Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Kirk Kerkorian Is Dead at 98

MGM's fabled Lot 2

From The World of Entertainment: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals, by Hugh Fordin (1975):

[In 1969] entered Kirk Kerkorian, millionaire head of Tracy Investment [later Tracinda] (controllers of several large Las Vegas hotels), who began acquiring large blocks of MGM stock with the sole intention of overthrowing the [Edgar] Bronfman [Sr] regime. He succeeded in obtaining the necessary majority by fall. That fight cost Bronfman $51 million [in 1969 dollars; about $330 million today] as against Kerkorian's 2.2 million shares. 
Polk was swiftly ousted and [Kerkorian's right-hand man] James T. Aubrey Jr., once head of CBS Television production, was named Metro's new president ... Aubrey then began to dispose of all that had made MGM the greatest and most valuable studio. 
First, he decided that all the costumes and props (i.e., furniture, autos, trolleys, even the show boat) that accumulated over thirty-five years should be sold. Rather than have the studio handle the sale, he made a flat deal of $1.4 million with David Weisz, a California auctioneer. That famous auction began on May 3, 1970, lasted three weeks and netted the Weisz company over $10 million. 
Second, he sold the sixty-eight acres of Lot 3 to Levitt and Sons, Inc., ITT (builders of Levittown, N.Y.). All the famous streets were leveled and in their place stands a modern housing development named Raintree County. Lot 2 also went and Aubrey even tried to dispose of the main lot to an automobile assembly company, but the Culver City zoning board put a stop to that. Then he ordered the music department's library burned, with the exception of one score for every film retained; out-takes, prerecordings, music tracks and the enormous stock-footage library also went. The vast script library was about to go up in flames, but was stopped by someone who cared, and they were sent to the USC library.
Debbie Reynolds at the 1970 MGM auction.

From "The Girl With the Golden Wardrobe: Debbie Reynolds Sells Her Showcase Collection": (at the Theater Historical Society of America website):

Reynolds’s collection began in 1970 after the financier Kirk Kerkorian bought MGM and decided to consolidate the studio. Years before Universal turned its studio tour into a major theme park, Reynolds had the idea to build a Disney-type mecca for film fans out of MGM’s back lot...Every day for three weeks, she waded through more than 300,000 items. She ended up purchasing a large, but carefully selected, array of costumes and furniture. Over the ensuing years, she added items through smaller auctions and individual purchases. When I compliment her prescience, she sighs and says, “It’s not so much that I had vision, it’s that they had none.”

From The Phantom of Hollywood: An MGM Snuff Film, by Kelli Marshall:

But as it happens, this poorly done 1970s TV movie more than imitated reality; it destroyed it, right onscreen, for the pleasure of the viewer. And here I mean pleasure in the Freudian sense—like the perverse pleasure one gets from breaking rules or slowing down to gawk at a gruesome car accident. Yes, for its climax, The Phantom of Hollywood literally bulldozes MGM’s Lot 2, and thus kills the classical film musical.
Kirk Kerkorian in Las Vegas, 1968

"The Commodification of Publishing and Media," a blog post by consultant Dan Black about "MGM and Disney; the former sold some of its most precious assets to fund the building of a Las Vegas hotel. The latter spent money to archive and preserve its history":

It Takes Decades To Build a Brand, Moments to Destroy It 
Today, many companies talk about their valuable “content assets” and the “communities” built over the course of decades. Media and publishing companies change hands constantly, often based on the value of their content and reputation. Like the MGM sale – one result of this is that the most valuable aspects of these brands are slowly dissipated over the years. Yes, some gems are cherished forever, but many others are lost into the ether, a shadow of what they once were – a hollow brand, existing in name only.


Vanwall said...

And good riddance.

Birgit said...

What made this SOB so hateful toward MGM to have not only studio lots razed but to burn actual scripts and music that would be worth so much today? He had to have been very jealous and it was payback-what an ass

The Siren said...

I don't think it was jealousy; I think it was just short-sightedness and his way of doing business, as a corporate raider who operated by buying things and stripping them. He never had any interest in MGM as a studio. He wanted the real estate and above all, the name.

gmoke said...

If I recall correctly, Jim Aubrey looms large in Merle Miller's chronicle of his work on a TV pilot with Jackie Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, Only You, Dick Daring,

Rozsaphile said...

The vast library of musical scores was simply discarded. I understand that the materials lie in a landfill beneath a golf course near the Getty Museum. There have actually been some half-hearted proposals to exhume the stuff. Only the simplified "conductor books" were preserved as essential for copyright purposes. The composers were never offered a chance to reclaim their life's work. Nor were the interested libraries given a shot at preservation. So today if you wish to perform a piece by Rozsa or Previn or Kaper, you would need an orchestrator and copyists to rebuild the entire score from the skeleton reduction. It's actually been done in a few cases (QUO VADIS a few years back). But it won't happen very often.

Rozsaphile said...

I should add that that the post-1950 music recordings were preserved with varying degrees of care and have finally been made available in the present century, thanks to the efforts of Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly. Little seems to have survived from the 1940s.

Ez Bud said...

I hope there's a special circle of hell for this man. I work in a university library, and when I hear the word "weeding" I get very, very nervous. Our new director is quite the fan of online resources, and seems to be taking every opportunity to get rid of anything in our print collection that doesn't suit his 21st Century Plan™. The other day I opened the back door and there was a huge dumpster sitting there. Staff and student workers were throwing volume after volume of back issues of Life, Time, The New Yorker, and other periodicals into what I could only view as a sarcophagus--resigned to the flames under the guise of "recycling". Someone had turned those pages, most likely with great interest, back in 1930, 1940, 1950. I had to turn away--it was all very "Fahrenheit 451". Someday we'll be sorry. We always are.

Lemora said...

I had never before read the gory details of how MGM was literally destroyed. In 1975 or thereabouts, I remember seeing a "documentary" on TV where Peter Lawford and Van Johnson, among others, stood next to decrepit, broken down sets on the MGM backlot and extolled the glory days at the studio, as if these sets were still beautiful and the heyday hadn't ended. One of the locales was Esther Williams' old (empty) swimming pool on the back lot. You can still see this grotesque film on You Tube. I recently came across it and had to quit watching. Thank you, Debbie Reynolds, for rescuing some of it from oblivion. This is one of those times when I feel there is no limit to the utter stupidity of the human race.

Jeff Gee said...

Well, this is off-topic, I'm delighted to say, but if it's not the best Audrey Hepburn story I've stumbled across in a million years, it's in the top two

I'd heard the track many times without a clue to its origin, despite the title.