MGM Studios 90th Birthday April 17th/18th tribute on TCM- make sure to watch their lineup.
Boy wonder, Irving Thalberg (husband of Norma Shearer), was known for his genius with money. Able to cut costs much to the chagrin of many extravagant directors, Thalberg was able to show Louis B Mayer he was the man for the job- something of which Mayer would be continually reminded and later resent. Thalberg also took a hand in ensuring success at the box office with diligent screenings, and exit polls at every film the studio produced. Continually driven by public sway, films would often be modified to please the public- a practice still in effect today.
Louis B Mayer on the other hand while responsible for the studio’s success was also responsible for many of its failures- usually at his own hand. Bringing doom and a squashed career to Erich von Stroheim, John Gilbert and Mae West proved he could destroy them as easily as he created them.
His hunger for power and his need to display it resulted in the Hays Code, as well as the creation of the Academy- wanting more reasons to get credit where credit was due. In fact Mayer alone held Veto Rights over the Oscars until 1941, until he made the mistake of passing over an astounding performance by Bette Davis, upsetting the Screen Actors Guild. After that measures were taken to make the Academy fair, with formal nominations and a secret ballot for final vote.
The Grand Patriarch, Mayer would often comfort and punish his “children” as necessary. Ruined careers was nothing compared to the protection you would get if you were favorite child, like Jean Harlow. In 1932 when Jean arrived home and found her husband had committed suicide the first person she called was Mayer, who immediately went to her, comforted her, and very quickly covered up the mess so her career could go on untainted.
In honor of the dysfunctional family glory we honor all things MGM on this their 90th Birthday. xoxo