In 1970 James Aubrey, the new and much hated head of MGM, ordered an auction to be held of all of Metro’s old props, costumes and souvenirs of former sets. The event was loudly objected to in Hollywood but in the end the objectors didn’t really make any difference; Debbie Reynolds and a few others actually laid down hard cash to preserve some of the more special items (she bought Dorothy’s ruby-red shoes from “Wizard Of Oz’ amongst many other things) but the effort to preserve the whole booty and create a museum devoted to MGM memorabilia never got to first base. The above is a little ten minute doc combining footage from the auction, stills of the stuff that was sold and clips of the sets in the movies they appeared in contrasted with their current 1970 decrepitude. The music and tone of the whole thing is on the mournful side and most of the Youtube commenters are inclined to view the whole thing in tragic proportions.
But while I agree that preserving many of the items might have been nice, I’m not sure I find the dissolution of much of the old MGM sets, props and furniture particularly tragic. Remember that they were made to be featured in movies, not admired on their own. The term ‘dream factory’ was often applied to Hollywood studios and what made this so accurate was that they were in the business of manufacturing fabricated reality; you weren’t supposed to want to own the prop boat from ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’, you were supposed to watch the splendid film that it was built for. Likewise, the standing sets, though sad to see in their later condition, were made of plaster not concrete. Their shelf-life was always supposed to be limited. And consider this; wouldn’t the real tragedy have been if the sets and costumes had been saved and the movies had disappeared? Fortunately this isn’t the case. As for the studio itself much of the land around it was sold off for development but the studio itself remains and Sony, its owner, keeps it in splendid condition. Its period art-deco office buildings and large and sturdy sound stages remain intact, along with some charming park areas. So all is not lost. We have the movies and the bulk of the studio and Debbie Reynold’s descendants presumably have the Ruby Red slippers and the many other items she took home. All the rest was manufactured for the sake of illusion and the illusion was and continues to be a highly successful one.