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Stage 6

In the fall of 2006, Sony Pictures unveiled an exciting renovation of one of its most historic stages - Stage 6. Famous for being the tallest stage ever built in Southern California, Stage 6 was used for many Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) musicals produced during its Golden Age, including APPLAUSE (1929), ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1945), EASTER PARADE (1948) and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1951). With new interior office and support space, as well as an exterior face-lift that retains its Art Deco façade, Stage 6 is once again a highly functional, technologically advanced space on the historic Sony Pictures Studios lot.

Stage renovation projects are a historical fact of life in the film business and on the Sony Pictures Studios lot. As film technology changes, so too must the production spaces, as evidenced by the studio’s architectural records. Soon after Louis B. Mayer took over the executive reins of MGM in 1924, he announced plans to implement a broad expansion of its Culver City studio, necessary to accommodate an increased production slate as well as technological advancements in sound and color.

“...Stage 6 remains to this day the only stage built as tall as it was narrow...”

In addition to twenty-eight new sound stages, the site improvements included a 1,500 seat private sound theater, a scoring stage, expansion of the craft and labor industrial center, two miles of concrete roadway, a spur railroad track, and three warehouses. Between 1925 and 1930, approximately $5,000,000 had been spent on this expansion. By 1934 the studio also included six working lots encompassing 187 acres as well as its own police and fire departments, telegraph and post office, water tower, laboratory and art, makeup, lighting, property and camera departments. Accordingly, MGM was considered the largest, most complete and sophisticated filmmaking facility in the world.

Integral to Mayer’s expansion was the construction of sound stages, which would support the advancements in synchronized sound film production. During an incredible three month period, August through October of 1929, Stages 3, 4, 5 and 6 were built incorporating the latest technology in sound engineering, said to be the closest to achieving absolute sound proofing by the industry at that time. Four hundred tons of steel and more than 1200 cubic yards of concrete were used in the construction of each stage. Stage 6’s elegantly simple façade featured a flat roof-line, Art Deco/ZigZag Moderne motifs, which were in fashion at the time of its construction, and five concrete pilasters extending horizontally along each elevation in a Moderne ornamentation.

While most sound stages were built with a rectangular plan, Stage 6 remains to this day the only stage built as tall as it was narrow, and in a perfect square. At 97 feet tall and 80 feet by 80 feet in width and depth, the reason for its unusual shape is unknown although it may have been conceptualized as an experimental building during one of the most influential eras of technological change in filmmaking.

Stage 6 was unique not only because of its unusual dimensions and attractive architectural style, but because it was constructed to fulfill dual roles, both as a sound stage and a “fly-away” stage, where backdrop scenery could be flown through a “fly gallery” similar to large theatrical stages.

Between Stage 6 and Stage 5 were a removable door and a proscenium arch. With the door removed, the two stages served as the perfect locale to recreate a realistic theater stage for the many musicals filmed there, complete with the “fly-away” backdrops on Stage 6, orchestra pits, upholstered seats, boxes and balconies. A director’s podium — a soundproof, three-sided, bay-like structure – was suspended in the corner of Stage 6 where the director could direct the performers on stage and stay out of view of the cameras.

Another interesting feature of Stage 6 was its removable floor which covered a large tank. A variety of angles and stage depths could be utilized during filming when the stage floor was raised and lowered, permitting the camera to be mobile and allow for more rhythmic, choreographed images, especially useful during production of musicals.

These unique characteristics made Stage 6 one of MGM’s busiest stages for musical productions and the stage where numerous famous entertainers worked during the studio’s prodigious Golden Age. Director Busby Berkeley, known for his spectacular musical sequences, filmed TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME here in 1949 starring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. Gene Kelly appeared in no less than five musicals on Stage 6, including ON THE TOWN (1949), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1951), LES GIRLS (1957) and ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1945), the latter being directed by Vincente Minnelli and the only film to feature Kelly and Fred Astaire singing and dancing together. In 1945 Astaire also apeared on Stage 6 in EASTER PARADE with Judy Garland, who years earlier, at age 15, had co-starred on Stage 6 with Buddy Ebsen in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938.

In the 1950s after the introduction of television, the manner in which Stage 6 was used changed dramatically. It was now functioning as a rehearsal stage, office and meeting space, as well as a large catering area for extras. Some television shows were filmed on Stages 5 and 6, often utilizing the proscenium between the two buildings, with Stage 6 used as a backstage area and Stage 5 housing the audience. Later during the 1970s and early 1980s, popular television shows such as Lorimar’s DALLAS and EIGHT IS ENOUGH were filmed on Stages 5 and 6.

Stage 6’s great vertical form still towers over the studio lot and is visible from miles away in every direction, accentuated by the studio’s landmark sign mounted across the center of the roof, which has displayed the studio name and logo since 1932. Its unique size and design make Stage 6 a rare historic gem at Sony Pictures Studios.