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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    MGM was king of the castle

    Borehamwood Times



    Fortress: a massive outdoor castle set was constructed for Ivanhoe, filmed at MGM British Studio.





    The giant MGM British Studio in Borehamwood had a great reputation as one of the very best film studios, writes PAUL WELSH. When it suddenly closed in 1970, a certain young film buff was granted exclusive access to explore what was left behind



    It was great to have 96-year-old Luise Rainer join us for Elstree & Borehamwood Town Council's annual Elstree Film Evening.



    Only ardent film buffs may remember Luise today but for a period in the mid-1930s she was the toast of Hollywood winning best actress Oscar two years running, and in the process beating the likes of Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck.



    Luise is the only major Academy Award winner left alive from the pre-war golden era of tinseltown and one of only a handful to win the award back to back in the past 80 years.



    My friend and actor Andrew Lancel from The Bill told me it is one of the reasons he loves our event, as such glorious names from the past are often ignored by the celebrity fuelled showbiz happenings of today.

    continued...



    At the time Luise was picking up her statuettes, a film studio called Amalgamated was being constructed in Elstree Way.



    The developer went bankrupt and Lord Rank purchased the facility before it opened and then leased it to the Government at the outbreak of war.



    In 1944, MGM were looking for a European base and purchased the studio and in 1946 began its completion and opening. The first MGM production to be made their was Edward, My Son starring the great Spencer Tracy. He was a problem actor for the company as he had a drink problem often resulting in binge sessions.



    If he started smashing up a bar in Hollywood the studio had a task force' who would take him away to sober up while the publicity department quashed any bad publicity and paid for any damages. In those days Hollywood was a company town and fan magazines depended upon access to stars through the studio publicists so any bad press was pretty much kept quiet.



    The cameraman on the picture, Freddie Young, once told me: "Spence had it written into his contract that he would finish at 4pm each day so regardless of where we were in a scene he would look at his watch, put on his hat and wave goodbye!"



    The MGM British Studio was ten times larger than the present Elstree Studios and most people considered it the Rolls Royce of the pack. Ice Cold in Alex actress Sylvia Syms recalls: "Your dressing room was lined with fresh flowers grown at the studio each day and they made you feel like a star."



    A host of stars came along Elstree Way to work at the dream factory including MGM hearthrobs Clark Gable, Robert Taylor and Gene Kelly. The glamour stakes were provided by Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly.



    On the backlot they built a castle set for Ivanhoe which dominated the landscape for several years until it was replaced by a Chinese village set for Ingrid Bergman's Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Older residents still remember being kept awake in the mid-1960s by the explosive night shooting on the very popular The Dirty Dozen with Lee Marvin.



    u u u u u u Thirty-six years ago, the lights went dark for the last time on the sound stages when MGM, in a financial crisis, suddenly closed the world-famous studio.



    A few months later a property company bought the site and I asked them if I could visit the historic facility. They said yes I could spend three days on site but I would be alone except for a security man on the gatehouse. Can you imagine the thrill for a young film buff to have a 115- acre film studio to himself?



    Sadly, I did not have a good stills camera and it was before home video cameras so I bitterly regret now that I did not make a comprehensive record of my visit. I do remember walking around the decaying backlot street set last used on Quatermass and The Pit and seeing the remains of the Inn of Sixth Happiness and Dirty Dozen exterior sets.



    I recall props lying around from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the abandoned ski-lift car from Where Eagles Dare.



    Inside the buildings, photographs lay scattered on the floor of Grace Kelly in make-up and a host of other stars. Film scripts lay abandoned in heaps along with production files and private studio internal memos.



    Walking onto the silent giant sound stages was an eerie experience and you could almost hear the voices of Stewart Granger in Beau Brummell, Boris Karloff in Corridors of Blood and Margaret Rutherford in those popular Miss Marple comedies.



    The greenhouses were overgrown and the corridors deserted, making the studio seem forlorn yet still fascinating. The property company told me I was the only person they officially allowed on site making it an unique and very personal experience.



    Over the next couple of years, the buildings were demolished to be replaced by a cold storage plant and then eventually the backlot disappeared under housing estates.



    It was a sad end and a wasted opportunity as there was enough space to have turned it into perhaps a film-theme site generating big revenues for the local commmunity and keeping the legacy alive. I just wish I had more than just my memories as a record of those three amazing days so long ago.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Country: UK Merton Park's Avatar
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    A good friend of mine was the agent acting for the Property Company, and he arranged a viewing for me.



    I spent nearly a day wandering round with someone who had worked there guiding me. It was great, and I also found the empty sound stages very eerie. Also saw the cable car from Where Eagles Dare lying around plus some outdoor sets.



    The thing about MGM British Studios, their films always looked that much better, there was a kind of polished classy look to them. What a waste!

  3. #3
    Junior Member Country: Australia
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    It was very interesting reading about your tour of MGM British Studios after it closed you described it very acurate. It brought back many happy memories of the years I worked there 1967/70. It was unfortunate you didn't have a camera I would have loved to have seen some pictures, fortunately I did have a camera (even though they were forbidden) and you can see some pictures from The Dirty Dozen, 2001, and Where Eagles Dare here:

    http://www.xtremelaser.com/MGM%20BRI...DIOS/index.htm



    Roger

  4. #4
    Member Country: Great Britain
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    What interesting notes about the old MGM Studios..

    Would the cable car that was seen on the old backlot, be the full size version

    used in the Header station sequence or a small mock up used with the castle model built for the film..

  5. #5
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    Its been good to read the comments on MGM, I was one of the last left when closing down and worked in the Art dept, my boss was Elliot Scott the supervising production designer for MGM, if any one has any questions about the films around that time i will probibly be able to assist i worked on most of the productions at that time in one way or another in either setting up productions or crew to films. Not so sure the reference to seeing Inn of the Sixth Happines is set is correct, not to my knowledge and i surveyed and built quit a bit on the back lot. In fact I actually went onto the Manderins palice set when i was 10 years old with my farther who was working himself at MGM. At one time I had my farther and an uncle all working on the same production in one form or another. I was one of the lucky ones who as a child wanted to be part of british movie production and actually served some years with MGM on permanent staff learning the business, not something that can happen so much today.

  6. #6
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    name='schaffer']What interesting notes about the old MGM Studios..

    Would the cable car that was seen on the old back-lot, be the full size version

    used in the Header station sequence or a small mock up used with the castle model built for the film..


    The car on the lot was from Eagles Dare header station which was used in a full size set on stage 3, the car actually moved into the header station, all the close up action shots were done on this set, some location shots done on the cars with crew mounted on a platform over, stuntmen did hang from real car inter-cut with studio and model.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator Country: Fiji
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    Fascinating stuff Derek - did you keep diaries of those days, or is this all from memory? Would love to hear more about your life and work at MGM. What did you do after they closed?



    Smudge

  8. #8
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    name='smudge']Fascinating stuff Derek - did you keep diaries of those days, or is this all from memory? Would love to hear more about your life and work at MGM. What did you do after they closed?



    Smudge
    When Metro closed Elliott Scott went to europe to work on a new production and asked if I would join crew, I got married and as feature films was going through a rather thin patch I left the industry, much to my regret, loved every creative moment. Nothing can match up to the challenge of each film, design just is not like this, so many different theams to deal with.



    I was lucky at being able to work with Elliott Scott, supervising production designer for MGM, the team including the so talented Reg Bream assistant AD draughtsman, John Barry Art director, John Jarvis set dresser, Bill Issac buyer.As residential crew we worked on productions that others would take over and do individual films, so it was pretty hectic.



    What did I do, I went into interior design, architectural work, i guess you could say i went back to basics.



    I guess the memory is pretty good at remembering things you enjoyed, I of course have some scripts, photos and some of the drawings of sets I did. Studio plans, sizes and list of productions i worked on as well as those i was fortunate to work with.



    Do I miss is , you bet your life i do, ask anyone who has worked in feature film production there is nothing quite like it, its not for the 9 to 5 brigrade, in before 8am walked the stages to check on detail for the day, 5 oclock rushes, if you were lucky.



    So many interesting people so much artistic talent, still is.

  9. #9
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    Fascinating stuff!



    I am currently helping to do some research for a documentary about Elstree Studios and would love to hear more about your experiences. And if you have any photos of your time there, all the better. Unfortunately I can't seem to get view Roger's photos above, but would love to hear from all and any of you that would be willing to assist me in the making of this programme.



    Thanks in advance.

    Jamie

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Lithuania Cooper S's Avatar
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    Sounds like an interesting project jamie - can you tell us any more ? What sort of help are you looking for ?



    Would also be interested to lnnow if Derek and Roger have any memories of the TV film series shot at MGM Borehamwood - e,g. Dangerman, the Prisoner and UFO, the latter being the last production to go before the cameras at the studio.

  11. #11
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    Hi C.



    Thanks for replying. Basically The Elstree Heritage Group along with the BBC are looking to tell the story of the Elstree Studios in one, or a number of documentaries. Its all a little fluid at the moment but any ideas, info, photos or footage you have (or know of) would be greatly appreciated. I am a self confessed Star Wars and Indy nut so I have been tracking down footage and photos relating to their production at Elstree in the 70s and 80s. I have also found some great behind the scenes footage on some old BBC docos and on some DVD extras from Labyrinth and Dark Crystal.



    Personal stories are also wanted, particularly if you are willing to talk and have photos of your experiences.



    Thanks

    J

  12. #12
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    name='jamieuk2']Fascinating stuff!



    I am currently helping to do some research for a documentary about Elstree Studios and would love to hear more about your experiences. And if you have any photos of your time there, all the better. Unfortunately I can't seem to get view Roger's photos above, but would love to hear from all and any of you that would be willing to assist me in the making of this programme.



    Thanks in advance.

    Jamie


    Hi Jamie



    My MGM pics are still available on my server Welcome To XtremLaser

    just click on the MGM link to find the pics. Thanks to a friend in the USA Dave Larson we now have wonderfuly restored Hi Rez pics from my originals.

    I was recently asked for some pics from a guy called Bob Keen (Pinewood Studios) who used some of the restored pics for an exhibition in London called the "Movieum" which was about the British Film Industry. Could not get to the exhibition myself as I live in Australia now, I can put you in touch with Bob if you want to contact me, my email addy is on my webpage.



    Cheers to all

    Roger Garrod

  13. #13
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    Thanks for the reply Roger and thanks also for the contact details of Bob Keen. I will definitely be getting in touch with him.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: Lithuania Cooper S's Avatar
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    If you're looking for behind the scenes footage of the studios, there was a great documentary about the making of 2001 on TV a while back which featured some nice shots of filming at MGM BW.



    For aerial photographs, Simmons Aerofilms have some great images of the studios and backlots dating back to the 1920s - they were based in Potters Bar until recently, but I think they may have moved.

  15. #15
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    name='jamieuk2']Fascinating stuff!



    I am currently helping to do some research for a documentary about Elstree Studios and would love to hear more about your experiences. And if you have any photos of your time there, all the better. Unfortunately I can't seem to get view Roger's photos above, but would love to hear from all and any of you that would be willing to assist me in the making of this programme.



    Thanks in advance.

    Jamie


    Hi Jamie



    If I can help in any way in your research for the documentry please let me know, would my direct e-mail help, i could then scan pictures to you, Oh yes I have quite a few photos, even some of me on set/ location .scripts, sketches of sets, drawings, drawings of the studio and more stories than you would want to listen to.



    I used to see Patrick Mcgooen, if thats how you spell his name, every morning and say hello to, some pisoner pictures. Whilst Patrick was staring, directing he was also writing the series as it went along, I dont quite know how he did it, but ideas were sort and odd items suggested and scripts got formulated, Jack Shampan was the Art director on that series and he shared the same floor of offices a me, infact a lot of the sets were drawn in my office by Reg Bream the brilliant draughtsman/ art dirctor who I was taught by. A lot of Reg Breams ideas came to the screen.



    I spent qiute a bit of time on set learning by watching what was going on.



    The picture before the last made at MGM before the close down was a film called Mans Fate, it never got filmed, we had sets on stage at Metro we were on loction with a ubit in singapore building location sets when MGM pulled the plug on all productions, we actually had an end of shoot party on stage 2, a chinese house and garden set , without turning over. Fred Zinnerman or should I say the great Fed Zinnerman was the director. I met him on his first visit to the studio when my boss asked me to go down to the gate to met his car, I waited an finalliy it arrived, I introduced myself and said i would guide him to our office past all the traffic lights, red when studios were shooting, he said was we going to be working together I said yes we would he said that you had better call me Fred then and not Mr Zinermmanas I had done.



    I was a bit funny really as I showed Fred to my bosses office, Elliott Scott, my Boss came out of his office and spotted us arriving and said, Hello Mr Zinermman, Fed turned and bid me thanks for meeting him, I of course said it was my pleasure Fred, my boss gave me a thunderouse look as if to say you are being a might familiar.



    Fred Zinermman was a small man who commanded respect by the way he went about his job and of course his great experience.



    I saw many and worked with a goodly number of directors, John Krish, Robert Aldman,

    Jack Cardif, John Houston, Brian Hutton. and many others, I got hired out to other film companies, I was at Sheperton Studios when Oliver was being filmed working on a small production called Mrs Brown you have a loverly daughter, with Hermans Hermits., i went with an MGM sound crew every day from borehamwood.



    I also saw an awfull lot of 2001 being shot, and saw Stanley Kubrick in action, as MGM staff I offtern took visitors round the sets as a guide for my boss. I went on all the 2001 sets, and the dawn of man set for 2001 was quite stunning it was on stage 3 our largest stage, in fact the largest sound studio at the time in the uk. I wonder do you know where Kubrick directed the animal scenes from on that set.



    More if you want please ask away

  16. #16
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    Thanks Cooper, I'll follow up that aerial footage lead. I have the 2001 doco 'Making the Myth' arriving tomorrow on the new Special Edition DVD. You're right it was broadcast on C4 and SC4 a while back.



    Here's the list of footage sources so far (ignore the names, they are from another forum):



    Empire of Dreams - Numerous internal and external shots (inc helicopter shots)

    Making of Star Wars - Interior shots of sets.

    ['Lost'] Making of The Empire Strikes Back (DarthNeo)

    Star Wars to Jedi - Interior shots of sets.

    The Risk Business - Interior shots of ESB sets

    Jim'll Fix It - ESB Dagobah Set

    Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (VHS) - External and internal (anyone got a decent rip of this???)

    Making of The Temple of Doom (Thanks S7ven)

    Making of Indy docos on Official DVD - Many internal and some external shots of Elstree including water tank and H.Ford practicing with bull-whip.

    Return of the Ewok (anyone got Warwick's contact details??)

    Making of the Shining - Many internal and external shots

    Making of Dark Crystal & Labyrinth (suggested by SilverWook - thanks!) - shots of Jim Henson cycling around the studio site.

    2001 Making of the Myth (James Cameron) - Shots of car arriving and Clock tower(suggested by Jonno - thanks!)

    The Making of the Myth (Star Wars)



    Anymore help would be greatly appreciated.

    J

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    WOW thanks for replying Derek. Fascinating stuff! Private message sent...

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: New Zealand Anthony McKay's Avatar
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    Go to the Movitone site - there is quite a long feature on the making of "Island in the Sun" which includes a nice shot of a car arriving at the studio.

  19. #19
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    name='Anthony McKay']Go to the Movitone site - there is quite a long feature on the making of "Island in the Sun" which includes a nice shot of a car arriving at the studio.


    Great stuff Andy! Thanks so much!



    Jamie

  20. #20
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    name='jamieuk2']Thanks for the reply Roger and thanks also for the contact details of Bob Keen. I will definitely be getting in touch with him.


    Hi Jamie



    There is some excellent backlot footage of MGM on an episode we did of UFO called "A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES" if you can get hold of a copy still.

    "UFO" A Question of Priorities (1970)


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