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MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot Hardcover – February 25, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
"The world probably will not see anything quite like it again," concedes talk show host Dick Cavett about the Culver City home to some of the 20th century's most renowned and respected actors, actresses, screenwriters, and artists. A production company in its truest sense, the eventual 1924 merger of Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer pioneered an assembly-line approach to filmmaking and initial profits paved the way for the introduction of sound stages and innovations in set design, special effects, and many other aspects of film production. Chapters are sub-divided into "Lots"—as was the MGM site itself—and readers are transported into a bygone era through candid b&w photographs, lucid commentaries, testimonials, and anecdotes that bestow a behind-the-scenes experience. But the tale had a darker side as well: cracks were showing in the pristine veneer and the editors aptly include the studio's undignified demise amidst squandered assets and disillusioned takeover attempts. Film-buffs, historians, sociologists, and economists will swoon at the intricacy and insider information here; detailed balance sheets of frequently over-blown production budgets are even included. Readers will be educated, inspired, and enthralled by this handsome book. Photos. (Feb.)
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"Reading this was like being there. I know. I was there." Clint Eastwood
"The first ten films I made for MGM changed my life. Now you can go back in timeas I havein the pages of this remarkable book, learning how and where the Land of Make Believe’ became real. Once you take the journey, you, too, will be transported." Angela Lansbury
"What a cornucopia of valuable behind-the-scenes information and rare photos. I’ve got one word to describe this book: Irresistible!" Leonard Maltin
"For anyone who has ever dreamed what it was like to live in the Golden Age of Hollywood, this visit to my grandfather’s studio will vividly re-create the experience." Daniel Mayer Selznick
"This comprehensive history uses detailed text and a wealth of behind the scenes photos to take you through the most storied of major studio lots. If you love classic Hollywood, this book is a knockout." Kenneth Turan
"I was under contract with MGM for six years and twenty four films, and seeing this extraordinary new book of photos and commentary took me, and will take you, on a journey where Louis B. Mayer’s More Stars Than There Are in Heaven’ acted on the magnificent grounds and sets of MGM’s five backlots." Richard Anderson
"What an achievement! Having spent a great deal of time on the backlot myself, this book brought forth so many memories. The description of the last days of MGM is brilliantly done, and the list of films shot on the various sets is incredible. All in all, it’s a spectacular project!" Kevin Brownlow
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.