Hollywood knows its history because film is such a living, breathing medium. From “The Great Train Robbery” to “Stagecoach,” from “Intolerance” to “It Happened One Night,” film lovers have a vast archives of early movies (at least those that have survived the ravages of nitrate degradation) in which to immerse themselves.
But less well known in the industry today are the behind-the-scenes stories of the moguls who laid the foundation for the global business that filmdom has become.
You’d be hard-pressed these days to find a tenpercenter born after 1975 who could correctly identify Adolph Zukor as one of the founders of Paramount or name the studio that wunderkind Irving Thalberg worked for before Louis B. Mayer recruited him to Mayer Pictures. (It was Universal.)
But never fear — Turner Classic Movies is riding to the rescue to help fill this knowledge gap. The cabler will unleash its most ambitious original programming initiative to date on Nov. 1 when it bows the seven-part docu series “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood,” spearheaded by docu veteran Jon Wilkman for Bill Haber’s Ostar Prods.
As the title suggest, the series, narrated by Christopher Plummer, puts emphasis on telling the stories of the businessmen who built the world’s most glamorous factories, mostly from humble beginnings, such as Mayer, who inherited his father’s scrap metal business, and the four Warner brothers, who started out as itinerant nickelodeon operators in Ohio.
Michael Wright, exec veep and head of programming for TCM, TNT and TBS, says the focus of the series is to blend the glossy history of onscreen titans with the stories of the pioneering moguls. It ends in the late 1960s after the fall of Jack L. Warner and the dawn of the “Easy Rider” era.
“The filter that Wilkman applies to telling this story is that Hollywood is a business that was built around personalities and charisma, and the founding moguls are just as interesting subjects as the movie stars of legend,” Wright says. There was also a conscious effort to focus on the histories of the studios as businesses, highlighting moments when studios and moguls were fighting (not always successfully) for their survival.
“Moguls and Movie Stars” is part of a concerted push within the Turner nets to enhance the profile of TCM, as was the launch of the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this past spring. (The second edition is already set for April 28-May 1.)
The cabler has assembled a wealth of supplemental material on its companion “Moguls” website, as well as educational materials to be distribbed to film schools and other institutions.