The so-called “studio system” is long finished in Hollywood … but not on Turner Classic Movies.
For the 2013 edition of the channel’s annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival of films that either won or were nominated for Academy Awards, a different studio will be showcased each day or group of days. First up, starting Friday, Feb. 1: four-and-a-half days devoted to Warner Bros. and such Best Picture winners as “Casablanca” and “My Fair Lady,” plus honored performances including Jack Lemmon‘s in “Mister Roberts” and Elizabeth Taylor‘s in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“I think it’s fascinating to see how many important films a studio like Warner Bros. had,” principal TCM host Robert Osborne tells Zap2it, “whereas a studio like Columbia, you might not think of that way. I still think of Columbia as one Rita Hayworth movie a year, or maybe one a year directed by Frank Capra in the ’30s. To see how many really outstanding movies Columbia made, and all together, is kind of eye-opening.”
Including “On the Waterfront,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Easy Rider,” Columbia’s “31 Days of Oscar” showcase actually runs on Oscar weekend — Friday, Feb. 22 through part of the day on Monday, Feb. 25 — since the 85th Annual Academy Awards will be staged Sunday, Feb. 24 (and televised by ABC).
In Hollywood’s heyday, certain stars were stars were associated strongly with a specific studio, and the ever-genial Osborne believes this year’s formatting of TCM’s Oscar festival underscores that.
“You see a Clint Eastwood movie, and you might not know if it’s from Universal or Warner Bros. or another studio,” Osborne reflects. “He has affiliations with so many studios now, but there was a time when you’d just look at a movie and think, ‘Oh, that’s a Warner Bros. film.’ It was the sound or the look of the credits or whatever; they were so distinctive. And that particularly goes for the casting. [For many years,] if Bette Davis was in it, you knew it was Warner Bros.”
A longtime Hollywood columnist and historian, Osborne confesses to having his own favorites among the studios: “I’ve always had a particular affection for 20th Century Fox, because I spent a lot of time there. They always encouraged young players who were under contract to come and watch filming whenever they could.
“I had some great friends who were under contract there when I was under contract to Desilu, which was actually the old RKO studio, so it was fairly easy for me to get on the Fox lot. I remember the only set I couldn’t get on was [Marlon] Brando‘s, when he was making ‘The Young Lions.’ But I snuck onto it anyway.”
Indeed, Osborne has many fond memories of watching screen titans in action firsthand. “When Orson Welles was acting in ‘Compulsion,’ the director Richard Fleischer let him just take over and direct the courtroom scenes. To be able to see Welles — who knew more about directing than anyone — direct himself and the other actors, it was unbelievable and unforgettable.
“I also watched him work with Angela Lansbury and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in many scenes of ‘The Long, Hot Summer,‘ then you’d go on another set and get to watch Gary Cooper filming ‘Ten North Frederick.’ It was such an education to go on those sets and watch those people work. Today, everything is much tighter. Visitors are not allowed on sets, because the paparazzi are always trying to get pictures.”
Studios that no longer exist also are represented in “31 Days of Oscar,” encompassing Selznick International Pictures (“Gone With the Wind”), Embassy Pictures (“The Graduate”) and even Cinerama Productions (with “This Is Cinerama,” of course). “It’s a great way to present them,” Osborne reasons. “And we’re running out of ways, so we have to figure out something different.”