Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, May 29, 2021


On May 26, 2021, Amazon announced its intention to acquire MGM studios for $9 billion. MGM played an important role in Jazz Age culture and is therefore important for understanding the source material for Dieselpunk.

Movie magnate Marcus Loew had a problem. He needed a new film source for his Loew’s Theatres chain. To solve this problem, Loew purchased Goldwyn Pictures in 1924 for $5 million. The problem with this solution was that it caused Loew to need someone to oversee his new Hollywood operations. Fortunately, he was approached by Louis B. Mayer, owner of Louis B. Mayer Pictures, with an offer to sell his company. Loew agreed to purchase the company for $75,000. Loews then renamed his theater chain Metro’s distribution network and merged it with Goldwyn Pictures studio and Louis B. Mayer Productions. The merger was completed on April 17, 1924, with Mayer becoming head of the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM on April 26th of the same year.

The merger wasn’t without problems. Samual Goldwyn was never involved in operations and left early. In 1925 he unsuccessfully sued to remove his name from MGM. When Marcus Loew died in 1927, his assistant Nicholas Schenck took over his duties. Schenck and Mayer never got along. The failed merger with Fox Film made matters worse between them. 

From the start, MGM was a movie-making machine. In its first two years, it produced more than 100 feature films. The studio had a golden touch when it came to successful movies. For example, the 1925 Ben-Hur racked in a $4.7 million profit that year in its first full year. It helped that MGM became home to superstars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, William Powell, Buster Keaton, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Robert Montgomery, Spencer Tracy, and Myrna Loy.

Myrna Loy

MGM was one of the first studios to experiment with filming in Technicolor. Ironically, while it was cutting edge on color, it was the last studio to convert to talkies. Their first full-fledged talkie wasn’t until 1929 with the musical The Broadway Melody. But like so many MGM productions, The Broadway Melody was both a box-office and critical success, with it winning the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year.

Even though its first talkie was a highly successful musical, it took a while for MGM to get the hang of them. However, when it did, the result was impressive. MGM produced musical classics such as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and more. 

MGM produced much more than musicals. It also produced classics such as Gone with the Wind, The Thin Man, Tarzan the Ape Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, and A Night at the Opera.

A Night at the Opera

The Amazon acquisition is likely to be successful for MGM has long been signaling that it was looking for a buyer. The merger results could be a win for classic movie lovers with Amazon Prime memberships and Fire Sticks, who may soon have access to a treasure trove of classic MGM movies.  

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