We kept meaning to link to this fascinating post by blogging/internet consultant Dan Blank about the disparate ways Disney and MGM treated their legacies, beginning with a harrowing account of the legendary MGM auction of 1970, an event equivalent to the burning of the Alexandrian library or the retreat from Leningrad in terms of movie memorabilia:
In 1970 MGM auctioned off its entire history of costumes and props. Warehouses of items including costumes from The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, and countless other items worn by stars such as Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Susan Hayward, Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, and others in some of their most famous roles. Dorothy’s dress? $1,000. Cowardly Lion’s costume? $2,400. They also sold off their historic back lots, and flattened sets used in classic MGM films. That land is now filled with faceless condos, turning history into real estate.
Stories of the auction are scattered across the web. One person describes that a friend of his bought a large container of unknown costumes in the sale. Within it were two of the Lollipop Guild costumes from Wizard of Oz. This was not historic preservation, these items were sold in bulk, unmarked. How many treasures were lost in this manner? What if the person who bought it didn’t recognize them as Wizard of Oz costumes?
At the same time, Disney was hiring the legendary and beloved Dave Smith as their archivist, and turning their old crap lying around into IP, and collectibles. Or as Jim Hill put it:
[this] is why the Walt Disney Archives is now considered the model for corporate archives all over the country.
The fallout is brutal. Today MGM, in its day the greatest and grandest of studios with the most shining, brilliant library, is a hollow skull of a name that other moguls kick around for sport, and even getting the financing for a surefire hit like a Hobbit movie is beyond the reach of whoever owns the name.
And Disney is Disney.
Blank has a few takeaways, including It Takes Decades To Build a Brand, Moments to Destroy It. We doubt that given the Hoarders-like mindset of most folks in the comics industry, this isn’t too likely but…you never know. Heed the past.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.