MGM, the studio that brought us the Thin Man films, Grand Hotel, the Tarzan movies, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and even Tom and Jerry, is gone. Gone too is United Artists, the studio that brought us The African Queen the James Bond movies, the Pink Panther films, The Beatles' movies, and Annie Hall. Sony Corporation and a collection of other companies bought United Artists and MGM's assets for $3 billion yesterday. This gives Sony control of both United Artists and MGM's impressive film libraries, as well as the MGM and United Artists names. Sony will continue to release movies under those names, but the days when MGM and United Artists were independent studios are over.
MGM was formed in 1924 through the merger of three studios: Metro (founded in 1915 by the Loews family, owners of the famous theatre chain), Goldwyn (founded in 1916 by famous producer Samuel Goldwyn and Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn), and Mayer (founded in 1917 by Louis B. Mayer). MGM became the dominant studio in the Thirties. It boasted more stars than any other studio, including such big names as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Jean Harlow. MGM became known for its large scale melodramas. Still later it would become the home of the Hollywood musical. From the Thirties into the Fifties, it produced such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Singin' in the Rain.
United Artists was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford. The idea behind United Artists was simple--it was a studio owned by the artists. Unfortunately, United Artists was never as large as studios such as MGM and Warner Brothers. It met with financial problems as early as the late Forties and was bought by Arthur Krim in 1952. He sold it to Transamerica in 1967. Over the years United Artists produced more than its share of classics, such as The Front Page (1931), Scarface (1932), and Judegement at Nuremberg.
Amazingly, MGM also experienced financial difficulties in the Sixties. The studio found more and more of its films failing at the box office. By 1969 MGM was in the hands of corporate raider Kirk Kerkorian. Unfortunately, it fared no better in the Seventies. Buying United Artists in 1981 did not help either studio. Much of the MGM and UA film library was sold to Ted Turner in 1986.
I am truly saddened to hear that MGM/UA has been sold to Sony Corporation and its partners. MGM was the giant of the industry for some time, with many classic films to its credit. United Artists also produced its fair share of classics, although on a smaller scale. I have fond memories of both companies. I remember seeing the MGM logo before such films as The Wizard of Oz and the Thin Man movies, not to mention the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. I also remember watching many a film with the United Artists logo, among them The Beatles movies and the James Bond films. It is sad to think both studios are gone.
Besides the fact that the two studios have ceased to exist beyond labels to be placed on Sony productions, there is the simple fact that now there are two less studios in existence. It seems that with each year the entertainment industry falls under the control of fewer and fewer companies. At one time there were 7 major studios and a potpourri of smaller ones. I am guessing now that number is much, much smaller. That is unfortunate, as I suspect better movies (and, for that matter, songs, TV shows, books, and so on) are more likely to arise from a diversity of sources than only a few. It is a sad day in entertainment history.