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From A Roar To A Whimper

June 22, 1986|Sharon Ching and William Chitwood and Mark De La Vina | Pat H. Broeske

Once upon a time, MGM boasted "more stars than there are in Heaven."

But today, many of the MGM stars are mourning the loss of their studio.

Its fabled Culver City lot is being sold off to Lorimar Telepictures by once (and brief) MGM owner Turner Broadcasting System, with Turner retaining the heralded MGM film library. What's left of the film company (its name and current productions) then was re-purchased by Kirk Kerkorian's United Artists--but the company will relocate elsewhere.

Figuratively, the lion is still breathing. (There are no plans to change the MGM logo.) But he's lost his lair.

And Hollywood has lost a bit more history.

Here's how some of the MGM luminaries are taking it:

Jackie Cooper: "It was like I heard they were tearing down the Statue of Liberty to put up condos. That's what is happening to show biz."

Ann Miller: "Pitiful. I was very depressed. I cut out the article (in The Times) and put it in a scrapbook. It's all that's left of MGM. It's just heartbreaking. That's the word for it, heartbreaking. I just bought about 200 MGM movies (after hearing about the sale). Most of them were musicals. They were so great. After the breakup, I wanted to preserve everything. I'm gonna keep them as long as I live. And all the ghosts that must be flying around. They must be turning over in their graves to see this butchery. It's referred to as progress, but progress to where? It's not a question of being sentimental; it's a question of common sense."

Ginger Rogers: "I was kind of shocked. I was kind of sorry it couldn't remain as it always has. I felt it was kind of like cutting up the Statue of Liberty. But we have to move on. We have to reseed the fields."

Memories: "There was a photograph (taken) of the MGM actors, of the people working on the lot. They had to stand on chairs and were listed from A to Z. I thought it was marvelous because I got to meet people like Lionel Barrymore, which you'll never get a chance to do. That picture has meant a lot to me."

Lucille Ball: "MGM was practically finished when Louis (Papa) Mayer died. The new owners are bankers, not picture makers."

Mickey Rooney: "For a guy in the business 64 years, you can imagine how sad and disgusted and badly I feel about that. I've had those feelings for 40 years about the lack of caring by the industry as a whole. It's a little late to get sloppy and slobbery about things that happened 30 years ago. I'm not looking with a tear in my eye, saying, 'Oh no, there goes Lot 2.' I did that 30 years ago, and I cried unashamedly. It's too late to cry. There is no more MGM, no more Paramount, no more Hollywood."

Debbie Reynolds: "I've lived through five changes of a era. Each time it's like someone has taken a bite out of the industry. I think I reacted more in 1970 when they sold Lot 2, Lot 5 and Lot 3. All they're looking for is money."

Memories: "They were all great, exciting for a girl of 16, (especially) seeing Fred Astaire glide up the street."

Gene Kelly: "They've changed hands so many times. MGM is a corporation. It has nothing to do with myself or anybody else I know who was there in my generation. . . . The memories are all fond. I loved everybody."

Janet Leigh: "Very sad. I got in the tail end of it, but I was there! I thought that maybe (Ted) Turner would do to MGM what he had done for the cable network. I thought that he would be a new mogul, and he disappointed me. It's like they're playing with Monopoly money. We're talking about zeros that don't mean anything (to them)."

Memories: "Walking down the main street and seeing stages filled with names that were legendary. You'd go down to one stage and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn would be there. . . ."

June Allyson: "I feel like a part of me is gone and it makes me very sad."

Ann Blyth: "I'm just very grateful for the time I was allowed to spend there when it was a viable and wonderful place to learn and make movies. You had people there that cared about you--not only because you might have been talented, but because you were a human being as well. I do regret that so many young people won't have that kind of a place in which to learn."

Her happiest memory: "I was married while I was there and I'm still married to the same man."

Jane Powell: "Well, I think it's been inevitable for a long time. I guess change is inevitable. It comes with everything and that's what we have to accept. It's an era gone by." Memories: "I was there from 14 to 25. It really was my school and my home."

Marge Champion: "It's complicated (how I feel), because I was never one of the lucky ladies who was there from the time they were 15 or 16 years old. Gower and I weren't children, like so many of the stars. We were nearly 30 when we came aboard, so we were pretty show-wise. So it's not as if my home is gone. I guess the hardest time for me was when public taste changed and musicals died--that's when my home died. But I'll always be grateful to MGM. Those movies we did made us internationally known. Only movies can do that. So I'll always think wonderful thoughts about MGM, but, I can't cry over buildings. It's not the end of show business, it's just evolution."

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