Fans, stars alike await sequel to sequel of 'That's Entertainment'

May 05, 1993|By Los Angeles Daily News

On a recent glorious Southern California morning, Mickey Rooney was reminiscing -- both on camera and off -- about his glorious past at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Between takes on his segment of "That's Entertainment! III," Mr. Rooney told a rapt audience of crew members that during his peak years of 1938-1940, he was the world's top box-office draw, and that over time his MGM films have generated $7 billion in revenues.

"Do you know how much I made?" he asked rhetorically. "Eighteen hundred dollars a week."

When the camera began rolling, the memories became gentler. Strolling out of the bungalow where he and Judy Garland once attended school, Mr. Rooney confided, "We were the best of friends, more like brother and sister."

His voice quieted. "I still miss her," he said, looking misty-eyed even as he read his lines from a TelePrompTer.

Never mind that the bungalow, now known as the Joan Crawford building and used as a production office, is on a lot that now belongs to Sony.

Never mind that the Andy Hardy movies he and Miss Garland worked on now belong to outspoken Atlantan Ted Turner.

Never mind that the film production and distribution concern that is all that remains of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer now belongs to a French bank.

For many at the company, particularly those working on "That's Entertainment! III," the second sequel to 1974's celebration of the MGM musical represents not only a nostalgic look back at the past but also a symbol of hope for the future.

In fact, the planned fall release of the less than $2.5 million compilation of clips -- including some remarkable outtakes as well as restored versions of beloved classics -- will kick off MGM's 70th anniversary much the way the original marked the studio's golden anniversary.

Produced and directed by Jack Haley Jr., "That's Entertainment" featured great numbers from 100 MGM musicals introduced by some of the studio's brightest stars (including a few, like James Stewart and Elizabeth Taylor, not particularly known for their singing). It made more than $50 million to become one of that year's top-grossing films and spawned a 1976 sequel with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly as hosts.

After two major clip jobs, it would make sense that there wouldn't be much of anything worthwhile remaining in the MGM library. But even back then, a teen-age George Feltenstein -- now head of MGM's home video sales and marketing -- thought a second sequel was possible.

"I went to see Part 2 the day it opened and loved it but was very disappointed because a lot of things weren't in it," Mr. Feltenstein said, seated by a saucer-shaped pool where Esther Williams was preparing to film her memories of working.

"So I sat down at my typewriter and typed a list of about 60 numbers that were not in 'That's Entertainment, Part 2.' So the idea was always kind of germinating in the back of my head."

When he went to work for MGM seven years ago, Mr. Feltenstein learned the old material was available, as were outtakes, among them Miss Garland's rendition of Irving Berlin's "Mr. Monotony" (filmed for 1946's "Easter Parade") and the "March of the Doagies" production number left out of 1946's "The Harvey Girls."

Not only that, but Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan, the editors of the first two "That's Entertainments" and producers, directors and editors of "III," were as interested as Mr. Feltenstein in yet another go-round.

But MGM's top management -- several administrations of it as the studio kept changing hands -- was not as excited about the project until Alan Ladd Jr. took over. Mr. Ladd is currently co-chairman and chief executive officer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

"Alan Ladd got behind the idea and said, 'OK, we're going to do this' " and struck a deal with Turner Entertainment, owners of the MGM library.

Executive producer Peter Fitzgerald, a former dancer-singer-actor (he was in the Broadway production of "A Chorus Line"), spent a year with Messrs. Feltenstein, Friedgen and Sheridan poring through the MGM vaults looking for likely material. "The original cut on this was four hours," Mr. Fitzgerald said. That has now been pared back to about three hours with clips from 175 films.

Mr. Rooney is one of several "That's Entertainment" hosts making encore appearances in the new installment. Mr. Kelly and Debbie Reynolds are also back, and they are joined by several great MGM stars who appeared in the original only in clips: Anne Miller, June Allyson and Lena Horne, who talks about her frustration at the racial discrimination she had to deal with in her prime.

For Mr. Rooney, coming back to the old MGM lot was a bittersweet experience.

"I'm not anti-Japanese, but my feeling genuinely is null and void for what it is at the present time," he said. "My love and respect and my memories and my feelings were all tied up in what it was, and not what it is."

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