MGM

MGM Stories Part Nine: Spencer Tracy by Karina Longworth

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When Spencer Tracy signed with MGM, he was a character actor better known for his problem drinking (and very public extramarital affair with Loretta Young) than for his movie hits. But the studio made him a star, and by the time Katharine Hepburn was looking for a male star who could play a prototypical American male opposite her very idiosyncratic persona, Tracy was the obvious choice. Tracy and Hepburn became one of the most legendary Hollywood couples of the century, on-screen and off, and their partnership helped to canonize both as important stars. But their personal relationship was complicated by his drinking and his relationships with other women -- including his wife.

Sources: 

The "most recent biographies" of Tracy and Hepburn mentioned in this episode are William J. Mann's Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn and James Curtis' Spencer Tracy: A Biography. The latter disputes the former, at least where the sex lives of its subjects are concerned. I'm honestly not sure what to believe about Tracy and particularly Hepburn's sex life, and I'm honestly not sure it really matters; what's more interesting to me is the ways in which stories/rumors/ideas about famous people circulate in the culture and become a part of their history, whether they're true or not. 

Other sources: Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir by Garson Kanin; Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman; and City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s by Otto Friedrich.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allie Gemmill. 

Special thanks to our special guests: Steve Zissis played Spencer Tracy; Kelly Marcel played Katharine Hepburn; and Craig Mazin returned as Louis B. Mayer. 

This episode is sponsored by Audible.com Go to Audible.com/remember for a free audiobook and a 30-day trial.

This episode is also sponsored by Squarespace. Start your website with no credit card required by going to Squarespace.com and using the offer code REMEMEBER. 

MGM Stories Part Five: William Haines and Hollywood's First Openly Gay Marriage by Karina Longworth

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The rare silent star who made a relatively smooth transition to sound films, William “Billy” Haines was one of the top box office stars of the late 1920s-early 1930s. Beginning in 1926, Haines started living with Jimmie Shields, and the two men became one of the most popular couples on the Hollywood social scene, facing little if any homophobia among the industry’s elite. But as times changed and the heat from the censors began to get hotter, MGM began to put pressure on Haines to pretend to be someone he wasn’t.

Very special thanks to Wil Wheaton, who played William Haines, and Craig Mazin, who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

The primary source for this episode was William J. Mann’s biography of Haines, Wisecracker. Other sources consulted include:

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: A Divine Star. London: The Robson Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

Bowers, Scotty. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2013. Kindle Edition.

Chandler, Charlotte. Not The Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster, 2008 Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster, 1997. Kindle Edition.

E. J. Fleming. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine McFarland & Co Inc, 2004. Kindle Edition.

Golden, Eve. John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Photoplay, Jan-Jun 1927

MGM Stories Part Four: John Gilbert and Greta Garbo by Karina Longworth

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Rising romantic lead John Gilbert signed with MGM in 1924 and the next year he starred in King Vidor’s The Big Parade, the studio’s biggest hit of the silent era. That same year, Louis B. Mayer brought his new discovery to Hollywood: an enigmatic Swedish actress named Greta Garbo. Garbo and Gilbert starred together in the romantic melodrama Flesh and the Devil, and began a relationship in real-life, which was eagerly exploited by the still-fledgling Hollywood publicity machine. Gilbert’s career suffered from his contentious relationship with Mayer, and his increasing alcoholism, while Garbo’s star continued to rise. In 1933, Garbo made it a condition of her MGM contract extension that the studio cast Gilbert as her love interest in Queen Christina. Within three years, Gilbert was dead. Within ten years, Garbo’s career had taken a turn, too

Special thanks to special guest star Craig Mazin, reprising his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

This episode included a clip from the John Gilbert film His Glorious Night, pulled from Kevin Brownlow's incredible silent era documentary Hollywood. Hollywood is watchable in several installments on YouTube.

We are proud to welcome our new sponsor, Audible.com! Get a free audiobook and a 30-day trial at Audible.com/remember

Sources:

Basinger, Jeanine. Silent Stars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 2012

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: The Divine Star. London: Robson Press, 2012. 

Conway, Michael; McGregor, Dion & Ricci, Mark. The Complete Films of Greta Garbo. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 2008

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 1998

Golden, Eve John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars (Screen Classics) The University Press of Kentucky. Kindle Edition. 2013

Krützen, Michaela. The Most Beautiful Woman on the Screen: The Fabrication of the Star Greta Garbo. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1992.

"Garbo's Last Days" by Michael Gross. New York Magazine, May 21, 1990

MGM Stories Part One - Louis B. Mayer vs. Irving Thalberg (YMRT #56) by Karina Longworth

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Welcome to the fifth season of You Must Remember This! This season, called MGM Stories, is going to tell 15 tales about people who worked at the same movie studio over the course of five decades and counter-culture-hastened decline.

Established in 1924, MGM was the product of a merger of three early Hollywood entities, but the only person working there who got to have his name in the title was studio chief Louis B. Mayer. For the first dozen years of its existence, Mayer’s influence over the company would be at least matched by that of producer Irving Thalberg, who was perceived as the creative genius to Mayer’s bureaucrat. This episode will trace the rise of MGM through the 1920s and early-mid 30s, covering Mayer’s long-evolving working relationship with Thalberg, the creation of the MGM “star factory” identity and unique power within the community of Hollywood, and the in-fighting which would end with Mayer poised to seize his crown as the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Special thanks to Dan Saraceni and Liz Lui, who contributed ideas that inspired this episode in our forum, and Craig Mazin (screenwriter and co-host of the Scriptnotes podcast), who guest stars as Louis B. Mayer. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky, and our research intern is Allison Gemmill. The outro music to this ep is "We're a Happy Family" by The Ramones.

As you may have noticed, the podcast has a new distribution partner, Panoply. You can find the whole family of Panoply podcasts at itunes.com/panoply. If you subscribe to the show on iTunes, it should feel like nothing has changed, but if you have any problem finding or listening to episodes, please contact me using the link at the top of the page. 

This season, as promised, was inspired by suggestions made by our listeners on our Forum. As the season continues, we'll be contacting listeners whose ideas influenced specific episodes. This season, which will last until the end of 2015, is fully scheduled, but you can continue to use the Forum to suggest ideas for future seasons, and also to discuss this current season or past episodes with other listeners. 

The primary sources for this episode were Lion of Hollywood by Scott Eyman, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, and a number of oral histories accessed at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript archive, including the recollections of Dore Schary, Anita Loos, and Sheilah Graham.

If you're new to our show, check out our four previous seasons -- including the series Star Wars and Charles Manson's Hollywood - on iTunes.

Star Wars Episode XVI: Van Johnson by Karina Longworth

Van Johnson

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Join us, for the final episode in our Star Wars series (for now). VanJohnson was MGM’s big, all-american heartthrob during World War II, an one of the most reliably bankable stars in Hollywood, on and off, for over a decade. On screen, Johnson embodied bland, unthreatening, boyishness. Off-screen, he was an introvert with a mysterious personal life, and by 1947, Van’s lack of a lady friend was becoming a distraction. In a bizarre effort at damage control, Van married his best friend’s wife — on the same day as their divorce. 

Show Notes:

This is the sixteenth and final episode in our Star Wars series. At least, for now -- I'd like to return to the concept later, but transpose it to other wars. We'll also be revisiting the lives and careers of people like Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne in a future series on the blacklist. 

This episode was requested on our forums by “Marc” way back in January, when the Star Wars series first began. Marc had made a note in the forums about the “VanJohnson marriage switch,” which I had never heard of before. I had knownJohnson as the rather milquetoast co-star/romantic lead in musicals like The Shop Around the Corner. (I did like him in the Fitzgerald adaptation The Last Time I Saw Paris, although that movie suffers from the problems a lot of adaptions of great 20th century literature suffered from under the production code.) But I somehow missed the stories about Johnson’s marriage, as well as the flurry of writing that followed his death in 2008. While the New York Times obit suggests Johnson married Evie Wynn against the wishes of MGM, manyotherwritings in concert with Johnson's death noted that Johnson was widely acknowledged to be gaypositioning the marriage as a studio-ordered cover-up.

The above linked posts helped me find the books which I based this episode on, all of which are great reads: We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills by Ned Wynn, VanJohnson: MGM's Golden Boy by Ronald L. Davis, and Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer.

Thanks for listening for these sixteen weeks! We'll be on hiatus for the next three weeks, so this might be a good time for you to explore our archives. Here are some of my favorite episodes that you might have missed:

Kay Francis, 1930s party girl par excellence

Isabella Rossellini in the 1990s

Low-budget horror pioneer Val Lewton

Ida Lupino, groundbreaking female film director

The Lives, Deaths and Afterlives of Judy Garland

Discography:

Faster Does It by Kevin MacLeod

Gymnopedie No 2, by Eric Satie, performed by by Kevin MacLeod

Ghost Dance by Kevin MacLeod

Money by Jahzzar

Impossible Bouquet by No Age

Undercover Vampire Policeman by Chris Zabriskie

Out of the Skies, Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

Divider by Chris Zabriskie

For Better or Worse by Kai Engel

There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie

Celebrity Skin by Hole