MGM’s 1925 Studio Tour and Promotional “Tours” of Labor in Early Hollywood

Curator's Note

Maps record not what is, but rather the interests of the people who draw them, showing “this, but not that . . . this way . . . but not the other.”[i] The same principle applies to behind-the-scenes “tours” of media production spaces, such as those produced by Hollywood film studios in the 1920s. Viewed as self-portraits, such tours reveal studio managers’ interests in showing their own ownership and mastery over the entire dream factory, with every cog in its proper place. They are also telling in their depictions of the women and people of color who were segregated into studios’ lowest-status work specializations. Surviving records rarely explicitly describe any strategy for hiring women or non-white workers to do this, not that. Yet such workers can be found, arrayed for display, in films like MGM’s 1925 Studio Tour.

The film spends much of its runtime exploring the front office, sightseeing among high-status workers, stages and productions, but arrives in its final minutes at the margins of the studio. In this and other studio tours—at Universal, Paramount, Fox, and Ince—as well as photo arrays published in trades at the time, men in these sectors are often shown as individuals, looking at the camera. Excepting actors and notable writers, women are more often displayed as groups in feminized sectors, either performing femininity (dancers) attached to their machines doing light manufacturing (film assemblers), or in service professions (nurse, commissary waitresses). Men of color are displayed standing behind the barbershop’s white barbers, presumably providing the shoeshines mentioned in the preceding intertitle and in the studio commissary as bus boys. These jobs fell inside the narrow range available to them on studio lots where, as elsewhere in America at this time, it was tacitly understood that they would not be hired for jobs of higher status and pay and would be the only type of employees hired for certain service professions. Structural racism and sexism are maintained through culture, through visible signs and symbols, which were evident in any workplace in the 1920s, including studios like MGM.



[i] Denis Wood, The Power of Maps (New York: Guilford, 1992), 1.


As you did in NEVER DONE, you show the value of studying studio tours and treating them as primary source objects. Your analysis of how these films reveal invisible labor and the structures of racism and sexism is sharp-eyed. Thanks for introducing me to this MGM tour, which I hope to use in future classes on Hollywood history.

Thanks, Daniel. The whole film is pretty great and you've reminded me I wanted to link to it. When I first researched it, the only version available online was broken into parts on youtube and the 4th and/or 5th parts are actually from a different film. The full film was available only through the UCLA archive. But now a helpful film buff has posted it online:

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