MGM: How the Lion Began to Roar
In 1919 (the year of the Great Boston Molasses Flood), Marcus Loew was the owner of a string of movie theatres across the U.S. He picked up films as he could, but was in search of a constant stream that would promise ticket sales and big profits.
By snapping up Metro Pictures, Loew did just this. At the time, Metro was known for melodramatic films for women (think precursors to Not Without My Daughter, the problematic flick from 1991 produced by none other than MGM). Their films had titles like The Girl Without a Soul and Red, White and Blue Blood.
You get the picture.
In his wisdom, Loew was aware that Metro might not be the best of the best, so in 1924 he picked up Goldwyn, a studio known for a higher-quality type of film. He also bought Louis B. Mayer Pictures. At last, MGM was born, and boy did they roar. Their motto? "More stars than there are in heaven." (Source)
I Feel Like Singing
The company soon became known for sweeping, romantic musicals and would eventually place four titles in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Musicals, including Singin' In The Rain (#1), The Wizard of Oz (#3), An American in Paris (#9), and Meet Me in St. Louis (#10). (AFI's considered the gold standard ranking system for film lovers and movie-makers alike.)
Like many other studios in the Golden Age of Hollywood, MGM acquired over two-hundred actors between the 20s and 50s, from megawatt stars to faithful bit players, and signed them to contracts. Song-and-dance phenoms like Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly signed on MGM dotted line, as well as Drew's grandfather John Barrymore and her uncle Lionel.
Our own Gigi-starring sweetheart Leslie Caron was discovered by MGM-contracted Gene Kelly while dancing ballet in France in 1946. (Source)
It would prove to be a fateful discovery: five years later, Caron starred alongside Kelly in An American in Paris, (produced by Gigi's producer-to-be Arthur Freed) and became an MGM starlet herself. She'd go on to twinkle brightly in eight of the company's pictures, including The Story of Three Loves, where she first worked with Gigi director Vincente Minnelli.
Along with performers, MGM made contractual commitments to directors like Minnelli and writers like Gigi's Alan Jay Lerner. That guaranteed a lock on the musical movie biz.
The Last of Its Kind
Considered by many to be MGM's last great musical, Gigi was a reflection of what film and culture had been, not what was to come. MGM's biggest stars Garland and Kelly became unreliable, and the original composers and writers either moved on or died. Companies like Warner and 20th Century Fox released a few more notable musicals, like West Side Story and My Fair Lady, before the Cold War and Vietnam Era turned the American mood too somber for the idea of such frothy confections, and the MGM musical era was over for good.