Book Review “MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot”

Author(s): Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, Michael Troyan
Hardcover: 312 pages
Publisher: Santa Monica Press
Release Date: February 25, 2011

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

MGM Studios in Hollywood was the last great original place where the movies were made. This book is a great ode to back lot that helped shape filmmaking. It is also great to be able to view some beautiful black and white photos that have been previously unpublished from the studio’s archives. We also get treated to rare and exclusive interviews with actors and staff from the studio. It is amazing to read that MGM’s backlot was home to more than a fifth of the films produced prior to 1980 dating back to Hollywood’s golden age. Some of the classic gems produced were of course films such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind”.

Included is such an in depth coverage of the studio, it is split into 4 parts. The first is called “Lands of Make-Believe” and covers lot one of the studio. The second is called “Potemkin’s Villages”, coming lot two. Part three covers lot three and is called “Mythic Landscapes”. The last part is called “Backlot Babylon”, the decline of the studio. In part 1, we focus on the buildings and various departments. I really enjoyed reading about every department and its tasks no matter how trivial, ranging from Music to Makeup department. Also included is maps of the various sound stages on the lot, it just shows the sheer size. Lastly, part one also showcases some of the lost backlot sets of lot one, for example the “Ben-Hur” set”.

Part two is subtitled “False Fronts – An Illusion on an Illusion”. It focused on MGM’s magic trick of creating a place that didn’t exist and making it look like it did during shooting. The points on the map showcased are the classic sets and streets like New York Streets and Three Musketeers Court. Part three showcases one of the greatest lots in the MGM backlot. It was packed with all the BIG sets, like full Western sets like Billy the Kid Street to Ghost Town Street. It also featured St. Louis Street, where films like “Meet in St. Louis” and “How the West was Won” were filmed. Part 4 picks up around 1948 for MGM backlot, which was said to be the last great year of the studio. It focuses on the declined box office figured due to after the war. It also includes demolition summaries and photos that are heartbreaking to look at. Lastly there is a section called “Films Shot on the Backlot”, which includes every single film that was shot at MGM and on which lot and which street. It is a real gem to have in the book and seals the deal for sure.

While turning each chapter in this book I really looked forward to each quote from well known people in Hollywood like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaniel West. Also be sure to check out Debbie Reynolds’ foreword as it is an amazing look into her time spent on the lot and the impression it has left on her.  The photos are just so amazing and it is a treat to be able to take a look inside such a lost treasure. If you like behind the scenes with movies, this is the perfect book for you getting to go behind the scenes at one of Hollywood’s greatest movie studios

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