1965 MGM vault fire

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1965 MGM vault fire
Location Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, Culver City, California
Cause Ignition of stored nitrate film by electrical short
Outcome Destruction of archived Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer silent and early sound films
Deaths 1
Non-fatal injuries 0

The 1965 MGM vault fire was a fire that erupted in Vault 7, a storage facility, at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio (MGM) backlot in Culver City, California in 1965. It was caused by an electrical short explosively igniting stored nitrate film. The initial explosion reportedly killed at least one person, and the resulting fire destroyed the entire contents of the vault, archived prints of silent and early sound films produced by MGM and its predecessors. The only known copies of hundreds of films were destroyed, amongst them the now much sought-after London After Midnight.[disputed ]

Background[edit]

The storage vaults, located on Lot 3, were spread out to prevent fire from spreading between vaults. Studio manager Roger Mayer described vaults as "concrete bunk houses" and stated that it was considered at the time as "good storage because [the films] couldn't be stolen". The vaults were not equipped with sprinkler systems and had only a small fan in the roof for ventilation. Despite this, Mayer stated that he believed a sprinkler system would have made little difference because "the amount [the studio] lost by fire was minimal".[1]:12-13

Unlike most major studios, MGM sought to preserve its early productions, that of its predecessors Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions,[2]:22 and prints of films purchased for remake value.[2]:39 The studio did not participate in the common practice of purposeful destruction of its catalog and even sought to preserve films of little apparent commercial value. Since the 1930s, MGM gave prints and negatives of its silent films to film archives, predominantly George Eastman House, and in the early 1960s, it began a preservation program led by Mayer to transfer nitrate film prints onto safety film.[2]:22

Fire[edit]

An electrical short explosively ignited nitrate film stored in Vault 7 located on Lot 3. The initial explosion could be heard from Lots 1 and 2, as recounted by Rudy Behlmer, who was walking between them at the time.[1]:12 Executive Roger Mayer stated that at least one person died in the explosion.[1]:12 The resulting fire destroyed the entire contents of the vault.[1]:12

Due to prior concerted efforts by MGM to preserve its catalog of silent and early sound films, the fire did not result in the total or near-total loss of its library. Despite the fire, 68% of silent films produced by MGM survive, the highest rate from any major studio.[2]:22 Nevertheless, the fire destroyed the only known copies of numerous silent films, including Lon Chaney's A Blind Bargain[1]:12 and London After Midnight, which has become highly sought-after,[3] and Greta Garbo's The Divine Woman.[1]:12

Other silent films lost include The Black Butterfly, The Glorious Adventure, The Divorcee, The Big City, The Actress, Married Flirts, and The Tower of Lies.

Among the losses were rare examples of two-color Technicolor, including an original print of the pioneering 1922 Technicolor feature The Toll of the Sea (later incompletely restored from surviving reels of the negative) and the part-Technicolor silent So This Is Marriage?; Technicolor sequences from the early musicals The Broadway Melody and Chasing Rainbows; what was long believed to be the only surviving Technicolor print of The Mysterious Island until another copy was found in Prague in 2013; and the last known print of the all-Technicolor musical-drama The Rogue Song, which included comic relief bits by Laurel and Hardy (only fragments from other prints and the trailer have definitely survived).

The uncut version of the Laurel and Hardy short Blotto and the silent Our Gang shorts from 1927–1929 were also destroyed in the fire. The early Three Stooges musical short Hello Pop! was widely believed to have been among the casualties, but has turned up in a private collection in Australia. Warner Home Video released the short on DVD in 2014. But the short film Jail Birds of Paradise is now considered lost.

Also lost were many of the original-release master prints of pre-1952 MGM cartoons, most notably the Tom and Jerry series and Tex Avery, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising shorts, Other shorts lost include Peace on Earth, Bad Luck Blackie, The Milky Way, The Little Goldfish, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Blue Danube, Little Rural Riding Hood and The Cat and the Mermouse, leaving only the backup prints (usually altered reissue prints).

The inferno also destroyed pre-1924 films made by MGM's predecessors Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Pierce, David (1997). "The Legion of the Condemned - Why American Silent Films Perished". Film History. Australia: Indiana University Press; John Libbey & Company. 9 (1, Silent Cinema). ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 3815289. 
  2. ^ a b c d Pierce, David (September 2013). "The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912–1929" (PDF). Council on Library and Information Resources. ISBN 978-1-932326-39-0. Retrieved 21 March 2018. 
  3. ^ Soister, John; Nicolella, Henry; Joyce, Steve; Long, Harry (2012). American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929. McFarland. p. 333. ISBN 978-0786435814.