The Quick 10: 10 Facts About MGM Studios

There's no doubt that MGM has given us some of the greatest and most enduring movies ever made - Mutiny on the Bounty, The Wizard of Oz, The Pride of the Yankees, An American in Paris, Doctor Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Poltergeist, Thelma and Louise. Of course, they've given us some real stinkers too: Night of the Lepus (yeah... check that link out), Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Getting Even with Dad among them. It would also appear that they have a third installment of Bill and Ted slated for 2010, which I am simultaneously thrilled and horrified by.

Anyway, the studio that has provided hundreds of memorable movies celebrates an important anniversary this month, so here are a few of the notable things that have happened to them in the last 85 years.

1. The studio was founded by Marcus Loew, a rags-to-riches story if there ever was one. His family was very poor and Marcus ended up working as a child instead of going to school. He saved up some money and bought a penny arcade, then he partnered with Adolph Zukor to buy a nickelodeon. The business expanded into Loew's Theaters, which enabled him to buy three movie studios in the early '20s - Goldwyn Pictures, Metro Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. He combined them all and MGM was born. Zukor, by the way, went on to found Paramount.

louis2. Louis B. Mayer only allowed Loew to buy his company if he could become studio head. Loew agreed, and Mayer turned MGM into the marketing powerhouse that it was in the '30s and '40s. It was really because of his efforts that MGM was known for having "more stars than there are in the heavens." That's old L.B. in the picture to the left with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
3. Mayer's son-in-law was David O. Selznick. Sound familiar? It should - he was one of the industry's biggest producers, winning two Best Picture Oscars in a row - Gone with the Wind and Rebecca. But his success was not because he was taking handouts from his father-in-law. In fact, Selznick worked for Paramount when he married Mayer's daughter Irene. Their marriage lasted about 18 years, but he had been having affairs for most of that time - including one with one of his leading actresses, Jennifer Jones. She became his second wife the same year that he and Irene divorced.

4. Fox and MGM almost merged once a long time ago. After Marcus Loew died in 1927, William Fox bought out the Loew family's holdings in MGM. Louis B. Mayer was not happy about that, and tried to use political connections to have the motion blocked, saying that it violated antitrust laws. But Fox was in a bad car accident, which held up all of his business deals until he recovered. Sadly, by the time he did, the stock market crash of 1929 had literally wiped out his fortune, making the MGM deal totally moot. Fox tried to bribe the judge during his bankruptcy proceedings in 1936, which landed him in prison for six months. When he was released, he retired from the film industry.

5. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were the heads of the MGM animation department when it closed in 1957. They went on to create their own animation company - maybe you've heard of it. They had a few successful cartoons.

mgm6. MGM's famous "Leo the Lion" logo was a carryout from the Goldwyn Pictures part of the business. Samuel Goldwyn had used the lion logo to honor his alma mater, Columbia University. So far, there have been five lions used - Slats, from 1924-1928; Jackie, from 1928-1956; Tanner, from 1934-1956; Bob AKA Jackie 2, from 1956-1958; and Leo, the current lion, who has been in use since 1957. You can check them all out over at Neatorama - and learn the stories behind other Hollywood studio logos as well.

7. The current MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas originally had a Wizard of Oz theme. Inside were animatronic versions of Dorothy and her friends, along with a yellow brick road that led to an amusement park (see #8 below). The journey included some of the same stuff Dorothy encountered on hers - a haunted forest, an apple orchard and a corn field. You also entered the building through the open mouth of a lion that resembled the studio's logo. The theming was eventually pulled, but you can still see the lion logo represented in the five-ton bronze statue outside and the real lion habitat inside. There are also the Majestic Lion slots, which are tucked back in a remote corner of the casino and are supposedly looser than the rest of the slot machines. I've never had any luck with them, though, and I make it a point to try every time I'm in Vegas. Sucker.

8. Despite being called "Disney-MGM Studios," the theme park in Orlando really had very little to do with MGM. The licensing agreement allowed Disney to use the MGM name and logo and also allowed the MGM content in The Great Movie Ride. That was about it. The two companies had a pretty touchy relationship, with lawsuits flying back and forth from 1988 (and the park didn't even open until 1989) until 1992. MGM was upset that Disney was building a working studio; they said they had only signed on for a studio-themed amusement park. Then when MGM announced plans to build an amusement park in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Disney sued and said that a theme park in a casino would hurt their sterling reputation. Oh, Hollywood. Eventually it was ruled that both companies could just keep on keepin' on with both projects. None of it matters now anyway - Disney changed its name to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2008 and MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park closed in 2000.

9. The studio's motto is "Ars gratia artis" and can be seen on the film scroll around Leo the Lion's head in the logo. It's Latin for "Art for art's sake."

10. There used to be an MGM record label. It was created in 1946 to distribute the soundtracks from MGM's hit musicals - The Wizard of Oz, Gigi, Annie Get Your Gun and Singin' in the Rain, to name a few. In the '50s it was considered one of the major labels of the time, but by 1972 it ceased to be profitable. MGM Records was sold to PolyGram, which was sold to Seagram in 1999 and is now part of Universal Music Group.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Prepositions in Band Names
iStock
iStock

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios