faded in the late 1950s and 1960s, MGM's prestige faded with it. In 1957 (by coincidence, the year L.B. Mayer died), the studio lost money for the first time in its 34-year history. Cost overruns and the failure of the 1957 big-budget epic Raintree County prompted the studio to release Schary from his contract. Schary's reign at MGM had been marked with few bona-fide hits, but his departure (along with the retirement of Schenck in 1955) left a power vacuum that would prove difficult to fill. Initially Joseph Vogel became president and Sol Siegel head of production. By 1960, MGM had released all of its contract players, with many either retiring or moving on to television.
MGM's first TV programs, The MGM Parade, was produced by MGM's trailer department as one of the compilation and promotional shows that imitated Disney's series Disneyland which was also on ABC. Parade was canceled by ABC in the 2nd quarter of 1956. MGM took bids for its movie library in 1956 from Lou Chesler, PRM, Inc. owner (the WB pre-1948 library purchaser), and others, but decided on entering the TV market itself. Chesler had offered $50 million for the film library. MGM-TV was started with the hiring of Bud Barry to head up the operation in June 1956. MGM-TV was to distribute its films to TV (starting with the networks), TV production and purchasing TV stations. TV production was expect to start with the 1957-58 season and was to include half-hour remakes of or series based on its pictures. Initial feature film sales focused on selling to the networks.
The year 1957 also marked the end of MGM's animation department, as the studio determined it could generate the same amount of revenue by reissuing older cartoons as it could by producing and releasing new ones. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, by then the heads of the MGM cartoon studio, took most of their unit and made their own company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, a successful producer of television animation.
In 1956, MGM sold the television rights for The Wizard of Oz to CBS, which scheduled it to be shown in November of that year. In a landmark event, the film became the first American theatrical fiction film to be shown complete in one evening on prime time television over a major American commercial network. (Olivier's version of Hamlet was shown on prime time network TV a month later, but split in half over two weeks, and the 1950 film, The Titan: Story of Michelangelo was telecast by ABC in 1952, but that was a documentary.) Beginning in 1959, and lasting until 1991, telecasts of The Wizard of Oz became an annual tradition, drawing huge audiences in homes all over the U.S. and earning additional profits for MGM. The studio was all too happy to see Oz become, through television, one of the two or three most famous films MGM has ever made, and one of the few films that nearly everybody in the U.S. has seen at least once. Today The Wizard of Oz is regularly shown on the Turner-owned channels, no longer just once a year.
In 1958, MGM released what is generally considered its last great musical, Arthur Freed's Cinemascope color production of Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jourdan. It was adapted from the novel by Colette, and written by the team of Lerner and Loewe, who also wrote My Fair Lady and Camelot. Gigi was a box-office and critical success which won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. From it came several hit songs, including Thank Heaven For Little Girls, I Remember It Well, the Waltz at Maxim's, and the Oscar-winning title song. The film was the last MGM musical to win a Best Picture Oscar, an honor that had previously gone to The Broadway Melody (1929), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), and An American in Paris (1951). The very last musical film produced by the "Freed Unit" was an adaptation of the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing (1960) with Judy Holliday and Dean Martin. However, MGM did release later musical films, including an adaptation of Meredith Willson's The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) with Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell.
MGM cartoon shorts
In animation, MGM purchased the rights in 1930 to distribute a series of cartoons that starred a character named Flip the Frog, produced by Ub Iwerks. The first cartoon in this series (entitled Fiddlesticks) was the first sound cartoon to be produced in two-color Technicolor. In 1933, Ub Iwerks cancelled the unsuccessful Flip the Frog series and MGM began to distribute its second series of cartoons, starring a character named Willie Whopper, that was also produced by Ub Iwerks.
In 1934, after Iwerks' distribution contract expired, MGM contracted with animation producers/directors Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising to produce a new series of color cartoons. Harman and Ising came to MGM after breaking ties with Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros., and brought with them their popular Looney Tunes character, Bosko. These were known as Happy Harmonies, and in many ways resembled the Looney Tunes' sister series, Merrie Melodies. The Happy Harmonies regularly ran over budget, and MGM dismissed Harman-Ising in 1937 to start its own animation studio.
After initial struggles with a poorly received series of The Captain and the Kids cartoons, the studio rehired Harman and Ising in 1939, and Ising created the studio's first successful animated character, Barney Bear. However, MGM's biggest cartoon stars would come in the form of the cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940. The Tom and Jerry cartoons won seven Academy Awards between 1943 and 1953. In 1941, Tex Avery, another Schlesinger alumnus, joined the animation department. Avery gave the unit its image, with successes like "Red Hot Riding Hood", "Swing Shift Cinderella", and the Droopy series.
Avery left the studio in 1953, leaving Hanna and Barbera to focus on the popular Tom and Jerry and Droopy series. After 1955, all cartoons were filmed in CinemaScope until MGM closed its cartoon division in 1957.
In 1959, MGM enjoyed what is quite probably its greatest financial success of later years, with the release of its nearly four-hour Technicolor epic Ben–Hur, a remake of its 1925 silent film hit, loosely based on the novel by General Lew Wallace. Starring Charlton Heston in the title role, the film was critically acclaimed, and won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, a record that held until Titanic matched it in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.
In 1961, MGM resumed the release of new Tom and Jerry shorts, and production moved to Rembrandt Films in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) under the supervision of Gene Deitch. Deitch's Tom and Jerry cartoons are vastly inferior to the original Hanna and Barbera style of animation. In 1963, the production of Tom and Jerry returned to Hollywood under Chuck Jones and his Sib Tower 12 Productions studio (later absorbed by MGM and renamed MGM Animation/Visual Arts). Jones' group also produced its own works, winning an Oscar for The Dot and the Line, as well as producing the classic television version of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (with the voice of Boris Karloff) in 1966. Tom and Jerry folded in 1967, and the animation department continued with television specials and one feature film, The Phantom Tollbooth.
During this period, MGM fell into a habit that would eventually sink the studio: an entire year's production schedule relied on the success of one big-budget epic each year. This policy began in 1959, when Ben–Hur was profitable enough to carry the studio through 1960. However, four succeeding big-budget epics — like Ben–Hur, each a remake — failed: Cimarron (1960), King of Kings (1961), Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1961), and, most notoriously, the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty. The 1962 Cinerama film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, the first film in Cinerama to actually tell a story, was also a flop. But one other epic that was a success, however, was the MGM-Cinerama co-production How the West Was Won, with a huge all-star cast. King of Kings, while a commercial and critical flop at the time, has since come to be regarded as a film classic. The losses caused by these films led to the resignations of Sol Siegel and Joseph Vogel who were replaced by Robert M. Weitman (head of production) and Robert O'Brien (president).
The combination of O'Brien and Weitman seemed to temporarily revive the studio. In 1965 MGM released David Lean's immensely popular Doctor Zhivago, later followed by such hits as The Dirty Dozen (1967) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However the company's time was taken up fighting off proxy attacks by corporate raiders, and then MGM backed a series of flops, including Ryan's Daughter (1970). Weitman moved over to Columbia in 1967 and O'Brien was forced to resign a few years later.
In the mid-1960s, MGM began to diversify by investing in real estate. Edgar Bronfman Sr. purchased a controlling interest in MGM in 1966 (and was briefly chairman of the board in 1969), and in 1967 Time Inc. became the company's second-largest shareholder.
In 1969, Kirk Kerkorian purchased 40 percent of MGM from Bronfman and Time, Inc., What appealed to Kerkorian was MGM's Culver City real estate, and the value of 45 years' worth of glamour associated with the name, which he attached to a Las Vegas hotel and casino. As for film-making, that part of the company was quickly and severely downsized under the supervision of James T. Aubrey Jr. With changes in its business model including fewer pictures per year, more location shooting and more distribution of independent productions, MGM's operations were reduced. Aubrey sold off MGM's accumulation of props, furnishings and historical memorabilia, including a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Lot 3, 40 acres (160,000 m2) of back-lot property, was sold off for real-estate development. In 1971, it was announced that MGM was in talks with 20th Century Fox about a possible merger, a plan which never came into fruition. Under Aubrey, MGM also sold off MGM Records and its overseas theater holdings.
Through the 1970s, studio output slowed considerably as Aubrey preferred four or five medium-budget pictures each year along with a smattering of low-budget fare. In October 1973 and in decline in output, MGM closed MGM's distribution offices then outsourced distribution for its library for a ten-year period along with selling its music publishing arm, Robbins, Feist & Miller plus half of Quality Records of Canada, to United Artists.
Kerkorian now distanced himself from the operations of the studio, focusing on MGM Grand Hotel by investing $120 million. Another portion of the backlot was sold in 1974. The last shooting done on the backlot was the introductory material for That's Entertainment!, a retrospective documentary that became a surprise hit for the studio.
That's Entertainment! was authorized by Dan Melnick, who was appointed head of production in 1972. Under Melnick's regime, MGM made a number of successful films, including Westworld, Soylent Green, and The Sunshine Boys. However, MGM never reclaimed its former status.
The MGM Recording Studios were sold in 1975. In 1979, Kerkorian declared that MGM was now primarily a hotel company. The company hit a symbolic low point in 1980 when David Begelman, earlier let go by Columbia following the discovery of his acts of forgery and embezzlement, was installed as MGM's President and CEO.
In 1980, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. split its production and casino units into separate companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co. and MGM Grand Hotels, Inc. The rise of ancillary markets was enough to allow MGM Film Co. to increase production to 10-15 films a year compared to three to six in the previous decade, but first it needed its own distribution unit.
MGM proceeded to get back into theatrical distribution in 1981 with its purchase of United Artists, as UA's parent company Transamerica Corporation decided to let go of the studio following the failure of Heaven's Gate. Because of this, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co. was renamed "MGM/UA Entertainment Company."
WarGames and Octopussy were MGM/UA's only early 1980s hits, but didn't push MGM into the profit range that Kerkorian wanted. MGM/UA formed a trio of subsidiaries, the MGM/UA Home Entertainment Group, MGM/UA Classics, and the MGM/UA Television Group in 1982. Kerkorian offered to purchase the remaining outstanding MGM shares he did not own to take the company private but was met with resistance.
After the purchase of United Artists, David Begelman's duties were transferred to that unit. Under Begelman, MGM/UA produced a number of unsuccessful films, and he was fired in July 1982. Out of the 11 films he put into production, by the time of his release from the studio, only one film, Poltergeist, proved to be a clear hit. Not even MGM's greatest asset - its library - was enough to keep the studio afloat. After 1982, the studio relied more on distribution, picking up independent productions, rather than financing their own.
On August 7, 1985, Turner Broadcasting System offered to buy MGM/UA. As film licensing to television became more complicated, Ted Turner saw the value of acquiring MGM's film library for his Superstation WTBS. On March 25 of the following year, the deal was finalized in a cash-stock deal for $1.5 billion, and the company was renamed "MGM Entertainment Co.". Turner immediately sold MGM's United Artists subsidiary back to Kerkorian for roughly $480 million. But since they were quite unable to find financing for the rest of the deal, and because of these concerns in the financial community over the debt-load of his companies on August 26, 1986, Turner was forced to sell MGM's production and distribution assets to United Artists for $300 million. The MGM lot and lab facilities were sold to Lorimar-Telepictures. Turner kept the pre-May 1986 library of MGM films, along with the RKO Radio Pictures and pre-1950 Warner Bros. films which United Artists had previously purchased.
How much of MGM's back catalog Turner actually obtained was a point of conflict for a time; eventually, it was determined that Turner owned all of the pre-May 1986 MGM library, as well as the pre-1950 Warner Bros. catalog, the Popeye cartoons released by Paramount (both the pre-1950 WB library and Popeye cartoons were sold to Associated Artists Productions, which was later bought by United Artists), the US/Canadian rights to the RKO library, in addition to MGM's television series and Gilligan's Island, produced by UA. Turner began broadcasting MGM films through his Turner Network Television, and caused a controversy when he began "colorizing" many black-and-white classics.
In July 1988, Kerkorian announced plans to split MGM and UA into separate studios. Under this deal, Kerkorian, who owned 82% of MGM/UA Communications, would have sold 25% of MGM to Barris Industries (controlled by producers Burt Sugarman, Jon Peters, and Peter Guber). The proposition to spin off MGM was called off a few weeks later. In 1989, Australian-based Qintex attempted to buy MGM from Kerkorian, but the deal collapsed. On November 29, 1989, Turner (owners of the pre-May 1986 MGM library) attempted to buy Tracinda's entertainment assets such as MGM/UA Communications Co. but every time the deal had failed.
In 1990, Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti announced he was about to buy MGM/UA. Although the French government had scuttled Parretti's bid to buy Pathé due to concerns about his character, background, and past dealings, Parretti got backing from Crédit Lyonnais and bought MGM/UA from Kirk Kerkorian. To finance the purchase, Parretti licensed the MGM/UA library to Time Warner for home video and Turner for domestic television rights until 2003. He then merged it with his Pathé Communications Corporation (formerly Cannon Group, a distributor that Parretti had renamed before his aborted bid for Pathé) to form MGM–Pathe Communications Co. The well-respected executive, Alan Ladd Jr., a former president of MGM/UA, was brought on board as CEO of MGM in 1991. However, a year later, Parretti's ownership of MGM–Pathé dissolved in a flurry of lawsuits and a default by Crédit Lyonnais, and Parretti faced securities-fraud charges in the United States and Europe.
On the verge of bankruptcy and failure, Crédit Lyonnais took full control of MGM–Pathé via loan default in mid-1992 and converted its name back to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The bank fired Ladd and replaced him with former Paramount executive Frank Mancuso Sr.. Mancuso then hired Michael Marcus as chairman, MGM Pictures and former Warner Bros. executive John Calley as United Artists head. A television production division was started up. As part of his exit package, Ladd took some of the top properties, including Braveheart.
MGM Holdings, Inc. was formed to take on about $1 billion in MGM's liabilities off MGM's balance sheet in the third quarter of 1993. Credit Lyonnais extended a $400 million line of credit allowing a Chemical Bank lead bank group to extend a $350 million line of credit in 1994. In 1994, MGM had a hit in Stargate.
Because of the way it had acquired control of the company, Crédit Lyonnais soon put the studio up for sale, with the highest bidder being Kirk Kerkorian. Now the owner of MGM for the third time, Kerkorian's deal with Mancuso quickly angered John Calley, who quit United Artists and was named head of Sony Pictures Entertainment. By selling a portion of the studio to Australia's Seven Network, Kerkorian was able to convince Wall Street that a revived MGM was worthy of a place on the stock market, where it languished until he sold the company to a group of hedge funds tied to Sony, which wanted to control the studio library to promote the Blu-ray Disc format.
On April 11, 1997, MGM bought Metromedia's film subsidiaries (Orion Pictures, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, and the Motion Picture Corporation of America) for US$573 million, substantially enlarging its library of films and television series and acquiring additional production capacity. The deal closed in July of that year. This catalog, along with the James Bond franchise, was considered to be MGM's primary asset. In the same year, MGM's long-running cable television series, Stargate SG-1, first aired. Kerkorian bought out Seven Network the following year.
In December 1997, MGM attempted to purchase 1,000 films held by Consortium de Réalisation, but was outbid by PolyGram. However, they ultimately succeeded when they acquired the 2/3 of pre-1996 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment library from Seagram in 1999 for $250 million, increasing their library holdings to 4,000. Prior to that, MGM had held a home video license for 100 of the films since spring 1997. The PolyGram libraries were purchased by its Orion Pictures subsidiary so as to avoid its 1990 video distribution agreement with Warner. The studio also obtained the broadcast rights to more than 800 of its films previously licensed to Turner Broadcasting.
In 2000, MGM changed the way it distributed its products internationally. MGM had until that time distributed its films internationally through United International Pictures (UIP), a joint venture of MGM, Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures. UIP was accused by the European Union of being an illegal cartel, and effective November 2000 MGM severed its ties with UIP and distributed films internationally through 20th Century Fox.
MGM purchased 20% of Cablevision Systems for $825 million in 2001. MGM attempted to take over Universal Studios in 2003, but failed, and was forced to sell several of its cable channel investments (taking a $75-million loss on the deal).
In 2005, many of MGM's competitors started to make bids to purchase the studio, beginning with Time Warner. It was not unexpected that Time Warner would bid, since the largest shareholder in the company was Ted Turner. His Turner Entertainment Group had risen to success in part through its ownership of the pre-May 1986 MGM library. After a short period of negotiation with MGM, Time Warner was unsuccessful. The leading bidder proved to be Sony Corporation of America, backed by Comcast and private equity firms Texas Pacific Group (now TPG Capital, L.P.), DLJ and Providence Equity Partners. Sony's primary goal was to ensure Blu-ray Disc support at MGM; cost synergies with Sony Pictures Entertainment were secondary. Time Warner made a counter-bid (which Ted Turner reportedly tried to block), but on September 13, 2004, Sony increased its bid of US$11.25/share (roughly $4.7 billion) to $12/share ($5 billion), and Time Warner subsequently withdrew its bid of $11/share ($4.5 billion). MGM and Sony agreed on a purchase price of nearly $5 billion, of which about $2 billion was to pay off MGM debt. From 2005 to 2006, the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group domestically distributed films by MGM and UA.
MGM announced it would return as a theatrical distribution company. MGM negotiated and struck deals with The Weinstein Company, Lakeshore Entertainment, Bauer Martinez, and many other independent studios, and then announced its plans to release 14 feature films for 2006 and early 2007. MGM also hoped to increase the amount to over 20 by 2007. Lucky Number Slevin, released April 7, was the first film released under the new MGM era. Other recent films under the MGM/Weinstein deal include Clerks II and Bobby. Upon the MGM/Weinstein films' release on home video, however, full distribution rights revert to Weinstein (under Genius Products).
On May 31, 2006, MGM announced it would transfer its home video output - MGM Home Entertainment - from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (excepting co-productions with Columbia or TriStar, such as Eon Productions' James Bond franchise where Sony is a majority partner).
MGM also announced plans to restructure its worldwide television distribution operation. In addition, MGM signed a deal with New Line Television in which MGM would handle New Line's U.S. film and series television syndication packages. MGM served as New Line's barter sales representative in the television arena until 2008.
On November 2, 2006, producer/actor Tom Cruise and his production partner, Paula Wagner, signed an agreement with MGM to run United Artists. Wagner will serve as United Artists' chief executive. Cruise will produce and star in films for UA, and MGM will distribute the movies.
Over the next several years, MGM launched a number of initiatives in distribution and the use of new technology and media, as well as joint ventures to promote and sell its products. In April 2007, it was announced that MGM movies would be able to be downloaded through Apple's iTunes service, with MGM bringing an estimated 100 of its existing movies to iTunes service, the California-based computer company revealed. The list of movies included the likes of modern features such as Rocky, Ronin, Mad Max, and Dances with Wolves, along with more golden-era classics such as Lilies of the Field and The Great Train Robbery. In October, the company launched MGM HD on DirecTV, offering a library of movies formatted in Hi Def. Also in 2006, MGM licensed its home video distribution rights for countries outside of the United States to 20th Century Fox. MGM teamed up with Weigel Broadcasting to launch a new channel titled This TV on November 1, 2008. On August 12, 2008, MGM teamed up with Comcast to launch a new video-on-demand network titled Impact. On November 10, 2008, MGM announced that it will release full-length films on YouTube.
As of mid-2009, MGM had US$3.7 billion in debt, and interest payments alone totalled $250 million a year. MGM earns approximately $500 million a year on income from its extensive film and television library, but the economic recession is reported to have reduced this income substantially.
Whether MGM could avoid voluntary or involuntary bankruptcy had been a topic of much discussion in the film industry. MGM had to repay a $250-million line of credit in April 2010, a $1-billion loan in June 2011, and its remaining US$2.7 billion in loans in 2012. In May 2009, MGM's auditor gave the company a clean bill of health, concluding it was still on track to meet its debt obligations. At that time, the company was negotiating with its creditors to either extend the debt repayment deadlines or engage in a debt-for-equity swap. Industry observers, however, questioned whether MGM could avoid a Chapter-11 bankruptcy filing under any circumstances, and concluded that any failure to conclude the negotiations must trigger a filing. MGM and its United Artists subsidiary were now producing very few films each year, and it was widely believed that MGM's solvency would depend on the box-office performance of these films (especially Skyfall). There was some indication that Relativity Media and its financial backer, Elliott Associates (a hedge fund based in New York), had been acquiring MGM debt in an attempt to force the company into involuntary bankruptcy.
On August 17, 2009, chief executive officer Harry E. Sloan stepped down and MGM hired Stephen F. Cooper as its new CEO, a corporate executive who guided Enron through its post-2001 bankruptcy and oversaw the restructuring and growth of Krispy Kreme in 2005. Expectations were that Cooper was hired to act quickly on MGM's debt problems. On October 1, 2009, the studio's new leadership negotiated a forbearance agreement with its creditors under which interest payments due from September to November 2009 did not have to be paid until December 15, 2009.
MGM stated in February 2010 that the studio would likely be sold in the next four months, and that its latest film, Hot Tub Time Machine, might be one of the last four films to bear the MGM name. However, some stated that the company might continue as a label for new James Bond productions, as well as other movie properties culled from the MGM library.
MGM Holdings, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 160 affiliates filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 3, 2010 with a prepackaged plan for exiting bankruptcy which led to MGM's creditors taking over the company. On December 20, 2010, MGM executives announced that the studio had emerged from bankruptcy. Spyglass Entertainment executives Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum became co-Chairs and co-CEOs of the studio.
On January 4, 2011, MGM and Weigel Broadcasting announced plans to distribute MeTV nationwide. On February 2, 2011, MGM named Jonathan Glickman to be the film president of MGM. Six days later, MGM was finalizing a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to handle distribution of its 4,000 films and DVDs worldwide and on digital platforms, including the two upcoming Bond films: Skyfall and Spectre. There were four studios who were bidding on the Bond distribution rights: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Columbia Pictures. Paramount was the first studio who dropped out of the Bond bidding. The deal was finalized on April 13, 2011. Post-bankruptcy, MGM also co-financed SPE's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 20th Century Fox's deal with MGM handling its library distribution worldwide was set to expire in September 2011. However, the deal was renewed and extended on April 14, 2011 and will expire in 2016. But, on June 27, 2016, the deal was renewed and extended again and will expire in June 2020.
MGM moved forward with several upcoming projects, including remakes of RoboCop and Poltergeist, and released their first post-bankruptcy film Zookeeper, which was co-distributed by Columbia Pictures on July 8, 2011. The new MGM, under Barber and Birnbaum's control, focuses on co-investing on films made by another party, which handle all distribution and marketing for the projects. MGM handles international television distribution rights for the new films as well as its library of existing titles and also retains its in-house production service. In separate 2011 deals, the rights to MGM's completed films Red Dawn and The Cabin in the Woods were dealt to FilmDistrict as well as Lionsgate Films, respectively.
On October 3, 2012, Birnbaum announced his intention to exit his role as an MGM executive and return to "hands-on" producing. He will remain with the studio to produce films on "an exclusive basis". In May 2014, MGM introduced The Works, a channel available in 31 percent of the country, including stations owned by Titan Broadcast Management.
On November 6, 2015, Sony Pictures Entertainment's distribution deal to co-produce the James Bond film series with MGM and Eon Productions expired with the release of Spectre, and it is widely understood that, starting with Bond 25, 007 will find a new studio home.
Since August 22, 2011, its headquarters have been in Beverly Hills, California. MGM rents space in a six-story office building. The 144,000-square-foot (13,400 m2) facility was originally constructed for the venerable William Morris talent agency, but had remained all but unoccupied until MGM's move because of the agency's merger with Endeavor Talent Agency in April 2009. MGM planned to house a private theater and a private outdoor patio in the building.
Prior to 2003, its headquarters had been in the Colorado Center in Santa Monica, California, occupying at least 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) of space there. In 2000 MGM announced that it was moving its headquarters to a new building in Century City that was to be the first high-rise in Los Angeles to be completed in the 21st century. Upon the company's agreement to be its lead tenant halfway through the design building process, the structure became identified as the MGM Tower, opening in 2003. When MGM moved into the lavishly appointed spaces devised by Alex Yemenidjian, former chairperson and chief executive of MGM, Roger Vincent and Claudia Eller observed in the Los Angeles Times that "Yemenidjian spared no expense in building out the studio's space with such Las Vegas-style flourishes as towering marble pillars and a grand spiral staircase lined with a wall of awards."
Scott Johnson, the architect, designed the bottom third of the tower with extra-large floors so MGM executives could have outdoor decks. Seemingly no expense was spared, from the marble imported from Italy for MGM's area to the company's exclusive use of a dedicated private garage, security checkpoint, and elevator bank: all to enable celebrities who visited the complex discreet entry and exit, bypassing public spaces. One of three screening rooms placed in the tower was a 100-seat theater on the ground floor (later taken over by International Creative Management in December 2010). The 14th floor lobby housed the executive suites and a wall of Oscar statuettes for Academy Award-winning films. The street leading to the building's garage was renamed MGM Drive and a large MGM logo, illuminated at night, crowned the top of the building. As of December 2010, MGM rented 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) of space in the MGM Tower at a cost of almost $5 per square foot per month.
Emerging from bankruptcy protection in 2010, MGM announced that it planned to relocate the headquarters to Beverly Hills as part of an effort toward removing almost $5 billion in debt since the lease in Century City was not scheduled to expire until 2018. Vincent and Eller said that MGM's per square foot monthly rent would be far lower in the Beverly Hills building than in the MGM Tower. Larry Kozmont, a real estate consultant not involved in the process, said "It's a prudent move for them. Downsizing and relocating to a space that is still prominent but not overly ostentatious and burdened by expenses is fundamental for their survival." MGM vacated its namesake tower on August 19, 2011.
The MGM library
Turner Entertainment Co.
Following his brief ownership of the company in 1986, Ted Turner formed Turner Entertainment Co. as a holding company for the pre-May 1986 MGM film and television library, which he retained. After Turner's holdings were purchased by Time Warner in 1996, they ultimately became integrated into the Warner Bros. library, though the copyright claimant to these titles is still "Turner Entertainment Co." For some time after the sale, MGM continued to handle home video distribution of its pre-May 1986 film and TV library and began to handle home video distribution of the pre-1950 Warner Bros. films; those rights were reassigned to Warner Home Video in 1999.
Through its acquisitions of many different companies and film and television libraries, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has greatly enhanced its film and television holdings.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's library includes its own post-April 1986 library as well as the film and television libraries of:
- United Artists
- Orion Pictures, including:
- The Samuel Goldwyn Company
- Motion Picture Corporation of America (1986-1996 library)
- Filmways, including:
- PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (pre-March 31, 1996 library), including:
- The Virgin Films/Palace Pictures catalog
- Island Pictures, including:
- CDR's Epic library
- The Cannon Group, Inc.
- 21st Century Film Corporation
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio
- MGM Animation/Visual Arts
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation
- MGM Television
- MGM Worldwide Television
- MGM Home Entertainment
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- Official website
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at the Internet Movie Database
- MGM Animation at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's channel on YouTube
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Article Encyclopædia Britannica
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films and personalities scrapbooks, 1920-1944, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
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