I just read about the death of one of those largely unfamiliar people who should probably be a household name. His name is Roger Mayer and without him, TV, movies, the internet and I’d even suggest our understanding of history to an extent would be a lot different than it is and not in a good way.
He turned to the movie studios, and was hired as a lawyer at Columbia Pictures. After several years there, gaining experience, he was hired at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Mayer (not related to MGM founder Louis B. Mayer) was given a tour of the film vaults — concrete bunkers with security guards, but the contents inside were baking at up to 130 degrees in the California sun. It was 1961, and film studios didn’t see much value in old movies; video cassettes, DVDs, and home video streaming were not even on the studios’ radars. But Mayer saw value in them: he asked for permission to air-condition the vaults to preserve the films there, and to create a film preservation laboratory. The vaults were upgraded, and Mayer was made president of MGM Laboratories. “Gradually,” Mayer said in 2005, “the concept prevailed that it was almost as important to preserve what had been made as it was to produce something new.” The lab not only saved features, but also newsreels and shorts.
He went on to help found the National Film Preservation Foundation and also worked with the Library of Congress’s National film preservation board.
If not for his work and that of others like him some of whom he surely inspired, imagine all the things we wouldn’t have now. Historical footage, a never ending supply of old movies and television shows, entire TV networks who’s business models are built on a never ending supply of old movies and television shows, those ridiculous educational film reels from times long ago that we all like to make fun of…I’m sure I could go on for days. the world is a better place for the existence of people like Roger Mayer, the ones who make sure we can take these sorts of things for granted but still learn more when we want to.