Did MGM change its logo?

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, may have streamlined its logo.

MGM put out a series of tweets suggesting that was the case. Here are the Tweets. MGM also updated its avatar for its tweets:

MGM was formed by the merger of three companies in 1924. But the logo of Leo the Lion with “art for art’s sake” preceded that because it was the logo of one of the merged companies (Goldwyn).

Why should Bond fans care? MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. That gave it half-control of the Bond film franchise.

MGM, currently owned by a group of hedge funds, reportedly is up for sale. Could the logo change be related to that? Hard to say. As of midday New York time, the new logo wasn’t on MGM’s website yet.

UPDATE (2:40 P.M. New York Time): The new MGM logo is now on MGM’s website.

UPDATE II (8:05 P.M., New York Time): Adweek has a story. It makes it sound as if Leo the Lion will remain, but be a bit different. OK.

2021’s two most important 007 anniversaries

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

People love anniversaries and James Bond fans are no exception. Typically, anniversaries of films are noted. But, in 2021, anniversaries of two events are more important.

On June 29, 1961, United Artists put out a press release that the company had reached an agreement with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to finance and release a series of films based on Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. A copy of the release can be seen in the documentary Inside Dr. No.

The tale has been told many times. Saltzman had obtained a six-month option on most of Fleming’s books. But time was running out and Saltzman met up with Broccoli, who had better studio connections. An uneasy partnership was formed and their first 007 film debuted a year later.

Thus, we’re approaching the 60th anniversary of the event that made the Bond film series possible.

In 1981, UA was sold by Transamerica Corp. to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Transamerica had acquired UA in 1967 but grew weary of the unpredictable movie business.

Now, we’re approaching the 40th anniversary of the tie-up between MGM and Bond. The relationship has often been dysfunctional. MGM’s ownership has changed at various times. The studio at one point was seized by a French bank and it underwent bankruptcy in 2010. Reportedly, MGM is again up for sale and one possible buyer is Amazon.

The one constant over those four decades is that Bond has remained one of MGM’s major assets. Every time MGM runs into financial trouble, Bond fans fret about what will happen to the gentleman agent. For those fans, the journey might seem like the Israelites wandering the wilderness for 40 years.

The two anniversaries also remain relevant to today. The Broccoli-Wilson clan that succeeded the Broccoli-Saltzman duo retains creative control. Any deal to buy MGM has to take that into account.

Happy anniversaries.

Amazon has held preliminary talks to buy MGM, Forbes says

Amazon logo

Amazon has held “exploratory talks” about acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, Forbes said as part of a broader story about MGM.

The Forbes story had few additional details about Amazon’s interest. Amazon and MGM declined to comment to Forbes.

Instead, Forbes went into detail about how it will be difficult for MGM to get the kind of price ($10 billion) it wants. A key excerpt of interest to Bond film fans:

The problem is that MGM’s collection of great movies is dated and losing value by the minute. Barbara Broccoli and her half brother Michael G. Wilson, who maintain an iron grip over the Bond franchise — a deal initially hammered out decades ago by Broccoli’s father, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli — have the final say over casting decisions, dialog and promotional materials related to 007 — adding complexity to any deal talks. 

In 2017, The Hollywood Reporter said that Amazon and Apple Inc. were seeking the Bond film rights. Nothing ever came of that. Forbes, in its story, says Apple “remains a speculative wild-card” in terms of buying MGM.

In general, movies have been turned upside down by Netflix’s streaming service. Walt Disney Co. and AT&T’s Warner Bros. are orienting themselves toward streaming and de-emphasizing their traditional theater-released movie model.

Netflix, AT&T’s HBO Max, and Disney’s Disney Plus all feature in-house content. (MGM films before 1986, such as Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mutiny on the Bounty, are part of the Warner Bros. film library that’s included with HBO Max.)

MGM doesn’t have a streaming service. But both Amazon and Apple have such services.

MGM is owned by a group of hedge funds led by Anchorage Capital. They took over following an MGM bankruptcy in 2010.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of MGM’s dysfunctional relationship with the Bond franchise. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981 after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. decided to get out of the movie business.

MGM has the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die, on hold until October, the latest in a series of release dates. The movie has been pushed back since April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bond 25 questions: MGM sale (?) edition

No Time to Die logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, home studio of James Bond, may be up for sale. This comes as No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, still (figuratively) sits on the shelf, unwatched.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How solid is this news?

It originated with The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. The business newspaper initially published a relatively short story early the evening of Dec. 21. Within a couple of hours, the Journal expanded the article. The audio version of the story went from 2 minutes to 6 minutes.

The Journal has published a number of MGM-related stories in recent years, including how MGM spent much of 2016 unsuccessfully negotiating a sale to Chinese investors and an October article about how MGM was under increasing pressure by investors to sell.

How far along are things? If a sale happens, how long will it take?

The Journal reported MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and that a sales process is underway. That suggests things are at an early stage but there’s no way to know for sure. Meanwhile, the sale of an entire company or substantial subsidiary can easily take months.

Why would MGM want to sell?

The studio is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. Hedge funds typically own an asset for a few years and then sell at a profit. The hedge fund owners of MGM have held on to the studio for a decade, longer than the norm.

Then, there’s the No Time to Die money pit.

Money pit?

The cost of the 25th James Bond film was approaching $300 million as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed No Time to Die’s release twice (April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021). MGM’s interest costs on its investment are running at a reported $1 million a month.

MGM normally would start to get its money back when the movie went into release. But, besides the delays, theater attendance is way down because of the pandemic.

Who are possible buyers?

The Journal said the studio is looking to non-traditional buyers. Certainly some familiar Hollywood names have their hands tied.

Walt Disney Co. still is digesting its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. The company’s theme park business also was hurt by the pandemic. Warner Bros. is part of AT&T, which is revamping its entertainment assets to build up its new HBO Max streaming service.

Tech company Apple Inc. is a possibility and it needs programming for its own streaming service. But Apple has lots of other ambitions, including getting into car production by 2024, according to Reuters. A deal with Apple isn’t a sure thing.

What does all this mean for the Bond franchise?

MGM and Danjaq LLC control the franchise. An MGM sales means, at the very least, that Danjaq will have to deal with yet another executive regime. Danjaq has had plenty of practice at that since 1981, when United Artists was bought by MGM.

There could be a bigger effect if an MGM buyer had a streaming operation, the way Apple does. Danjaq and its Eon Productions like to make a big movie every so often. Would Danjaq/Eon even be interested in doing streaming series, the way Disney Plus is doing with Marvel and Star Wars?

Hard to say. Barbara Broccoli of Danjaq/Eon said last year she was resisting the idea of spinoffs. Then again, things can change. We might get The Adventures of Bill Tanner or Loelia! as streaming shows.

Dr. No lobby card: Denial is not just a river in Egypt

Dr. No lobby card with Jack Lord (yes, really), Ursula Andress and Sean Connery

Social media has a way of unleashing debate. For example, a 58-year-old Dr. No lobby card showed up this week on Facebook and got one such debate going.

The question was whether Jack Lord was in it, along with Ursula Andress and Sean Connery.

Lord, of course, was the first film Felix Leiter. (The 1954 Casino Royale on CBS changed Leiter’s first name to Clarence and made him British.)

The lobby card photo (see above) was taken on the same Jamaican beaches that doubled for Crab Key in the movie. Lord as Leiter wasn’t in those sequences. The actor also is wearing clothing (a big hat and ascot) he didn’t have in his scenes in the film.

This week on social media, some Bond fans said there was no way it could be Jack Lord because of that outfit.

Nevertheless, Lord often wore similar outfits during Hawaii Five-O (1968-80) in scenes where Steve McGarrett was off duty. At a 1996 Five-O convention in the Los Angeles area, a fan asked members of the original cast about such outfits. “Jack picked his own clothes,” replied James MacArthur, who played Danny “Danno” Williams in the show.

Here’s an example from the 1972 episode V for Vashon: The Patriarch, the only three-part story of the series.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett in an off-duty moment in a 1972 Hawaii Five-O episode.

Long before this, the lobby card photo has made the rounds (without the lobby card information). It must be John Derek! (Andress’ husband at the time). That comment was made without knowing the photo was part of a lobby card.

Would United Artists feature somebody in a lobby card who wasn’t in the movie or part of the crew? Pretty doubtful. Meanwhile some collectors have the captions for the lobby cards, which indicate that, yes, it was Jack Lord.

While the consensus seemed to be it must have been Jack Lord, there were those who still didn’t believe it. Some may have been joking, but some clearly were serious. “It’s just my opinion.”

There is a famous quote from Isaac Asimov. Part of it refers to how there is “the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

Happy 90th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a 1960s 007 publicity still

Adapted and expanded from a 2011 post.

Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today. There’s little more than needs to be said about Connery’s contributions to the James Bond film series.

Terence Young, director of three of the first four Bond movies, famously said the three reasons that 007 films took off were, “Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery.” Young also tutored Connery in the ways of Bond.

Still, the blog can’t help but wonder if Connery had even the slightest hint of what was about to happen to him after being cast as Bond.

The answer is probably not. Who could?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were a couple of journeymen producers. Terence Young was a journeyman director. Richard Maibaum, a journeyman screenwriter and occasional producer.

Ian Fleming had written some novels that had gotten attention, including in 1961 when Life magazine listed the author’s From Russia With Love as one of then-President John F. Kennedy’s favorite novels.

Also in 1961, United Artists announced it intended to start a film series based on the novels. Connery would end up with a $16,800 paycheck for the first film, Dr. No. Hardly the makings of a phenomenon.

Life can change in an instant. That was certainly true of a Scot actor who was starting to make an impression with audiences.

Things were never quite the same after that. Connery has been retired for almost two decades. His Bond films perhaps aren’t seen with the same enthusiasm by modern audiences. So it goes.

Then again, without Connery’s Bond films, would there even be a 21st century Bond series?

Like with much of the 1960s spy craze, the Connery 007 films caught lightning in a bottle. Bond was able to remain relevant after Connery’s departure. But you can argue that Connery provided the foundation that others followed.

Broccoli is gone. Saltzman is gone. Young is gone. Maibaum is gone. Even one of Connery’s successors, Roger Moore, is gone. United Artists was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. UA exists pretty much only on paper today.

Connery, in retirement, remains.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

THR describes challenges at MGM, Bond’s home studio

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer faces various challenges that may lead to James Bond’s home studio being sold, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The entertainment news outlet paints a picture of a studio in flux, including possible suitors and executive changes. Among the highlights:

–MGM needs No Time to Die, the upcoming James Bond film to generate $1 billion in global box office. Only 2012’s Skyfall has reached that mark among Bond films.

–Various companies might be interested in acquiring MGM, including Comcast (parent company of Universal, which is handling international distribution for No Time to Die), Viacom (parent company of Paramount) and tech company Apple Inc, which has expanded into streaming television.

“Apple’s fledgling streaming service is far behind Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the coming-soon HBO Max and Peacock,” THR said. Apple is sitting on $250 billion in cash and could easily afford an acquisition.

–MGM management is shifting. It was previously known that Jonathan Glickman was departing as head of MGM’s film division. THR reported that former Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal has joined MGM’s board of directors. Pascal had a close relationship with Barbara Broccoli of Eon Productions when Sony distributed four Bond films from 2006-2015.

–MGM wrote down the value of its Epix premium TV channel by $480 million. MGM bought out its partners for about $1 billion. Translation: MGM paid a lot more for Epix than it was worth. Epix is supposed to be a way for MGM to be consistently profitable.

–MGM is “highly leveraged” (i.e. it has a lot of debt).

MGM became the home studio of Bond when it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA had owned half of the franchise since it bought out Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman in 1975.

Ever since, the MGM-Bond relationship has been a soap opera. Danjaq, Eon’s parent company, filed a lawsuit against MGM, which contributed to the 1989-1995 hiatus. MGM underwent a 2010 bankruptcy, which caused Bond production to grind to a halt for a time.

MGM never replaced CEO Gary Barber after the studio’s board forced out the executive in 2018 MGM currently is managed by an “office of the CEO.”

TCM to show 19 James Bond films in September

Turner Classic Movies, the U.S. movie channel, is showing 19 James Bond movies on Thursdays this month.

With TCM, the “broadcasting day” starts at 6 a.m. New York time and runs until 6 a.m. the following day. With that in mind, here’s the schedule.

Sept. 5: Dr. No, 8 p.m.; From Russia With Love, 10 p.m.; Goldfinger, 12:15 a.m.; Thunderball, 2:15 a.m.; You Only Live Twice, 4:45 a.m.

Sept. 12: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 8 p.m., Diamonds Are Forever, 10:30 p.m.; Live And Let Die, 12: 45 a.m.; The Man With the Golden Gun, 3 a.m.

Sept. 19: The Spy Who Loved Me, 8 p.m.; Moonraker, 10:15 p.m.; For Your Eyes Only, 12: 30 a.m.; Octopussy, 3 a.m.; A View to a Kill, 5:15 a.m.

Sept. 26: The Living Daylights, 8 p.m.; Licence to Kill, 10:30 p.m.; GoldenEye, 1 a.m.; Tomorrow Never Dies, 3:30 a.m.; The World Is Not Enough, 5:30 a.m.

On TCM, movies are shown uncut, although in 2009 some Bond films had minor changes.

The Bond films are part of a broader TCM program schedule celebrating the 100th anniversary of United Artists.

UA was the studio that originated the Bond film series produced by Eon Productions. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought UA in 1981. Bond films have been released under the MGM brand since The World Is Not Enough.

On Wednesdays, TCM will show additional UA movies, including A Hard Day’s Night, West Side Story, The Pink Panther and Midnight Cowboy.

MGM and Annapurna Pictures this year revived the UA name (as United Artists Releasing) for the joint venture that releases movies from both company in the U.S.

David Picker, ex-UA executive, dies at 87

David Picker (1931-2019)

David Picker, part of the United Artists executive team that struck the deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to launch the 007 film series, died Saturday at 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The cause was colon cancer, according to the entertainment-news outlet.

Picker was among the UA executives who, in 1961, held a meeting in New York with Broccoli and Saltzman. He was head of production for the studio, which was led by Arthur Krim (1910-1994).

In the documentary Inside Dr. No, he said UA struck a deal with the producers the same day.

Picker wrote a 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybe and Nevers: A Book About the Movies. In the book, he took credit for part of the success of the Bond series.

“Much has been written about Bond,” Picker wrote. “Until now, no one has written in detail exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened for one simple reason: they weren’t there.” The Bond series “would not have happened had it not been for this author’s belief in their potential.”

In the memoir, Picker wrote that Dr. No really cost $1.35 million, not the $1.1 million that had been budgeted and that he had found a way to provide the extra $250,000.

The 2011 book A Bond for Bond, published by Film Finances Inc., the company that provided the movie’s completion bond, published a copy January 1963 budget document with a figure in British pounds that was closer to the $1.1 million figure.

In 1969, Picker became president and chief operating officer at UA. For 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Broccoli and Saltzman signed American actor John Gavin to play Bond. PIcker, though, didn’t like the choice and wanted to try to re-sign Sean Connery, who had departed the Eon series after You Only Live Twice.

UA operated more like a bank than a studio. It didn’t have its own studio facilities, like a Warner Bros. or a Disney. It often gave the producers it worked with a lot of leeway.

But on this occasion, Picker won out and Connery was signed for $1.25 million, with UA agreeing to finance other films for the star. One movie, The Offence, was made under that deal.

Picker left UA in the 1970s. For a time, he became a producer himself, then held executive jobs at Paramount and Columbia Pictures.

Picker appeared in multiple documentaries made in the late 1990s and directed by John Cork about Bond movies. He also was among those interviewed for the 2012 documentary Everything or Nothing about the 007 film series.