photograph taken from life goes to the movies
I am a shadow chaser with ear pressed to the ground, hoping to catch some faint footstep of the past. I am Nora Charles peering around the corner of the Myrna Loy building, led by an invisible Asta. I stumble over the ghosts that drift up from the seamless concrete, my hands full of stories that tumble to the ground and fall without sound. No one sees them, it’s like they were never here. And to the executives at Columbia, they never were.
I know right from the intro video that something is wrong. As I listen to the story of Harry Cohn, watch short silent montages of It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, hear the name Mayer mentioned once before it is slipped into a back pocket, I know their game. The winners rewrite the history and chain themselves to their bottom line, dogs behind a wire fence.
We are led to the old Irving Thalberg building, past the old offices right by the gate, the gate that had once roared its name, MGM, and the cool white building where the big white elevated desk once towered over hopes and dreams, teeth gleaming. Never more. We are led down the old main streets with new names like the Frank Capra bank, which I know Jean Arthur did not run past when she supposedly screamed I’m free, I’m free. We are led to a Foley studio, full of bottles and keys and fake grass and rugs and I finally know something lives here, something breathes here that recognizes it is a fake.
We see the old bungalows where Katharine Hepburn would throw rooftop parties, we stand in the vast cavern of stage 15 where the yellow brick road once stood, past stucco walls where Gene Kelly danced around a lamp post and an afraid of heights Red Skelton was supposedly forgotten in the rafters, a dummy thrown off the side as revenge. Sometimes I have to pull teeth for this information, and sometimes it is waved away with the flick of a wrist stamped by Columbia.
Something was here, I know it was, and I’ll yell it from the top of stage 6 till my face turns blue. The Columbia Cagneys’ll not tie me down; the faceless giants who poke fat fingers in my face. This is how it’s going to be, see? Nyah, nyah.
Shaded by trees, connected by paths, and surrounded by flowering shrubs, the bungalow dressing rooms of the stars gave an outward impression of an enclave of peace and tranquillity, but inside, as I was to learn, their walls bore the scars of countless exhibitions of temperament, noisy moments of triumph, and far too many lonely heartbreaks. I was also to learn that writers got drunk, actors became paranoid, actresses pregnant, and directors uncontrollable. Crises were a way of life in the Dream Factories, but by some extraordinary mixture of efficiency, compromising, exuberance,gambling, shrewdness, experience, strong-arm tactics, psychology, blackmail, kindness, integrity, good luck, and a firm belief that "the show must go on," the pictures came rolling off the end of the production lines. -David Niven
Something lived here, once. I know it. I just know it.