Second from right, with William Wyler, Christopher Fry, and Charlton Heston, on the set of Ben Hur, 1959.
For almost an hour I watched a television commercial being made on the same stage where Bette Davis acted in The Catered Affair—that predictably unhappy result of the movies attempting to take over the television drama when what they should have taken over was the spirit of the commercials. Then I was given lunch in the commissary which is much changed since the great days when people in extraordinary costumes wandered about, creating the impression that one was inside a time machine gone berserk. Now television executives and technicians occupy all the tables and order what used to be Louis B. Mayer Chicken Soup only the name of Mayer has been, my guide told me, stricken from the menu. So much for greatness! Even more poignant as reminders of human transiency are the empty offices on the second floor of the Thalberg Building. I was particularly upset to see that the adjoining suites of Pandro S. Berman and the late Sam Zimbalist were both vacant. Zimbalist (immortal because of Boom Town) died in Rome while producing Ben Hur which saved the studio's bacon, and Pandro S. Berman (Dragon Seed, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Seventh Cross) has gone into what the local trade papers refer to as "indie production." How tragic! MGM without Pandro S. berman is like the American flag without its stars.
No doubt about it, an era has indeed ended and I am its chronicler. Farewell the classic films, hail the television commercial! Yet nothing human that is great can entirely end. It is merely transmuted—in the way that the wharf where Jeanette MacDonald arrived in New Orleans (Naughty Marietta, 1935) has been used over and over for a hundred other films even though it will always remain, to those who have a sense of history, Jeanette's wharf. Speaking of history, there was something curiously godlike about Nelson Eddy's recent death before a nightclub audience in Miami. In the middle of a song, he suddenly forgot the words. And so, in that plangent baritone which long ago earned him a permanent place in the pantheon of superstars, he turned to his accompnaist and said, "Play 'Dardenella' and maybe I'll remember the words." Then he collapsed and died.
Play "Dardenella"! Play on! In any case, one must be thankful for those strips of celluloid which still endure to remind us that once there were gods and goddesses in out midst and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where I now sit) preserved their shadows for all time! Could the actual Christ been possessed of a fration of the radiance and the mystery of H.B. Warner in the first King of Kings or revealed, even on the cross, so much of a shadow of the moonstruck Nemi-agony of Jeffrey Hunter in the second King of Kings, that astonishing creation of Nicholas Ray? No.
—Myra Breckinridge, 1968