Sunday, March 13, 2016

MGM: California soaking the rich; move studios to Florida (1935)

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By Mateusz Kudła (Own work) 

By Jane Feehan

During the early days of filmmaking, Florida held a place in the collective mind of the industry. A few studios were established during the early 1900s in Miami and Hialeah (see index). But they closed as California evolved into a movie making epicenter with the founding of Warner Bros* in 1923 and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924. Other studio giants followed: Fox, RKO, 20th Century Pictures.

For one last time the spotlight turned on Florida in 1935 as a potential haven for the film industry. MGM threatened to lead a movie studio exodus from California to the Sunshine State to escape high taxes. Key MGM player (and later 20th Century Pictures co-founder) Joseph M. Schenck voiced apprehension about California’s tendencies toward “soaking the rich.”   

The 1930s saw a huge increase in federal income taxes; California followed suit. As a result, highly paid actors and directors chose to work less. Schenck pointed to a proposed 35 percent tax on film industry incomes as reason to leave the state. He called for the people of Florida to raise $10 million through subscriptions to build motion picture studios to be rented to the film industry for $250,000 a year. The interest rate for the arrangement would not exceed 2.5 percent. Schenck told The New York Times he was about to meet with Sidney Kent of Fox Studios in Boca Raton to discuss the plans. Florida would be fine as a new locale, he said. Good transportation to and from the state was an asset. And, most scenes were shot indoors. If mountain scenery was needed, North Carolina was nearby.

The plan was probably a threat; the movie industry was firmly planted in California by 1935. During that decade of the Great Depression, a roster of movie classics was produced that includes: Wizard of Oz, The Public Enemy, King Kong, Petrified Forest, Gone with the Wind and Little Caesar. And the actors soaring to fame through those and other films—Bette Davis, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland – were synonymous with Hollywood. It was after, all the “Golden Age of Hollywood.”

Whether threat or plan, Hollywood’s complaining in the media about taxes during the 1930s earned its place in popular debate about the subject—and about politics. And Florida still holds a special mention: The state continues to attract the film industry with its production locations. In 2006 the state ranked third in the nation (behind California and New York) in the film industry.

Let’s hope Florida's incentives for filmmaking are renewed. 

*Albert Warner owned an estate on Miami Beach; it was later sold to make way for the Eden Roc Hotel.

The New York Times, Mar. 5, 1935
Film History: An International Journal: Vol. 22 (2010) Number 1

Tags: Florida history, film industry, Jane Feehan film researcher, MGM history, Florida film industry

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