Hollywood has lost its touch of magic

The Golden Globe nominees showed again that Hollywood ain’t what it used to be. Films take more in a weekend than Gone with the Wind took in 70 years. Stars make more than lottery winners and professional footballers — and expect to be treated like gods.

Of course, they always did. But in the old days, they showed a respect for their audiences, the people who gave them their livelihood. Male stars, for instance, always shaved and didn’t go to premieres without a tie.

But Hollywood changed when the so-called studio system collapsed in the 1950s, at the same time as a little black-and-white screen arrived in a big box that was placed in the corner of the living room. People decided they didn’t have to go into cinemas any more. It killed the studios — and the big moguls, the studio bosses, who had dominated 20th-century entertainment went into retirement.

They were called Robber Barons, but were more like Robin Hoods. They took talent and gave the benefits to people all over the world. The Hollywood moguls deserve a cheer from everybody who has ever gone into their local cinema — and a sigh of regret that things have changed so radically.

The stars of today have good reason to be grateful that the studios to which they were tied have gone in all but name, becoming just organisations to distribute other people’s films. The actors complained that they were being exploited. “Slavery,” they cried. But people under contract — some of whom never even made a movie because they turned out not be as good as was thought — drew a wage for the seven-year run of the agreement.

But should we be grateful? There have never been so many remakes of late. Do we need a new version of My Fair Lady just because someone in Hollywood thinks a remake would be lovely. Is there such a shortage of talent? Or is it courage that’s missing?

Once the public knew that when they queued outside the “picture palace”, they would get something very special. The big studios produced, on average, one new film a week. When Louis B. Mayer’s MGM — whose initials I like to think stood for “Makers of Great Musicals” — announced a new Gene Kelly film, we knew the dancing would be superb, the story amusing, the camerawork perfect.

If only anything celebrated at the Golden Globes last night could match the magic of those days. As the writer-director Melville Shavelson put it, in a sporting metaphor: “There used to be Giants in this town. Now, all we have are the Dodgers.”

Michael Freedland, the author of The Men Who Made Hollywood.