Below is a fascinating find. It's a ten minute documentary (I guess you'd call it) about the Hollywood Premiere of the 1932 MGM version of "Grand Hotel" featuring most of the stars on the lot at the time.

Hollywood in the thirties was a factory town and the complete opposite of what it has since become. Once upon a time, you went to work every day making movies, getting paid regularly and advancing up the ladder in the craft of your choice (or being flushed down the sewer fairly rapidly if you weren't cutting it). Contracts provided security for artists along with occasional raises based on the studios desire to retain the artists services. If you were under contract to a studio, you were part of a large family--you worked together, partied together, probably lived near each other etc. The town took care of its own--scandals were hushed up by publicity departments and ranks closed when outsiders--politicians, moral crusaders and the like--took up anti-Hollywood postures. Unlike today, the making of a movie wasn't a dangerous action, likely to result in the loss of tens of millions of dollars and God knows how many careers. Because the studio system operated on a contract basis, with everyone earning a weekly salary, the making of a movie was an economic necessity. Studios today can't afford to make a movie themselves (thus all the strange co-studio partnerships). Studios then couldn't afford not to make a movie.

Unlike today's movie business--which is chaotic, competitive, cutthroat, and doesn't really function well in any way--old Hollywood had its own sense of peace and order. That atmosphere is very nicely captured in this filmed record of a night out during that time period. Yes, movies still have premieres (often in the same place as this one--Hollywood Blvd.) and yes, fans still crowd the event and stars still blather a few platitudes for the camera's on the way in...but there's something different about the way things are handled here. For one thing, the company--MGM--really is the star here. (Note how many mentions of how wonderful MGM is come tumbling forth from every mouth.) But there is also a calmness to the proceedings--a lack of hype, I suppose-- that bespeaks a prosperous, well organized and very proud company town. This is a portrait of a system that works, and the beneficiaries of that system willingly acknowledge their gratitude. Of course, if they didn't they probably would have gone on suspension--but you get my drift.

Why was this film made? It doesn't appear to be a proper newsreel--it's too long and uneventful really. It offers some fine period night shots of Hollywood Blvd and a couple of odd moments where "the crowd surges out of control" (looks a little phony to me). Mostly it's just a recording of the stars showing up and "signing in"--wonder who has that guest book now? Could this have been for one of those MGM sales conventions (where they would entertain the exhibitors once a year with hooch and loose women? Anyone read that great Vanity Fair article a couple of years ago about the rape cover-up at one of those shindigs?) Some fun things along the way to look for: Clark Gable, without moustache and not yet a big enough star to speak; he stands mute watching Norma Shearer blather on. Also Marlene Dietrich rushes by with her husband Rudolph Sieber--the one she kept hidden away in the Valley while she practiced global promiscuity with the elite. And Louis B. Mayer talks quite a bit--I don't know that I've ever actually heard the man before. Directors who appear are the dashing Edmund Goulding (who directed GH) and the silent master Fred Niblo.

 Subscribe in a reader