The Dames Hit Hollywood! Day Six: Sony Pictures/Columbia Tri-Star Pictures, Formerly The MGM Studios (Confused Yet? Good.)
This was the studio tour I was most excited–and most nervous–about. I was excited because I was about to tour the former MGM Studios, where EVERYONE made movies. In the 1930s, MGM boasted “more stars than there are in the heavens” and I totally believe that (maybe because in the five boroughs of New York, starry skies are nonexistent). Stars that worked at MGM: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, Lon Chaney, Buster Keaton, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Wallace Beery, Myrna Loy, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Constance Bennett, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, the Marx Brothers, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Lana Turner, the Barrymores, Robert Taylor, Rosalind Russell, Greer Garson, Hedy Lamarr, Robert Montgomery, Robert Young, Jimmy Durante, and Margaret O’Brien. The studio chiefs: Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, etc. were just as interesting and entertaining as the performers. I wasn’t exaggerating about the “everyone” part.
But despite MGM’s rich history (can you IMAGINE all the things that must have happened here?) the studio was bought by Columbia TriStar/Sony Pictures in 1990. I knew the focus of the tour would be on Columbia (which is still cool) but I was hoping that they would acknowledge MGM a bit on this tour as well (because it was MGM so COME ON!!!)
The references to MGM on this tour were so little it’s practically negligible. It was easily the most disappointing, most grueling studio tour I went on in Hollywood.
That morning, I was so ready to go, and a lot more energetic than I normally am (and I’m a pretty hyper person as it is). I made the reservations, booked the tickets…everything was going to go fine. But right after that I felt a bit sick. I didn’t think anything of it, popped three pills, and we headed to what is now known as Sony/Columbia TriStar Studios (I’m going to refer to it as the ex-MGM Studios for short).
On the way there, Baby, with her crazy paparazzi skills, snapped a few pictures of the original MGM gates. I’m glad she did, because we didn’t go near those gates ONCE during the tour:
By the time we got to the entrance of the studio, which is at the new, modern glass Sony Pictures Building, I was officially sick. My medicine failed me, and every curse word in the book was running through my woozy brain. How the heck was I supposed to do a two-hour ALL WALKING tour on a 90 degree day when I was weak, covered in a thin film of cold sweat, and dizzier than a person with vertigo? I was NOT looking forward to this at all.
Thankfully, the office building was large, spacious, and cool, with plenty of nice couches where I could wallow in my self-despair and pray that my medicine, by some miracle, would kick in before the tour officially began. I tried to calm myself down by staring at a huge poster of It Happened One Night (it’s now Columbia Pictures, after all) that was hanging from one of the all-glass walls, but THIS ANNOYING GUY sitting on the couch across from me was having the most “hilarious” phone conversation of all time and his stupid high-pitched voice was giving me a migraine, to add to my pains. Basically, I wasted a half-hour of my life listening to this guy scream”HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! OH YOU’RE SOOOOO BAD! YOU CALLIN’ ME BAD? YOU’RE THE BAD ONE!” My sister was blatantly, hysterically laughing in his face, but he was so into convincing the person on the other side of the line that they’re so bad, he didn’t even notice when she snapped this picture of him:
Anyway, I was feeling too uncomfortable sitting still, so my sister, my dad, and I decided to look at the display cases of props and costumes, even though they were all from modern films:
The costume from Paul Blart: Mall Cop. For some sick, psychotic reason my sister actually LIKES this movie and I’ve been forced to watch this thing too many times for my liking. Oh well, nothing works like gazing into space and pretending like you’re watching something better!
After that, I was too tired to continue, and felt dizzy and in pain, so I sat down on the steps, trying to wrap my delirious mind around how I was supposed to do this, but couldn’t. At that point, this annoying camera guy who worked for the studio INSISTED that everyone who was going on the tour take a picture by the green screen (they would put in a background and the photo would be yours to keep after the tour). This resulted in probably the worst family picture in the history of bad family pictures. Everyone managed to look normal except me, standing an inch shorter than my younger sister, with a lazy eye, a white blouse turned see-through by sweat, and skin the color of Elmer’s liquid glue. This embarrassing, gross photo is now proudly displayed in my home, in a place that where any guest walks in, they can’t help but see it. Epic. Fail.
Anyway, the tour commenced soon after that. Our tour guide was a cheerful blonde hipster guy named Mike or Mark or something that starts with an M. The guy was so perky about everything that the disgustingly stuck-up German family that was also part of the tour group made so much fun of him the entire two hours. I felt really bad for him. At least he likes his job.
Then the kid gave us a lecture about taking pictures and how it wasn’t allowed unless he said so. Or he could lose his job. Although I was way too out of it to comprehend even being on the MGM lot, I could practically feel my camera-happy dad’s disappointment radiating out of him.
Like in Warner Bros, we watched a short film about the history of Columbia leading to its upcoming releases. I used this time to try to forget about my sickness, but it wasn’t working at all. The only time I showed any signs of life during that film was when It Happened One Night popped up on the screen. After that, the tour officially began.
The next stop on the tour was the Thalberg Building, an imposing white Deco-style building that was Irving Thalberg’s offices when he was head of MGM in the 1930s. At that point, everything that I was feeling went from bad to worse. I thought I was going to vomit and pass out right then and there in the ex-MGM lot, in front of Irving Thalberg’s ex-office.
Which was so not an option.
Although I was in no condition to even be out of bed, let alone walking around a Hollywood film studio, I convinced myself to suck it up. Walking on the same ground so many demigods have walked on before me is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was gonna finish this tour and enjoy it!
Unfortunately, the Thalberg Building was one of the many places that was off-limits to photos, so no pictures guys When we went inside, my fried brain was absolutely blown away by the Art Deco decor. I felt like I was inside one of those beautiful hotels or office buildings from the Golden Age films. On display in glass cases were the Best Picture Oscars of some Columbia films, including It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take It With You. Since the rest were for modern films, I just hovered near these two Oscars, unable to comprehend that the only thing separating me from It Happened One Night’s Oscar was a thin sheet of glass.
The tour guide took us to the middle of the lobby for a second. He asked us if anyone knew how the Academy Award statuette got the nickname “Oscar”. Never one to pass up the opportunity of being an insufferable know-it-all, I told him two theories: that AMPAS librarian Margaret Herrick thought it resembled her uncle Oscar and that Bette Davis thought it resembled her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, Jr. After getting weird stares from everyone in the lobby of the Thalberg Building, from workers, security guards, and tourists alike, and a genuine look of concern from the tour guide (I probably looked like I was high on something, no doubt), he said that those two theories are quite popular, but attempted to refute them by going on some spiel about how Cedric Gibbons designed the Oscar. Sorry dude, but that has nothing to do with how the statuette got its name.
Here are two streets on the lot. Which brings me to another point. The MGM lot was HUGE. I’m talking hundreds and hundreds of acres. Yet this was the smallest studio lot I’ve been on from all the tours. It was SO disappointing and so sad. When I looked over at my sister, I could tell she was upset too.
After that we were going to go inside a soundstage. We snaked through the normal, blank studio buildings. However, these buildings weren’t numbered like at the other studios. They were named after great stars. We passed the Tracy Building, the Garland Building, the Gable Building, etc. Our tour guide then stopped us by the Hepburn Building, saying that Katharine Hepburn loved to throw parties on its roof. He never said that no photos were allowed here, and it was nothing but a boring white building, who would even care? So my dad took a picture of me standing in front of it, my hands meekly folded in front of me. But we got busted by the stupid tour guy, and he took my dad to the side and told him to stop taking pictures unless he said so. It was like a parent lecturing a toddler for putting their hand in the cookie jar, and it was the first time I cracked up all day.
Basically, this studio is famous for being the place where game shows such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are filmed. We were taken inside the Jeopardy studio and got to sit in the audience seats while the tour guide droned on endlessly about the game show. By this point I was feeling much better, and thanked God in my seat instead of listening to the guy. Although the show was on hiatus and all the sets covered in white canvases and although everyone on the planet has watched Jeopardy at least once in their lives, we were still not allowed to take pictures. Um, tour guide, I bet you the aliens on Mars know what Jeopardy is. It’s not like I’m leaking photos of a blockbuster film set.
Anyway, we moved on to the spot outside the Wheel of Fortune studio, but we weren’t allowed to go in because we “already visited one soundstage” . Puh-leez. So we were set loose to check out the mini Wheel of Fortune museum they had going on there:
The last stop of the tour was the gift shop. And WHAT a gift shop. It had absolutely nuh-thing. No books, no classic films, nothing. Zip. Nada. It was quite a disappointing tour. We barely touched upon MGM’s history. The tour only made it worse.
Here’s a nice poster to lighten things up around here. Cary Grant’s handsome face is always a welcome sight:
Only one more day left, everyone! And WHAT a special day it was! But you’ll just have to wait and see to read just what made my last day in the Land of the Silver Screen so memorable…