Louis Burt Mayer (/ˈmeɪ.ər/; born Lazar Meir; July 12, 1884 –
October 29, 1957; Russian: Лазарь Меир) was an American film
producer and co-founder of
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (MGM) in 1924.
Mayer was skilled at developing star actors, including child actors,
then placing them in productions, such as musicals or comedies, for
which MGM became famous. Under Mayer's management, MGM became the most
prestigious film studio, accumulating the largest concentration of
leading writers, directors and stars in Hollywood.
Mayer was born in the
Russian Empire and grew up poor in Saint John,
New Brunswick, Canada. He quit school at 12 to support his family and
later moved to
Boston and purchased a small vaudeville theater in
Haverhill, Massachusetts called the "Garlic Box" as it catered to
poorer Italian immigrants. He renovated and expanded several other
theaters in the
Boston area catering to higher end audiences. After
expanding and moving to Los Angeles, he teamed up with Irving
Thalberg, and they developed hundreds of high quality story-based
films, noted for their wholesome and lush entertainment. Mayer handled
the business part of running the studio, such as setting budgets and
approving new productions, while Thalberg, still in his twenties, ran
all MGM productions.
During his reign at MGM, after Thalberg's early death in 1936, he had
enemies as well as admirers. Some stars did not appreciate his control
over their lives, while others saw him as a father figure, important
in their lives. He believed in wholesome entertainment and went to
great lengths to discover new actors and develop them into major
stars. Actors working under Mayer would generally portray an
idealized vision of men and women, family life, virtue, and
patriotism, all presented in the present world they lived in. He
believed that movies should not be a mere reflection of life, but be
an entertaining escape from life. Because of his gift for
understanding the nature of stardom and the needs of the audience, it
was claimed that "Mayer's view of America became America's view of
He was forced to resign MGM as its vice president in 1951, when the
studio's parent company, Loew's, Inc., wanted to improve MGM's
declining profits. Mayer was a staunch conservative, at one time the
chairman of California's Republican party. In 1927 he was one of the
founders of AMPAS, famous for its annual Academy Awards.
1 Early life
2 Early career
3 Heading new
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios
3.1 Working with Irving Thalberg
3.2 Continued success after Thalberg's death
4 Managing MGM
4.1 Management style
4.2 Growth of the studio
4.3 Creating a "star system"
4.4 Hiring actors and staff
4.5 Working with studio people
4.6 Being a father figure
4.7 Developing child stars
5 Themes, musicals and formula
6 World War II problems
7 Declining years at MGM
8 Personal life
8.2 Entertainment and leisure
Horse racing hobby
11 Honors and recognition
13 Portrayals in popular culture
13.1 Characters based on Mayer
14 See also
15 Notes and references
16 Further reading
17 External links
Mayer was born Lazar Meir to a
Jewish family in Minsk, Russia (now
Belarus) on 4 July 1885, according to his personal details in the U.S.
immigration documents; according to some studies, his actual birth
place and date may have been Dymer,
Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
on 12 July 1884. His parents were Jacob Meir and Sarah Meltzer,
and he had two sisters—Yetta, born in 1878, and Ida, born in 1883.
Mayer first moved with his family to Rhode Island, where they lived
from 1887 to 1892 and where his two brothers were born—Rubin, in
April 1888, and Jeremiah, in April 1891. Then, they moved to
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada where Mayer attended school.
His father started a scrap metal business, J. Mayer & Son. An
immigrant unskilled in any trade, he struggled to earn a living. Young
Louis quit school at age twelve to work with his father and help
support his family. He roamed the streets with a cart that said
"Junk Dealer", and collected any scrap metal he came across. When the
owner of a tin business, John Wilson, saw him with his cart, he began
giving him copper trimmings which were of no use, and Mayer considered
Wilson to be his first partner and his best friend. Wilson remembered
that he was impressed with the boy's good manners and bright
personality. Whenever Mayer visited Saint John in later years, he
placed flowers on Wilson's grave, just as he did on his mother's.
"I had been to his hometown. I knew from whence he sprang. He taught
himself grammar. He taught himself manners. If anybody on earth ever
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer did."
actress Ann Rutherford
"It was a crappy childhood", said Mayer's nephew Gerald. His family
was poor, and Mayer's father spoke little English and had no valuable
skills. It thereby became young Mayer's ambition and drive which
supported the family. With his family speaking mostly Yiddish at
home, his goal of self-education when he quit school was made more
In his spare time, he hung around the York theater, sometimes paying
to watch the live vaudeville shows. He became enamored with the
entertainment business. Then in 1904 the 19-year-old Mayer left Saint
John for Boston, where he continued for a time in the scrap metal
business, got married, and took a variety of odd jobs to support his
new family when his junk business lagged.
Mayer renovated the Gem Theater, a rundown, 600 seat burlesque house
in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which he reopened on November 28,
1907 as the Orpheum, his first movie theater. To overcome an
unfavorable reputation that the building had, Mayer opened with a
religious film at his new Orpheum, From the Manger to the Cross, in
1912. 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
In 1914, the partners organized their own film distribution agency in
Boston. Mayer paid
D.W. Griffith $25,000 for the exclusive rights to
The Birth of a Nation
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. 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
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation. The first
production was 1918's Virtuous Wives. 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 Loew's chain, merged Metro Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn's Goldwyn
Pictures Corporation, and Mayer Pictures into Metro-Goldwyn. Loew had
bought Metro and Goldwyn some months before, but could not find anyone
to oversee his new holdings on the West Coast. Mayer, with his proven
success as a producer, was an obvious choice. He was named head of
studio operations and a Loew's vice president, based in Los Angeles,
reporting to Loew's longtime right-hand man Nicholas Schenck. He would
hold this post for the next 27 years. Before the year was out, Mayer
added his name to the studio with Loew's blessing, renaming it
Loew died in 1927, and Schenck became president of Loew's. Mayer and
Schenck hated each other intensely; Mayer reportedly referred to his
boss, whose name was pronounced "Skenk", as "Mr. Skunk" in
private. Two years later, Schenck agreed to sell Loew's – and
MGM – to William Fox, which angered Mayer. But despite his important
role in MGM, Mayer was not a shareholder, and had no standing to
challenge the sale. So he instead used his Washington connections to
persuade the Justice Department to delay the merger on antitrust
grounds. During the summer of 1929, Fox was severely injured in an
auto accident. By the time he recovered, the stock market crash had
wiped out his fortune, destroying any chance of the deal going through
even if the Justice Department had lifted its objections. Nonetheless,
Schenck believed Mayer had cost him a fortune and never forgave him,
causing an already frigid relationship to get even worse.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios
In late 1922, Mayer was introduced to Irving Thalberg, then working
for Universal Pictures. Mayer was searching for someone to help him
manage his small, but dynamic and fast-growing studio. At that first
meeting, Thalberg made an immediate positive impression on Mayer,
writes biographer Roland Flamini. Later that evening, after Thalberg
had left, Mayer told the studio's attorney, Edwin Loeb, to let
Thalberg know that if he wanted to work for Mayer, he would be treated
like a son.:46
Although their personalities were in many ways opposite, Mayer being
more outspoken and nearly twice the younger man's age, Thalberg was
hired as vice president in charge of production at Louis B. Mayer
Productions. Years later, Mayer's daughter, Irene Mayer Selznick,
found it hard to believe that anyone "so boyish could be so
important.":47 According to Flamini, Thalberg was hired because,
although Mayer was an astute businessman, he lacked Thalberg's strong
ability to combine making films of quality with gaining commercial
Mayer's company subsequently merged with two others to become
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), with the 24-year-old Thalberg made
part-owner and accorded the same position as vice president in charge
of production. Three years after the merger, MGM became the most
successful studio in Hollywood.
Working with Irving Thalberg
Mayer (r) with
Irving Thalberg and Thalberg's wife, actress Norma
Mayer and Thalberg were a brilliant team that worked well together.
They relied on each other, and neither operated unilaterally.
Mayer took charge of the business part of running the studio, such as
setting budgets and approving new productions. Thalberg, eventually
called the "boy wonder", took charge of all MGM productions. Director
Joseph Newman said that their skills complemented each other well,
with Thalberg having a great story mind, and Mayer having superior
They shared a guiding philosophy, to make the best motion pictures
they could at any cost, even if it meant reshooting the entire
picture. More important than showing a consistent profit with
their films, was for them to see MGM become a high quality studio.
That goal began with their early silent films, when stars such as
Greta Garbo, Mayer's discovery, acted on lush settings with
spectacular camera work.
Although they initially got along well, their relationship frayed over
philosophical differences. Thalberg 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 producer David O. Selznick.
But MGM received a serious blow when Thalberg died suddenly on
September 14, 1936, at age 37. His death came as a shock to Mayer and
everyone at MGM and the other studios. Mayer issued statements to
the press, calling Thalberg "the finest friend a man could ever
have ... the guiding inspiration behind the artistic progress on
the screen." His funeral was a major news event in Los Angeles. All
the studios observed five minutes of silence, while MGM closed its
studio for the entire day.
Mayer dedicated MGM's front office building and christened it the
Thalberg Building. He had the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences establish the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given to
producers to recognize their exceptional careers, and is now
considered one of the most prestigious awards in the Hollywood film
Continued success after Thalberg's death
After Thalberg died, many in Hollywood expected Mayer to "stumble and
Joseph M. Newman saw the studio start to change
for the worse. Some actors were affected, such as Luise Rainer,
winner of Hollywood's first back-to-back Oscars, who felt that the
death of Thalberg marked the death of her career: "Had it not been
that he died, I think I may have stayed much longer in films." 
Joan Crawford was also concerned, feeling that with Thalberg gone, the
concept of the quality "big" picture "pretty much went out the
However, MGM under Mayer's leadership continued to produce successful
movies. Mayer was made head of production as well as studio chief. For
the next ten years, MGM grew and thrived. 1939 was an especially
"golden" year: besides distributing Gone with the Wind, MGM released
The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, At the Circus, and The Women. Garbo
laughed in Ninotchka,
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Goodbye, Mr. Chips won an Oscar, and was
nominated for seven, and Hedy Lamarr, another of Mayer's personal
discoveries, made her film debut.
Mayer became the first person in American history to earn a
million-dollar salary. For nine years from 1937, when he earned
$1,300,000—equivalent to $22,130,093 today,Mayer was the
highest-paid man in the United States.
In his overall management skills, Mayer was considered a great
executive, someone who could have run General Motors equally as well
as a large studio like MGM, said producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He
worked at the studio all the time, and decisively, without any fixed
schedule, but didn't like paperwork. Some said Mayer had a lot in
common with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had
financed various MGM pictures, while MGM benefited by having film
reviews included nationwide in the Hearst newspapers.
Hearst, 20 years Mayer's senior, affectionately referred to Mayer as
"son" and they became good friends. Mayer took Hearst's suggestion
to build himself an office bungalow on the MGM lot, something Hearst
said was appropriate for a studio head: "Everybody of distinction from
all over the world comes to
Los Angeles and everybody who comes wants
to see your studio and they all want to meet you and do meet you, so
put on a few airs son, and provide the atmosphere." Director
Clarence Brown pointed out that overall, Mayer's skill was similar to
Hearst's in that they both learned by doing. What Mayer couldn't do on
his own, he hired the best talent he could find. "Like Hearst and
Henry Ford," said Brown, "he was an executive genius"
Mayer's temper was widely known, but most people knew that his sudden
bursts of anger faded quickly. With those working underneath him, he
was usually patient and preferred to leave department heads alone, and
would fire executives if they failed to produce successful films over
a long period.
Growth of the studio
At its peak in the 1940s, MGM employed six thousand people, had three
entrances, and covered 185 acres in Culver City, California, outside
of Los Angeles. It had forty cameras and sixty sound machines,
used on its six separate lots, and connected with its own rail
line. About 2,700 people ate in the commissary every day.
Power was supplied by an in-house electrical plant which could light a
town of 25,000. MGM also maintained a police force of fifty
officers—larger than that of
Culver City itself.
"Anywhere from sixteen to eighteen pictures were being shot at one
time", remembers actress Ann Rutherford. "They were either shooting or
preparing to shoot on every sound stage."
Creating a "star system"
Mayer helped create what is termed the "star system". At one point he
explained the process he went through in creating a star:
The idea of a star being born is bush-wah. A star is made, created;
carefully and cold-bloodedly built up from nothing, from nobody. All I
ever looked for was a face. If someone looked good to me, I'd have him
tested. If a person looked good on film, if he photographed well, we
could do the rest. ... We hired geniuses at make-up, hair
dressing, surgeons to slice away a bulge here and there, rubbers to
rub away the blubber, clothes designers, lighting experts, coaches for
everything—fencing, dancing, walking, talking, sitting and
Hiring actors and staff
During MGM's growth period, Mayer traveled often, and among his
personal discoveries were Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr,
Norma Shearer and
Greer Garson. He also signed up dancing team Marge and Gower
Champion and discovered Mario Lanza, then a young tenor from
Philadelphia, who Mayer hoped to turn into a "singing Clark
When hiring new actors, he typically wanted them to agree to stay with
the studio for either three or seven years, during which time they
would become one of the MGM "family." The studio usually succeeded in
hiring those it wanted since they offered the highest salaries.
With executives, Mayer took more time before taking them, wanting to
know them first on a personal level. He respected intelligence and
talent overall, said manager Joe Cohn: "One time he said to me, 'Never
be afraid of hiring a fellow smarter than you are. You'll only learn
Mayer took pride in his ability to hire good people, and once hired,
he let them alone to do their job without interference. That policy
held true whether the person was a producer, a department head or
simply a janitor. As a result, while other studios went through
continuous upheavals or reorganizations, Mayer's hands-off policy kept
MGM stable and sound, where employees felt their jobs were
When meeting a new employee, he always told them to come to him
personally for help with any problems. Some, like Barbara Stanwyck,
considered this attitude to be "pompous" however, since he used his
position to meddle into people's lives. Others, such as actor Edward
G. Robinson, after his first meeting Mayer, said "I found him to be a
man of truth ... Behind his gutta-percha face and roly-poly
figure, it was evident there was a man of steel—but well-mannered
steel." British director
Victor Saville remembers him as being
"the best listener. He wanted to know. He was the devil's advocate. He
would prod you and question you and suck you dry of any
Working with studio people
"L.B. wasn't crude at all. Super-intelligent people might have found
him common or crass. He may have been an immigrant with a good suit of
clothes, but never forget that this was a man working hard to be an
actress Esther Williams
His attitude and conversational style was both professional and
animated, sometimes "theatrical", observed June Caldwell, Eddie
Mannix's secretary. "Bombastic and colorful, but I never heard him use
nasty language ... he had a great loyalty to everybody, and
everybody respected him. And he would listen...You could work with
him."  His manners were considered "impeccable."
With MGM's film output as high as one film each week, he never
panicked over a bad picture. If somebody suggested canceling a movie
and cutting the studio's losses, when a film had consistent production
problems, Mayer would typically refuse. He relied on his instinct
and intuition, said actress Esther Williams. Although he didn't read
full scripts, if he was given the framework of a story, he could
assemble the pieces needed to see if it could be a successful
Occasionally, when producers, directors, writers or actors were
deadlocked over how to handle a problem in a film, he would mediate.
On Rosalie, for instance, when
Nelson Eddy refused to sing a song he
thought was too melodramatic, its songwriter, Cole Porter, went to
Mayer and played it for him. Mayer was moved to tears by the song, and
told Eddy to sing it. "Imagine making
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer cry", Porter
later told friends.
Being a father figure
With many of his actors, Mayer was like an overprotective mother,
notes biographer Scott Eyman. In some cases, especially for child
actors, he could become closely involved in managing their everyday
life, from telling where to shop, where to dine, or what doctor to
visit. He liked giving suggestions about how they could take better
care of themselves." He sometimes arranged marriages, and coping
with occupational hazards like alcoholism, suicide, and eccentric
sexual habits were as much a part of his job as negotiating contracts
with stars and directors. When he learned that
June Allyson was
dating David Rose, for instance, he told her to stop seeing him: "If
you care about your reputation, you cannot be seen with a married
Joan Crawford at the premiere of Torch Song (1953).
"To me, L.B. Mayer was my father, my father confessor, the best friend
I ever had."
Stories about his sobbing or rages have often been repeated in books,
but few employees ever saw that part of him. "Mr. Mayer was to me like
a father", said Ricardo Montalbán. "He really thought of the people
under contract as his boys and girls." Mayer's paternalism could
extend to productions, once revising the Dr. Kildare stories in order
to keep an ailing Lionel Barrymore, who became wheelchair bound with
arthritis, on the job.
Some, such as young starlet Elizabeth Taylor, didn't like Mayer
overseeing her life, and called him a "monster." While Mickey
Rooney, another young actor, and someone who co-starred with Elizabeth
when she was 12, formed the opposite impression: "He was the daddy of
everybody and vitally interested in everybody. They always talk badly
about Mayer, but he was really a wonderful guy...he listened and you
listened."  Rooney spoke from experience, as he himself had some
confrontations with Mayer, notes film historian Jane Ellen Wayne:
Mayer naturally tried to keep all his child actors in line, like any
father figure. After one such episode,
Mickey Rooney replied, "I won't
do it. You're asking the impossible." Mayer then grabbed young Rooney
by his lapels and said, "Listen to me! I don't care what you do in
private. Just don't do it in public. In public, behave. Your fans
expect it. You're Andy Hardy! You're the United States! You're the
Stars and Stripes. Behave yourself! You're a symbol!" Mickey nodded.
"I'll be good, Mr. Mayer. I promise you that." Mayer let go of his
lapels, "All right", he said.
Mickey Rooney and
Judy Garland in
Love Finds Andy Hardy
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
One of Rooney's repeat costars in Andy Hardy and other films was Judy
Garland, with whom he made nine films. In her autobiography Garland
stated that Mayer molested her. In the late 1940s she began having
personal problems which affected her acting, and Mayer tried his best
to protect her star reputation. She suffered from overwork, various
prescription drugs, weight problems, and domestic strains. When
her absences caused the production of
Summer Stock to go far over
Joe Pasternak suggested that Mayer cut his losses and
cancel the picture. Mayer refused, telling him, "
Judy Garland has made
this studio a fortune in the good days, and the least we can do is to
give her one more chance. If you stop production now, it'll finish
her." She completed the film, but during her next one, Annie Get
Your Gun, the studio finally ran out of patience. Costar Howard Keel
recalls that "she began to fall apart."
After the studio fired her, she attempted suicide. Mayer visited her
during her recuperation, found out about her mounting financial
troubles, and personally began paying her medical expenses, knowing
she would likely never make another film. "She loved L.B. Mayer to
the end of her life", wrote her daughter Lorna Luft.
Developing child stars
Mayer wanted the studio to develop a number of child stars, necessary
for producing family-oriented stories. The studio provided all the
essential services, such as formal education and medical care. They
were given acting or dancing tutors. Mayer loved children, writes
biographer Kitty Kelley: "They provided the magic that brought
millions of people stampeding into theaters every week...They were the
good, clean, wholesome elements of the folksy entertainment that was
Jackie Coogan, then 11, marked the studio's debut using child stars
with his role in The Rag Man in 1925. During Hollywood's golden age,
MGM had more child actors than any other studio, including Jackie
Cooper, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Margaret
O'Brien, Elizabeth Taylor, and Roddy McDowall.
Themes, musicals and formula
While MGM's films during the 1920s and 1930s were often notable for
having adult themes and strong female stars, such as Greta Garbo,
after Thalberg's early death in 1936, he promoted a change in emphasis
to more male leads, family themes, and child stars. And unusual
for a movie mogul, he took moral positions in his movies, especially
when it came to portraying family values—as in the Andy Hardy
series. One of Mayer's proudest moments came when Mickey Rooney,
who starred as Andy Hardy, was given a special award by the Academy in
1942 for "furthering the American way of life."
"I am going to make pictures you can take your mother and your
children to see. I am not going to make pictures for the sake of
awards or for the critics. I want to make pictures for Americans and
for all people to enjoy. When I send my pictures abroad, I want them
to show America in the right light—and not that we are a nation
chiefly of drunks, gangsters and prostitutes."
Louis B. Mayer
Mayer tried to express an idealized vision of men, women, and families
in the real world they lived in. He also believed in beauty, glamour,
and the "star system." In MGM films, "marriage was sacrosanct and
mothers were objects of veneration." Author Peter Hay states that
Mayer "cherished the Puritan values of family and hard work." When
he hired writers, he made those objectives clear at the outset, once
telling screenwriter Frances Marion that he never wanted his own
daughters or his wife to be embarrassed when watching an MGM movie. "I
worship good women, honorable men, and saintly mothers", he told
her. Mayer was serious about that, once coming from behind his
desk and knocking director
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim to the floor when he
said that all women were whores.
Mayer knew that formula in his themes and stories usually works. He
felt that the general public, especially Americans, like to see stars,
spectacle, and optimism on screen, and if possible, with a little
sentiment attached. They don't like to be challenged or instructed,
but comforted and entertained.
Therefore, having messages was less important to Mayer than giving his
audience pure entertainment and escapism. In his screen dramas, he
wanted them to be melodramatic, whereas in comedies, he often laced
them with a strong doses of sentimentality. "He loved swaggering,
charismatic hams like
Lionel Barrymore and Marie Dressler", writes
Musicals were high on his list of preferred genres. Anxious to make
more of them, on a hunch, he asked songwriter
Arthur Freed to be
associate producer for The Wizard of Oz. As Mayer hoped, Freed went on
to produce a number of films considered among the best musicals ever
made: For Me and My Gal, Girl Crazy, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey
Girls, The Pirate, Easter Parade, The Barkleys of Broadway, On the
Town, An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and
Gigi. Mayer's greatest contributions to posterity are said to be his
World War II problems
poster for the 1939 film
Unlike Charlie Chaplin, who produced The Great Dictator, the other,
much larger Hollywood studios lacked the freedom to make such
independent films. Mayer understood that the Germans could ban or
boycott Hollywood films throughout much of Europe, with serious
economic implications, since 30 to 40 percent of Hollywood's income
came from Europe's audiences. Nevertheless, MGM produced Three
Comrades in 1938, despite movie censor
Joseph Breen warning Mayer that
the film was "a serious indictment of the German nation and people and
is certain to be violently resented by the present government in that
After the war erupted in Europe in September 1939, Mayer authorized
the production of two anti-Nazi films,
The Mortal Storm
The Mortal Storm and Escape. At
the same time, Warner Brothers produced Confessions of a Nazi Spy. The
German government informed the studios that "those films would be
remembered by Germany when — not if — they won the war", writes
Eyman. Warners had to post guards to protect the family of actor
Edward G. Robinson, and the Germans threatened Mayer with a boycott of
all MGM films.
From September 1939, until January 1940, all films that could be
considered anti-Nazi were banned by the Hays Office. U.S.
ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy, told the studios to stop making
pro-British and anti-German films. Kennedy felt that "British
defeat was imminent and there was no point in America holding out
alone: 'With England licked, the party's over,' said Kennedy."
Defying those pleadings, MGM produced Mrs. Miniver, a simple story
about a British family trying to get by during the bombing blitz in
London. Eddie Mannix, Mayer's assistant, agreed that "someone
should salute England. And even if we lose $100,000, that'll be
Greer Garson, 1940s
Mayer wanted British actress Greer Garson, his personal discovery, to
star, but she refused to play a matronly role. Mayer implored her
"to have the same faith in me" that he had in her. He read from
the script, having her visualize the image she would present to the
world, "a woman who survives and endures. She was London. No, more
than that, she was ... England!" Garson accepted the role,
winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Mrs. Miniver won six
Academy Awards and became the top box office hit of 1942.
President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister
Winston Churchill both
loved the film, said historian Emily Yellin, and Roosevelt wanted
prints rushed to theaters nationwide. The
Voice of America
Voice of America radio
network broadcast the minister's speech from the film, magazines
reprinted it, and it was copied onto leaflets and dropped over
German-occupied countries. Churchill sent Mayer a telegram claiming
Mrs. Miniver is propaganda worth 100 battleships." Bosley
Crowther (1960 biographer of Mayer, below), wrote in his New York
Times review that
Mrs. Miniver was the finest film yet made about the
war, "and a most exalting tribute to the British."
The following year, 1943, saw the release of another Oscar-winning
film, this one aimed at supporting the home front, entitled The Human
Comedy. It was Mayer's personal favorite and the favorite of its
director, Clarence Brown. Mayer also assisted the U.S. government by
producing a number of short films related to the war, and helped
produce pro-democracy films such as Joe Smith, American, in 1942.
Declining years at MGM
The post-war years saw a gradual decline in profits for MGM and the
other studios. The number of high-grossing films in 1947 dwindled to
six, compared to twenty-two a year earlier. MGM had to let go many of
its top producers and other executives. Mayer was pressured to tighten
expenses by the studio's parent company, although Mayer's reputation
as a "big-picture man" would make that difficult. They began looking
for someone, another Thalberg, to redo the studio system.
In the interim, Mayer kept making "big pictures." When RKO turned
down financing of Frank Capra's State of the Union in 1948 because of
its expensive budget, Mayer took on the project. He filled the cast
with MGM stars including Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Van
Adolphe Menjou and Angela Lansbury, but the film only broke
Nicholas Schenck called Mayer and insisted that he "cut, cut",
recalls director George Sidney. Mayer replied, "A studio isn't salami,
Nick." "L.B. would ask only one question: 'Can you make it
better?' It was all he cared about", said Sidney.
As pressure built to find a new Thalberg-style manager to handle
Dore Schary was brought in from RKO, and began work in
July 14, 1948, as vice president in charge of production, working
under Mayer's direction.
Some long-time studio executives saw this change as a sign of the
eventual downfall of MGM. Lillian Burns Sidney, George Sidney's wife,
when she heard the news, marched into Mayer's office, "Now you've done
it", she announced. "You've ruined everything." When Mayer asked why,
what's wrong with Schary?, she told him that she was afraid he would
eliminate all future musicals, comedies and adventure movies, and
replace them with mostly "message" movies. She expressed her fear:
"They won't have need for anybody around here. Even you! You'll
By mutual consent with Loews, Mayer permanently resigned from MGM in
August 1951. On his final day, as he walked down a red carpet laid out
in front of the Thalberg Building, executives, actors, and staff lined
the path and applauded him for his contributions."He was so
respected", said June Caldwell, Eddie Mannix's secretary. Many
assumed that his leaving meant the end of an era. Actor Turhan Bey
said, "In every meaningful way, it was the end of Hollywood."
Mayer, for a period after he left MGM, tried to finance and assemble a
new group of film stars and directors to produce his own films as an
independent. He told the press that his films would carry on in the
tradition of MGM's previous style of film subjects In 1952 he
became chairman of the board and the single largest shareholder in
Cinerama, and had hoped to produce a property he owned, Paint Your
Wagon, in the widescreen process, but without success. He left
Cinerama in 1954 when the company was sold.
Mayer had two daughters from his first marriage to Margaret Shenberg.
The elder, Edith (Edie) Mayer (August 14, 1905 – 1987), whom he
would later become estranged from and disinherit, married producer
William Goetz (who served as vice president for Twentieth-Century Fox
and later became president of Universal Pictures). The younger, Irene
(1907–1990), married producer
David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick and became a
successful theatrical producer.
At home, Mayer was boss. "In our family, all the basic decisions were
made by him", remembers his nephew, Gerald Mayer. "He was a
giant. ... Were we afraid of him? Jesus Christ, yes!" And
although he never spoke Yiddish at the office, he sometimes spoke
Yiddish with "some of the relatives", said his daughter Irene.
Mayer's activities for the
Jewish Home for the Aged led to a strong
friendship with Edgar Magnin, the rabbi at the Wilshire Temple in Los
Angeles. "Edgar and Louis B. virtually built that temple", said
Mayer reportedly was in love with actress
Jean Howard and pursued her
energetically but without success.
Entertainment and leisure
At his home on Saint Cloud Road in the East Gate Bel Air, Sundays were
reserved for brunches in what was an open house, which often included
visiting statesmen or former Presidents, along with various producers,
directors or stars. There would be a buffet supper, drinks, and
later a movie. Mayer drank almost no alcohol, cared nothing for
fine cuisine, and didn't gamble, but might play penny-ante card games
For leisure activities, he liked going to the Hollywood Bowl,
especially the annual
John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa concert. Sousa's
patriotic-style music built up his pride in America, and he "would be
stoked with extra exuberance for days afterward", states Eyman.
Mayer also enjoyed ballet and opera, and concerts where violinist
Jascha Heifetz or pianist
Arthur Rubinstein performed.
While Mayer seldom discussed his early life, his partiality towards
Canada would sometimes be revealed, especially after Canada and
America entered World War II. On one occasion in 1943, Mary Pickford
called to tell him she met a movie-struck Royal Canadian Air Force
pilot from New Brunswick, where Mayer grew up. Mayer asked her to have
him drop by the studio. The pilot, Charles Foster, recalled his visit:
"Mary's driver took me through the gates, and I saw this little man
come running down the steps of the Thalberg Building. I thought, 'Oh,
he's sent a man to greet me.' And I got out of the car, and this man
threw his arms around me and said, 'Welcome to my studio.' "
Mayer took him on a personal tour of the studio, and Foster remembers
that "everybody waved to him and he waved back. He spoke to people and
knew them by name. I was shocked."  Mayer invited him back for
lunch the next day. But before Foster arrived, Mayer had invited every
Canadian in Hollywood to meet the flier, including Fay Wray, Walter
Pidgeon, Jack Carson, Rod Cameron, Deanna Durbin, Walter Huston, Ann
Rutherford, and even his main competitor, Jack Warner. Mayer told him,
"When this war is over, if you want to come back here, I'll find a job
for you."  Foster said "It was like he was the father I never
Active in Republican Party politics, Mayer served as the vice chairman
California Republican Party
California Republican Party in 1931 and 1932, and as its state
chairman in 1932 and 1933. As a delegate to the 1928 Republican
National Convention in Kansas City,
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer supported Secretary
Herbert Hoover of California. Mayer became friends with
Joseph R. Knowland, Marshall Hale, and James Rolph, Jr. Joseph Schenck
was an alternate delegate at the convention. L.B. was a delegate to
1932 Republican National Convention
1932 Republican National Convention with fellow California
Republicans Joseph R. Knowland, James Rolph, Jr. and Earl Warren.
Mayer endorsed the second term of President Herbert Hoover.
Horse racing hobby
Mayer owned or bred a number of successful thoroughbred racehorses at
his ranch in Perris, California, near Los Angeles. It was considered
one of the finest racing stables in the
United States and raised the
standards of the California racing business. Among his horses was Your
Host, sire of Kelso, the 1945 U.S. Horse of the Year, Busher, and the
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,
California magazine named him "California Breeder of the Century".
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer died of leukemia on October 29, 1957. He was
interred in the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles,
California. His sister, Ida Mayer Cummings, and brothers Jerry and
Rubin are also interred there.
Mayer and his lieutenants built a company that was regarded by the
public and his peers alike as the pinnacle of the movie industry.
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer defined MGM, just as MGM defined Hollywood, and
Hollywood defined America", writes biographer Scott Eyman.
"Placed in his proper perspective, he was probably the greatest single
force in the development of the motion picture industry who brought it
to the heights of prosperity and influence it finally attained."
In 1951 he was given an honorary Oscar for heading MGM for over 25
years. At the event, screenwriter
Charles Brackett presented the award
and thanked him for guiding MGM's "production policy with foresight,
aggressiveness and with a real desire for taste and quality." Mayer
was also thanked for founding and developing new personalities and for
bringing the Hollywood "star system into full flower."
Although Mayer was often not liked and even feared by many in the
Sam Marx explains that "his reputation is far worse
than it should be. He had to be strong to do his job, and he couldn't
do that without making enemies." While Director Clarence Brown
compared him to newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst:
Louis B. Mayer ... made more stars than all the rest of the
producers in Hollywood put together. ... He knew how to handle
talent; he knew that to be successful, he had to have the most
successful people in the business working for him. He was like Hearst
in the newspaper business. ... He made an empire out of the
Mayer never wrote or directed movies, and never pretended to tell
writers what to write or art directors what to design. But he
understood movies and their audience. According to Eyman, "Mayer's
view of America became America's view of itself." Because of the
stars, the stories, the glamour, the music, and the way they were
presented, audiences the world over would often applaud the moment
they saw the MGM lion. Mayer was the constant at MGM who set the
tone. At Mayer's funeral in 1957,
Spencer Tracy expressed Mayer's
The story he wanted to tell was the story of America, the land for
which he had an almost furious love, born of gratitude—and of
contrast with the hatred in the dark land of his boyhood across the
seas. It was this love of America that made him an authority on
Honors and recognition
Mayer has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
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.
The main theatre at
Santa Clara University
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
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer Research Laboratories building at the Dana-Farber
Cancer Institute in
Boston opened in 1988.
Always in the Way
Always in the Way (1915) (film debut)
Virtuous Wives (1918)
Human Desire (1919)
Sowing the Wind (1921)
Wine of Youth
Wine of Youth (1924)
Lady of the Night
Lady of the Night (1925)
The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929)
I Take This Woman (1940) (final film)
Portrayals in popular culture
Mayer has been portrayed numerous times in film and television
Harlow (1965) (by Jack Kruschen)
Gable and Lombard
Gable and Lombard (1976) (by Allen Garfield)
Rainbow (1978) (by Martin Balsam)
The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980) (by Harold Gould)
Mommie Dearest (1981) (by Howard Da Silva)
Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (1998) (by Al Waxman)
RKO 281 (1999) (by David Suchet)
The Three Stooges (2000) (by David Baldwin)
Shirley Temple Story (2001) (by John O'May)
De-Lovely (2004) (by Peter Polycarpou)
The Aviator (2004) (by Stanley DeSantis)
Trumbo (2015) (by Richard Portnow)
The Last Tycoon
The Last Tycoon (2016) (by Saul Rubinek)
Feud (2017) (by Kerry Stein)
William Saroyan wrote a short story about L. B. Mayer in his 1971
Letters from 74 rue Taitbout or Don't Go But If You Must Say
Hello To Everybody.
Characters based on Mayer
Pat Brady in the 1941
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Last Tycoon. He
was played by
Robert Mitchum in the 1976 film adaptation, and Kelsey
Grammer in the 2016 TV series.
Stanley Shriner Hoff in
The Big Knife
The Big Knife (1955) (by Rod Steiger) was
based in part on Mayer.
Cyril H. Bean, referred to by his employees as "The Head", in the 1966
Jacqueline Susann novel Valley of the Dolls
Jack Lipnick in
Barton Fink (1991) (by Michael Lerner)
L.B. Mammoth in the animated film
Cats Don't Dance
Cats Don't Dance (1997) (voice acted
by George Kennedy)
Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood
Selig Polyscope Company
List of Freemasons
List of people from Belarus
Notes and references
^ a b Mayer maintained that he was born in
Minsk on July 4, 1885.
According to Scott Eyman, the reasons were any one of the following:
Mayer's father gave different dates for his birthplace at different
times, so Mayer was not comfortable specifying a date;
It was part of Mayer's sense of showmanship and, being born on July 4,
seemed to stand for patriotism and had a certain ring to it;
"He needed to believe in a myth of self-creation which, in his case,
was not far off the mark";
When Lazar was young, his family constantly moved around in the
general area of Minsk,
Vilnius and Kiev;
As Jews, they felt insecure and therefore were reluctant to be
^ McLean, Adrienne L. (ed.), Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of
the Nineteen Hundred and Thirties. Rutgers University Press, 2011, p.
^ Land of Ancestors: Louis Burt Mayer.
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer Britannica
^ Eyman, S. (2008). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B.
Mayer. Simon & Schuster. p. 18. ISBN 9781439107911.
Retrieved March 5, 2017.
^ Eyman, S. (2008). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B.
Mayer. Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 9781439107911.
Retrieved March 5, 2017.
^ Eyman, pp. 18–19.
^ According to Eyman the year is 1889, but according to the Saint John
District Census 1901 Index the year is 1888.
^ Eyman, p. 19.
^ a b Eyman, p. 22.
^ a b Eyman, p. 23.
^ Eyman, p. 322.
^ a b Eyman, p. 25.
^ Rosenberg, Chaim M. The Great Workshop: Boston's Victorian Age.
Arcadia Publishing (2004), p. 60.
^ "Mr. Motion Picture", TIME, November 11, 1957.
^ Current Biography 1943. pp. 521–24.
^ Id.
^ Háy, Peter (1991). MGM: When the Lion Roars. Turner Publications.
^ a b c Flamini, Roland. Thalberg:
The Last Tycoon
The Last Tycoon and the World of
M-G-M, Crown (1994).
^ Eyman, p. 111.
^ a b Eyman, p. 120.
^ a b Eyman, p. 231.
^ Eyman, p. 232.
^ Hay, p. 145.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 12.
^ Eyman, p. 233.
^ Verswijver, Leo. Movies Were Always Magical, McFarland Publ. (2003),
^ Leider, Emily W. Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, Univ.
of California Press (2011), p. 184.
^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project.
"Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of
Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
^ Friedrich, Otto (1986). City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in
1940s. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
p. 15. ISBN 0-520-20949-4.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 7.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 284.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 115.
^ a b Hogan, David J. The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That's Left to Know
About Life, According to Oz, Hal Leonard Corp. (2014), e-book.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 1.
^ a b Eyman, p. 2.
^ Eyman, p. 266.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 8.
^ Eyman, p. 377.
^ a b Eyman, p. 288.
^ a b c d Eyman, p. 289.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 287.
^ Eyman, p. 295.
^ Eyman, p. 301.
^ Eyman, p. 315.
^ a b Eyman, p. 300.
^ Furia, Michael L. America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of
Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley, Routledge (2008), p. 143.
^ Eyman, p. 285.
^ Eyman, p. 6.
^ Eyman, p. 290.
^ a b c d e Hay, p. 22.
^ Eyman, p. 294.
^ Eyman, p. 323.
^ Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Leading Men of MGM, Carroll & Graf (2005)
^ Smith, Dinitia (March 30, 2000). "Finding New Cracks in an Exposed
Life" – via NYTimes.com.
^ a b Hay, p. 275.
^ Eyman, p. 406.
^ Hay, p. 276.
^ Eyman, p. 407.
^ Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star, Simon & Schuster
(1981), ch. 1.
^ Hay, p. 137.
^ Hay, p. 161.
^ Hay, p. 165.
^ a b Eyman, p. 450.
^ Eyman, p. 3.
^ Thomson, David. Have You Seen ...?, Knopf Doubleday (2008), p.
^ a b Eyman, p. 9.
^ Eyman, p. 10.
^ a b Eyman, p. 276.
^ a b Eyman, p. 278.
^ a b Eyman, p. 277.
^ a b Wapshott, Nicholas. The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the
Isolationists, and the Road to World War II, W.W. Norton & Co.
(2015), e-book. ISBN 978-0393088885.
^ Hay, p. 191.
^ Eyman, p. 344.
^ Eyman, p. 354.
^ a b Eyman, p. 345.
^ Yellin, Emily. Our Mother's War: American Women at Home and at the
Front During World War II, Simon & Schuster (2004), p. 100.
^ Troyan, Michael. A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson,
Univ. of Kentucky Press (1999), e-book. ASIN: B00A6IOY1W.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 408.
^ Eyman, p. 411.
^ Eyman, p. 444.
^ Eyman, p. 445.
^ Eyman, p. 296.
^ a b Eyman, p. 297.
^ Staggs, Sam (July 25, 2006). When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous
Story of "A Streetcar Named Desire". Macmillan – via Google
^ Eyman, p. 135.
^ Eyman, p. 299.
^ a b c Eyman, p. 310.
^ Eyman, p. 311.
^ Obituary, Variety, October 30, 1957, p. 87.
^ Eyman, p. 9
^ Eyman, p. 439.
^ a b Eyman, p. 11.
^ Eyman, p. 516.
^ Eyman, p. 13.
Canada's Walk of Fame
Canada's Walk of Fame Archived October 30, 2006, at the Wayback
^ Johnson, Ross (May 22, 2005). "To Be as a City Upon a (Hollywood)
Hill". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
The Big Knife
The Big Knife review, DVDtalk
Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis
B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0481-6.
Hay, Peter. (1991). MGM: When the Lion Roars Turner Publishing.
Higham, Charles (1993).
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer MGM and the Secret Hollywood.
Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-33314-3.
Gabler, Neal (1988). An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented
Hollywood. Crown. ISBN 0-385-26557-3.
Crowther, Bosley (March 1960). Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of
Louis B. Mayer. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. (Reviewed by John K.
Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, March 21, 1960, p. 15.)
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Louis B. Mayer
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Louis B. Mayer.
Time Magazine, LOUIS B. MAYER: Lion Of Hollywood
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer on IMDb
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer at Find a Grave
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