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MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot
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66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is one of the finest books I have ever seen produced on the subject of motion pictures! Like another reviewer I found myself looking at the photographs for minutes at a time trying to see the details in each backlot scene. It is truly a work of spectacular dimensions and I congratulate the authors who have tried to create something for every cinema lover and classic motion picture collector. I have just retired from 40 years in the television and motion picture industry and I have never seen a compilation such as this. I will be buying copies of this book for Christmas and birthday gifts! When you find something you enjoy as much as I enjoyed this work you will want to share it with everyone. Put it on your Christmas list - you can't go wrong!
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 15, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The title of this book is QUITE misleading. Upon hearing about the book, I expected just a tour around the backlot of one of the most impressive movie studios in the world. When I opened the book, I found myself immersed in the ENTIRE studio, building by building, in this amazing feat of photographic glory and research. This is the book that diehard movie fans have been waiting for, and it does not disappoint. MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot is a cornucopia of pictures, trivia, and history that has no parallel today.

The authors, Stephen Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyer, strive and succeed at bringing to life this studio. Told through a careful selection of photographs from the day (be ready for black and white), as well as a compelling text that begs to be read, the history of the studio unfolds early on (after a wonderful but all too short forward by Debbie Reynolds). Then, the authors go section by section and "deconstruct" the lot. They provide a map of each section, and then go through each part, explaining its significance to the studio and revealing factoids to keep the movie lover or trivia expert up all night devouring the information. Tidbits like "the bridge of sighs", what happened to the famed columned entrance, and Marion Davies' bungalow are there to just whet your whistle.

When the book first arrived, I expected to flip through the pictures and just look at them. However, the writing, and the information, kept pulling me away as I wanted to learn more about what I was seeing. As a result, the authors have done something rather remarkable: they have brought to life this studio unlike anything I've ever seen before. A longtime Judy Garland fan, I often pictured what places like "The Little Red Schoolhouse", where she, as well as Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, and other MGM child stars were schooled, was like. Now, not only do I have a photograph, but I have the location of the place on a map. Wow!

I have two wishes for this book, and both of them are minor. I wished that the authors included maps of each section that I could remove. As they move through each building, I found myself doing a lot of flipping back and forth. I learned to read the book with my finger on the latest map. Secondly, some of the pictures are amazingly detailed (especially aerial shots of the studio), but small. My 40 year old eyes strain a bit to get the details of these remarkable photos. Perhaps a magnifying glass is in order?

For who doesn't want to see the street where Andy Hardy lived? The pool where Esther Williams performed her magic? The snowy Massachusetts street where four "Little Women" walked arm in arm? Ahhh, this is a book to treasure, to examine, and to keep for a lifetime.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Finally a time machine that transports you back to the glorious days of the Hollywood Dream Machine. From cover to cover, the long lost world of Metro Goldwyn Mayer's backlot is revealed in a collection of pictures and story that gets you as close as you will ever come to actually being there. Author Steven Bingen spent the better part of ten years culling through thousands of rare and unique photographs tracing the entire MGM backlot. With his co-authors, they have woven a tapestry of history and memory unrealized in any other book. Included is an exhaustive and informative listing of productions made at the studio and precisely which stages and studio locations were used. Hail, hail, MGM is back, at least, thanks to Bingen, Sylvester and Troyan, in book form to revisit whenever you want to.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
If ever a story needed to be told, this is it. In the '70's, I saw a feature piece on 60 Minutes regarding the systematic selling off of the fabled MGM Studio's backlots. It was a disturbing and ghostly story to begin with as it showed the once great studio in a decaying freefall. I'm a fan of classic Hollywood movies and I was upset by the thought that MGM was disappearing as a physical entity and would be lucky if it even existed on paper in a few years. In all probability MGM was soon to be reduced to stripmalls and subdivisions.
As anyone who watches a lot of movies will tell you, the major Hollywood studios had their own unique style and part of that style was associated with their backlots and movie sets. MGM was the grandest of them all. After all the dust from the former backlots had settled, when I'd go out to California I'd try to figure out what used to be MGM without much luck. It was difficult to determine where the lots once stood and harder still to know where the familiar outdoor sets that appeared in so many great films stood.
This book is incredible. While its size might give the impression that this is one of those fancy coffee table books with plenty of pictures and non-existent text, this book delivers. It is the story of a studio as well as a family of employees and it documents and details the founding of the studio, its boom years, and its slow disintegration. It is heavy with maps, pictures, archival information, and contains a huge amount of information and documentation about how the studio operated and how it was physically laid out. It chronicles the changes that occurred throughout the years as well as the business decisions that triggered those changes.
M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot is a wonder in regard to not only its scope but also to the level of research its three authors went to in getting this story right. The authors interviewed a large number of people who were associated with the studio over the years and relied on the memoirs of many deceased people who were involved in the inner workings of the studio. Rare photographs were unearthed as well as maps and aerial photographs. Major streets and sets were identified. Lists were compiled with films that utilized specific sets. The end result provides an intimate and detailed glimpse at something that essentially no longer exists except on film stock and in the hearts of film fans. This book is an absolute treat and a must have for anyone who is truly interested in the history of Hollywood film making.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This elegant volume leads you step-by-step on the ultimate studio tour of the ultimate studio, the legendary MGM, where it is estimated that a fifth of all movies made in the United States were partially shot. Loaded with useful maps, and hundreds of unique photographs, this book pulls back the curtains to reveal Hollywood's greatest dream factory in fascinating detail. The text is informative and engaging, and includes a comprehensive listing of films shot before each of the major backlot sets. Film fans everywhere - you've won your Golden Ticket - now go explore!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was lucky enough to have seen the very last bit of the famous MGM back lot just before it was torn down for housing. I had just moved to Los Angeles and was thrilled to have gotten in there, even if only for a brief period of time. That short visit made me want to see more of the larger sections that had already been torn down, but there just wasn't anywhere I could find information or pictures of the back lot. You can't find much about it today even with all of the sites out there on the Internet.

Happily none of that matters because this book is everything I ever wanted and more. The authors have done an outstanding job of capturing the glory days of that wonderful place. With only a few exceptions the pictures are crystal clear, and there's great descriptions and information on every page. I fully recommend it to anyone with an interest in MGM or the golden age of Hollywood. You won't be disappointed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book about the history of MGM Studios evoked such fond memories ... from many perspectives ... as well as " mental pictures " - in my " mind's eye " ... of the " magic " of being born & raised in Culver City, California - during the " Golden Age of the Silver Screen " ... and all of my many experiences then / there...

My Dad went to work at MGM in 1937 (as a janitor in the Thalberg Bldg) - then got a job as a clerk in the studio 'Storeroom' (which was like a hardware/stationary store for the entire studio). I was born in 1940 & remember the labor strikes (in the 40s) - & the 'MGM stable of Stars' (in the 50s). And the MGM 'family events'- at the studio & at the Hollywood Paladium - and previews of neo releases.

One Friday nite (circa 1944) whilst my Dad was working his nite janitor job at the Thalberg Bldg - my Mom & I walked from our home to "downtown Culver City" ( about a 6 block walk from our Duquesne Ave. abode )... we went to the Culver City Bowling Alley - to watch the MGM Studio league bowl.While we were watching the bowling action my Mom noticed (3) guys who had just walked into the place... she reached into her purse - pulled our a blank 1-cent postcard - handed it to me - with a pencil - and said ... " Wayne - THAT is Frank Sinatra - go ask him for his autograph ! " .... which I did - AND - he then gave the postcard to the guy standing next to him - who also signed it... that happened to be Peter Lawford ! --- NOTE: I still have that postcard ! (and... who the 3rd guy was = ??? )

During the summers of 1953 & 1954 - I collected autographs of MGM stars & other MGM noteables .. as I waited for them across the street from the Thalberg Bldg. I filled 3 autograph books with signings - which included: Marilyn Monroe - Lionel Barrymore - Fred Astaire - Gene Kelly - Debbie Reynolds - Howard Keel - Red Skelton - Ann Blyth - Kathryn Grayson - Frank Sinatra - Jane Powell - Lana Turner - Barbara Stanwyck - Vic Damone - Dore Schary - Joe Pasternack - George Murphy (who went on to become a US Senator)- David Rose - Shelley Winters - Charles Laughton - Robert Mitchum - Sheila Grahame - Jean Simmons - Gordon McRae - Anthony Quinn - Paul Newman - Zsa Zsa Gabor - Walter Pidgeon - Esther Williams - Ethel Merman - Randolph Scott -Keenan Wynn - Andre Previn - Hedda Hopper ... and many others...

As a kid -I also remember sneaking into MGM ( in elementary school - up thru high school ) - over the fences... ( Lot 2 = the fences along Culver Blvd )-- ( Lot 3 = the fences in back of the lot adjacent to the oil derricks in the Baldwin Hills - above Jefferson Blvd / near Overland Ave )

In high school - a group of us would 'hop the fence to Lot 3' on a weekend nite - and explore the many sets there = the Showboat set (in the huge water tank) -- Andy Hardy Street -- the Olde Europe street --- til' the 'studio cops' would make their rounds & chase us... which was the 'real fun' for us ! (note: we NEVER got caught !)

After high school (and against my Dad's advice) - I got hired ( thru the union = Local 724 ) as a laborer - at MGM - in 1959... and worked there for about 2 years (on Lots 1 - 2 - 3 - & 4 )... it was a fascinating experience ! While working during 1960 - on Lot 1 - with a carpenter crew ... I discovered that (2) of the carpenters on that crew had 'ties to stars" = (1) was the brother of Red Skelton - another was Natalie Woods father ! (both stayed totally 'under the radar' ! )

During - and after college - I also worked nites & summers at MGM and other studios ( Disney - Paramount - Columbia - Republic - 4-Star - etc...

I would have to say that my experiences - as a kid growing up in Culver City ( The city's slogan was " THE HEART OF SCREENLAND " ) - where we often 'rubbed elbows' in town with stars from MGM - Selznick & Hal Roach Studios = which were ALL located there - and my later-in-life experiences
were truly 'magical' = the 40z to the early 60z were the "GOLDEN AGE OF THE STUDIOS" - especially MGM !!

This book by Bingen - Sylvester -& Troyen TRULY captures this 'magic' SUPERBLY !

I highly recommend this book for any/all fans of the 'silver screen' or film / Hollywood history buffs !

Wayne Flaaten
Whidbey Island, WA
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the book I have dreamt of ever since I first read Hugh Fordin's "The World of Entertainment" back in 1976! Anyone who loves moviemaking in general, espcially in the early decades of the Hollywood Studio system, or was weaned on "That's Entertainment!" as I was, or simply enjoys the bittersweet nostalgia of such a remarkable place and place in time that is no more, this book is a must-own.

The amazing photography is accompanied by fascinating and erudite text, and a thorough reading can almost make you feel as if you took an actual backlot tour, so vividly are the places brought to life.

I cannot recommend this unique and brilliant book highly enough!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The new book, MGM, Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, is at once a compelling social history rather than just an architectual survey of the sets, administrative buildings, and soundstages of Hollywood's greatest studio of the thirties, forties, and fifties. It truly is our Brigadoon, a city within a city within a country that made real countless myths and legends that could be experienced again and again on the celluloid screen. Brigadoon can only reappear once every hundred years, thus it's history has been short without too much social consequence, MGM not only brought to life visions of granduer it also trained generations on how on how to live an idealized life. Who hasn't watched an Andy Hardy film, Meet Me In St. Louis, or one of the Dr.Kildere entries and reflected or even measured the normality of their own families against these films? Wasn't Dad supposed to be as kind and understanding as Judge Hardy? Wasn't Mom supposed to be as wise and warm as Esther Smith's mother in St. Louis? And who hasn't, at one time or another, splashed in the rain or sung a few bars of Singin' in the Rain during a friendly down pour? There are so many moments from MGM films that have been cemented in the social consciouness.
What is so unique about this new book is that the authors recognize that the soundstages and outdoor lots played just as important characters in the films they appeared as the actors themselves. It's part of what gave MGM its look (in addition to great cinema photography, costume designers, set designers, hair stylists, and those who created the often beautiful posters and publicity portraits).
Authors Bingen (whose Warner Bros. book is also a treat), Sylvester and Troyan take the reader on a virtual tour of MGM, inside and out. There are maps of the backlots, aeriel views of the studio, and best of all, beautiful and detailed photos of each studio outdoor set where you can compare the changes as they were redressed to fit the specific needs of the motion picture being filmed there at that time. Vincente Minnelli had to fight tooth and nails to get his "St. Louis Street" built (for $208,275, an astronomical sum in 1943 when the film started shooting) rather than refurbish the Andy Hardy Street (for a mere $58,275 as Cedric Gibbons saw it). Yet both streets were utilized over the years which more than paid back their original costs. For example, "The St. Louis Street" show up in The Long, Long Trailer with much amusement as well as in such films as Cimarron and All Fall Down. The Andy Hardy Street was also used in Summer Holiday, Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, and even in one of the Thin Man films. The authors stress its iconic nature as a forerunner of "family" television series such as Father Knows Best and The Brady Bunch, which only further heightened the image of the "All American Family," something that many politicians still stick to.
In addition to being enlightened just how these backlots influenced (and still influence) our lives, this book is also plain fun to look at. Where else can you view Tarzan's jungle lot, the Showboat lake, Waterloo Bridge, and so many others between two covers of such well documented facts? And it seems quite appropriate to have a foreward by Debbie Reynolds who once fought to have the MGM backlots preserved as an amusement park of sorts long before Universal did the same with theirs.
This MGM backlot book is an important record of a studio and story that took place once upon a time; that was crumbling even as it continued to enhance the dreams of film goers around the world.
But like a Brigadoon, MGM will keep coming back; with each viewing of its masterpieces as well as its lesser achievements. Although self-descibed as the studio with more stars than in the heavens, this book illuminates the heavens rather than the stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Wow -- this book lives up to its hype. The best and most complete record of the greatest studio of them all -- MGM. Pictured it's heyday, with many black and white photos & maps, it was a complete city, with not only sound stages & dressing rooms (including a photo of Marion Davies' massive bungalow), but literally everything and anything needed to make a film, from a fabulous prop department, wig & makeup wizards, costumes, carpentry, machinery, a whole symphany orchestra, a school for the young actors, even a medical office for injuries. As you tour the massive backlots, you'll see the "behind the curtain" vision of movies that we never see, and production photos of films that were shot in each location, which are also listed in the index. I particularly loved seeing the photo of the infamous MGM commissary & a sample of the menu, where you could get their famous chicken soup with matzah ball for sixty cents. You'll see "Papa" Louis B. Mayer sitting at his desk & learn about his formidable secretary. It's fun to see photos of some of the famous directors & stars who were there when they were young. Today, another studio resides on that greatly reduced property & many of the historical props & costumes have been auctioned off or sold to collectors, but this book takes you back in time to when this movie studio made the greatest films which we are still enjoying today. We might have special effects movies today, but we will never have the incredible collection of directors, producers, artists, writers, musicians, actors & actresses who gathered at the MGM studios. The book is a fine testament to the incredible care & artistry these employees contributed to the film industry. Highly recommended for all movie buffs.
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