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Louis B. Mayer
Born Lazar Meir
July 4, 1884(1884-07-04)
Minsk, Russian Empire (now Belarus)
Died October 29, 1957 (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Film producer
Studio executive
Years active 1915–1940
Spouse(s) Margaret Shenberg (m. 1904–1947) «start: (1904)–end+1: (1948)»"Marriage: Margaret Shenberg to Louis B. Mayer" Location: (linkback:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_B._Mayer)
Lorena Danker (m. 1948–1957) «start: (1948)–end+1: (1958)»"Marriage: Lorena Danker to Louis B. Mayer" Location: (linkback:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_B._Mayer)

Louis Burt Mayer (July 4, 1884 – October 29, 1957) was a Russian-born American film producer. He is generally cited as the creator of the "star system" within Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in its golden years. Known always as Louis B. Mayer and often simply as "L.B.", he believed in wholesome entertainment and went to great lengths so that MGM had "more stars than there are in the heavens".

Contents

Early life

Born Lazar Meir to a Jewish family in Minsk, today the capital of Belarus[1], then part of the Russian Empire, capital of the Minsk Province (Minskaja Guberniya). His actual birthdate is unknown; a patriotic Mayer chose July 4 when he became an American citizen, to honor his adopted country. Mayer emigrated with his family to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada when he was still very young, and Mayer attended school there. His father started a scrap metal business, J. Mayer & Son. His parents, Sarah and Jacob Mayer, had five children: Yetta, Ida, Louis, Jerry and Rudolph. In 1904, the 19-year-old Mayer left Saint John for Boston, where he continued for a time in the scrap metal business, married, and took a variety of odd jobs to support his family when his junk business lagged.

Early career

Mayer renovated the Gem Theater, a rundown, 600 seat burlesque house in Haverhill, Massachusetts,[2] which he reopened on November 28, 1907 as the Orpheum, his first movie theater. To overcome the unfavorable reputation that the building once had in the community, Mayer decided to debut with the showing of a religious film. Years later, Mayer would say that the premiere at the Orpheum was From the Manger to the Cross,[3] although most sources place the release date of that film as 1912.[4] Within a few years, he owned all five of Haverhill's theaters, and, with Nathan H. Gordon, created the Gordon-Mayer partnership that controlled the largest theater chain in New England.[5]

In 1914, the partners organized their own film distribution agency in Boston. Mayer paid D.W. Griffith $25,000 for the exclusive rights to show The Birth of a Nation (1915) in New England. Although Mayer made the bid on a film that one of his scouts had seen, but he had not, his decision netted him over $100,000.[6] Mayer partnered with Richard A. Rowland in 1916 to create Metro Pictures Corporation, a talent booking agency, in New York City.

Two years later, Mayer moved to Los Angeles and formed his own production company, Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation. The first production was 1918's Virtuous Wives.[7] A partnership was set up with B. P. Schulberg to make the Mayer-Schulberg Studio. Mayer's big breakthrough, however, was in April 1924 when Marcus Loew, owner of the Loews Theatres chain, merged Metro Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn's Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, and Mayer Pictures into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer under the supervision of Nicholas Schenck in New York City. As "Vice-President in Charge of Production" based in Los Angeles, Mayer effectively controlled MGM for the next 27 years.

MGM boss

With Joan Crawford at her movie's premier

As a studio boss, Louis B. Mayer built MGM into the most financially successful motion picture studio in the world and the only one to pay dividends throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s. However he frequently clashed with production chief Irving Thalberg, who preferred literary works over the crowd-pleasers Mayer wanted. He ousted Thalberg as production chief in 1932 while Thalberg was recovering from a heart attack and replaced him with independent producers, e.g. David Selznick, until Thalberg's death in 1936, when Mayer became head of production as well as studio chief. Under Mayer, MGM produced many successful films with high earning stars, including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and many others.

Katharine Hepburn referred to him as a "nice man" (and claimed she personally negotiated many of her contracts with Mayer), and some younger actors, such as Debbie Reynolds, June Allyson, Mickey Rooney and Leslie Caron, who matured as MGM contract players, viewed him as a father figure.

Between 1939 to 1950, Mayer's success was so great that he was the highest paid man in America.[8]

Later years and fall from power

By 1948, due to the introduction of television and changing public tastes, MGM suffered a considerable dropoff in its success. The glory days of MGM as well as other studios were also over because of United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. (1948), a Supreme Court decision that severed the connection between film studios and the movie theater chains that showed their films.

The MGM corporate office in New York decided that Dore Schary, a writer and producer recently hired from RKO Radio Pictures, might be able to turn the tide. In 1951, MGM had gone three years without a major Academy Award, which provoked further conflict between Mayer and Schenck. Under orders to control costs and hire "a new Thalberg," Mayer hired writer and producer Schary as production chief. Schary, who was 20 years Mayer's junior, preferred message pictures in contrast with Mayer's taste for "wholesome" films.

In 1951, Schenck fired Mayer from the post he'd held for 27 years. The firing reportedly came after Mayer called New York and issued an ultimatum--"It's either me, or Schary." Mayer tried to stage a boardroom coup but failed and largely retired from public life.

Personal life

Mayer had two daughters from his first marriage to Margaret Shenberg. The eldest, Edith (Edie) Mayer (b. August 14, 1905 - d.1987), from whom he would later become estranged and disinherit, married producer William Goetz (who became president of Universal Pictures). The younger daughter, Irene Gladys Mayer (1907-1990), married producer David O. Selznick.

Active in Republican Party politics, Mayer served as the vice chairman of the California Republican Party from 1931 to 1932, and as its state chairman between 1932 and 1933. He was a delegate to the 1932 Republican National Convention with fellow Republicans Earl Warren, Joseph R. Knowland and Marshall Hale in Chicago. Mayer endorsed the second term of President Herbert Hoover.

Thoroughbred horse racing hobby

Mayer owned or bred a number of successful thoroughbred racehorses at his 504-acre (2.0 km2) ranch in Perris, California, 72 miles (116 km) east of Los Angeles.

In the 2005 biography, Lion of Hollywood, author Scott Eyman wrote that: "Mayer built one of the finest racing stables in the United States" and that he "almost single-handedly raised the standards of the California racing business to a point where the Eastern thoroughbred establishment had to pay attention." Among his horses was Your Host, sire of Kelso, the 1945 U.S. Horse of the Year, Busher, and the 1959 Preakness Stakes winner, Royal Orbit. Eventually Mayer sold off the stable, partly to finance his divorce in 1947. His 248 horses brought more than $4.4 million. In 1976, Thoroughbred of California magazine named him "California Breeder of the Century".

Death and legacy

Louis B. Mayer died of leukemia on October 29, 1957 and was interred in the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California. His sister, Ida Mayer Cummings, and brothers Jerry and Rudolph are also interred there.

  • The primary screening facility for Loyola Marymount University's School of Film and Television--the Mayer Theatre--is named after him. Mayer permitted the university's sports teams to use the MGM lion as their mascot.[9]
  • The main theatre at Santa Clara University bears his name.
  • Mayer was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1990.
  • A street in Laval, Quebec a suburb of Montreal, Quebec holds the name of Louis-B-Mayer.
  • The Louis B. Mayer Research Laboratories building at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute opened in 1988.
  • Former MGM Studio Lot in Culver City, is now Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Mayer has been portrayed numerous times in film and television including:

Jacqueline Susann portrayed Meyer in Valley of the Dolls as Cyril H. Bean, referred to by his employees as "The Head".

Mayer has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame[10]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.belarus.by/en/belarus/people/mayer/
  2. ^ Rosenberg, Chaim M. The Great Workshop: Boston's Victorian Age. Arcadia Publishing, 2004. p60.
  3. ^ "Mr. Motion Picture." TIME Magazine, November 11, 1957.
  4. ^ Louis B. Mayer at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Current Biography 1943. pp521-524.
  6. ^ Id.
  7. ^ Louis B. Mayer at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Simon, Charnan (1995). Hollywood at War: The Motion Picture Industry and World War II. New York: A First Book/Franklin Watts. p. 14. ISBN 0-531-20193-7. 
  9. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/22/movies/22john.html
  10. ^ Canada's Walk of Fame.

References

  • Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer (Simon & Schuster, 2005) ISBN 0-7432-0481-6
  • Charles Highman, Louis B. Mayer MGM and the Secret Hollywood (Pan Books, 1993) ISBN 0-330 333143
  • Gabler, Neal (1988). An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. Crown. ISBN 0385265573. 

External links

[[[Category:Republicans (United States)]]

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Louis B. Mayer (1882 – October 29, 1957), born Eliezer Meir, was an early film producer, most famous for his stewardship and co-founding of the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Sourced

Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies (2001 ed)

  • I will only make pictures that I won't be ashamed to have my children see.
  • You know how I'm smart? I got people around me who know more than I do.
  • The number one book of the ages was written by a committee, and it was called The Bible.
    • To a writer who complained that his work was being changed.
  • Don't make these pictures any better. Just keep them the way they are.
    • Of the successful Andy Hardy films.

External links

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