How, When and Why Did Hollywood Die?

June 6, 2011

I am frequently asked “What happened to Hollywood? Why and how did it change so much?”

As we enter the real dog days of summer at the multiplex, I want to answer those questions with the beginning of Chapter 15 of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood the first edition of which is, by the way, available this month for 50% off the retail price at www.theoldhollywood.com. The second edition is now in print so when the first edition copies are gone, only the second (and later) editions will be available from Amazon, etc. Oh….and the book makes a great Father’s Day gift!

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

HOW OLD HOLLYWOOD BECAME NEW HOLLYWOOD

……AND WHY IT’S IN SO MUCH TROUBLE

“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”

(The Player, 1992)

The Invasion of The Suits, aka The Body Snatchers

Every one agrees that The Old Hollywood ceased to exist at some point but people have various opinions as to exactly when that transition happened.

For reasons that will be more fully explained in this chapter, I consider the corporate takeover of The Old Hollywood to be that moment in time when The New Hollywood was born.

As we will detail later in this chapter, The Old Hollywood actually started to fade in the late 1940s but it really disappeared when the New Hollywood became entirely corporate.

Why is that the demarcation line?

The corporate takeover of Hollywood that began in earnest in the 1980s and is complete today has totally changed the entire studio and film making culture.

As with all businesses, the story starts with management and the state of mind of the managers and the people who are dependent on their decisions.

The old time moguls lived, breathed, and dreamed movies. In a way, those moguls were film farmers who delighted in digging their hands in the film soil every day. They championed creative people and made instinctive decisions from their own gut feelings.

That entrepreneurial spirit of filmmaking is the celluloid version of wildcatting for oil, and is anathema to by-the-book corporate thinking.

Entrepreneurs operate from passion, vision, and an almost derisive abandonment of the fear of failure.

Although smaller companies are still often run by visionary risk-takers, most corporate thinking in huge public companies like the ones that own all the studios is more often about finding the safest pathway possible and clinging to it for dear life.

The corporate takeover was the last straw for The Old Hollywood but it was not the sole reason that it disappeared.

So, how did all this happen?

Goodbye Old Coke, Hello New Coke, Goodbye Coca-Cola

What better company to have started the corporate takeover trend in earnest than Coca-Cola? How delicious is that? (Pun intended.)

It’s important to note that Coca-Cola was the company that decided to change the Old Coca-Cola, which people dearly loved, into the New Coca- Cola, which they drank but didn’t love, ultimately leading to the re-emergence of the Old Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola bought Columbia Pictures in 1982 and, just like the New Coke, the deal didn’t work out too well so Coke sold Columbia to Sony in 1989.

In 1985, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought Twentieth Century Fox.

In 1986, Ted Turner bought MGM and then almost as quickly sold it back. In actuality, the MGM transition had begun back in 1969 when maverick investor Kirk Kerkorian became the majority shareholder. Through a series of financial maneuvers, MGM ceased being an active movie studio for all intents and purposes during the 1970s, made a brief comeback, and then went dormant again at various times. As such, the roar of the once proud MGM movie lion has been muted for a long time. (In television, MGM was more successful through those years.)

In 1989, Warner Brothers merged with Time,Inc. Time/Warner was then bought by America Online in 2000. What a brilliant synergy that wasn’t.

In 1991, Matushita bought Universal which then sold it to Seagram which then sold it to Vivendi which then sold it to General Electric. Whoever repainted the names on studio parking places must have been the busiest person on the Universal lot.

In 1995, Disney took over ABC and overnight became a corporate conglomerate itself.

So, in essence, the huge bulk of the corporate takeover and transition of the major Hollywood studios occurred over a very short period of time, 1982-1995.

And that is the time period during which The Old Hollywood finally morphed itself into Brigadoon and decided to enjoy a temporary leave of absence.

Not for forever.

Not even for a hundred years.

Just for a while.

Like the ill-fated New Coke, The New Hollywood has become something very different from the Old Hollywood.

Corporate. Sterile. Derivative. Devoid of glamour, imagination, and innovation, fueled by marketing tie-ins, endless repetitions of what worked before, and a relentlessly myopic focus on teenagers and adults under thirty.

And mired in a financial model that is now acknowledged even by Hollywood insiders as being irretrievably broken.

 

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