Since the end of World War II, European cinema had undergone a renaissance period. This led to the start of ‘art house’ movie theaters in the United States, which catered to a growing interest in foreign films from Italy, France and other countries. One picture that did well on the art house circuit was a neo-realist fable by Vittorio de Sica.
In addition to television, as well as recent economic setbacks caused by the beginning of the Korean conflict, Hollywood had to contend with strong competition from overseas production companies. These issues were only compounded by the change in film exhibition, since the U.S. government had effectively put an end to studios owning theater chains. The entire business model was overhauled. And nobody understood it better than producer Dore Schary.
Schary had left RKO after Howard Hughes’ takeover and returned to MGM, where he previously worked under Louis B. Mayer. But this time, Schary had considerably more power, which Mayer deeply resented. The two men were frequently at an impasse over the direction of the studio and the types of pictures that would best serve the needs of audiences in these changing times. A huge fight erupted between the two men in 1949 over Schary’s decision to make the war film BATTLEGROUND, which Mayer vehemently opposed. When BATTLEGROUND proved a hit with critics and audiences, Mayer lost a key battle in the war with Schary. Stockholders now believed Schary had the vision to lead them into the new decade.
By 1951, Mayer’s power had decreased even more, and Schary was essentially running the studio at this point. Mayer, knowing he was being pushed out, abruptly resigned and cashed in. He was paid almost $3 million for stories and other MGM properties in which he still held a major interest. But Mayer wasn’t done in Hollywood. After he left MGM, he financed the TV version of Jack Webb’s crime drama Dragnet, and he invested a substantial amount of his MGM payoff in Cinerama, which turned out to be a good decision.
Meanwhile, Hollywood was beginning to realize that an important new demographic was developing in the post-war era. There were now a substantial number of affluent teens in these years of prosperity, and they would become an even wealthier group when they reached their twenties. As a result, studios and independent production companies were turning out motion pictures geared towards them. This generational shift was reflected in the proliferation of drive-in movie theaters; there were now over 2,000 of them across North America.
As the industry changed, some movie stars were finding their standing in jeopardy at their home studios. At 20th Century Fox, Tyrone Power and Betty Grable were both placed on suspension when the new president of the studio found them unreasonable in their demands. At Universal, Shelley Winters was also suspended without pay when she fought with her bosses over costume fittings. And Kirk Douglas was having such conflict with Jack Warner that he shelled out $100,000 to break his contract with Warner Brothers.