Louis B. Mayer

From Academic Kids

Louis Burt Mayer (July 4, 1885October 29, 1957) was an early film producer.

Born Eliezer Meir in Minsk, Russia (now Belarus), his family immigrated to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada when he was still very young and Mayer attended school there. His father started a scrap metal business and Louis worked with his father in the business until he was in his late teens when he went to Boston.

On November 28, 1907 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Louis B. Mayer opened his first movie theater. Within a few years he had the largest theater chain in New England, and in 1916 he partnered with Richard A. Rowland to create Metro Pictures Corporation based in New York City at first but with a Hollywood facility set up in late 1918. However, Mayer left the partnership to start up his own production company, Louis B. Mayer Pictures, and became a partner with B.P. Schulberg in the Mayer-Schulberg Studio. In 1924 Marcus Loew bought Louis B. Mayer Pictures and as part of the deal made Mayer head of the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

As the studio boss for MGM, Louis B. Mayer built it into the most successful motion picture studio in the world, and was 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 to 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 until 1936, when he became head of production as well as studio chief. This made Mayer the first executive in America to earn a million-dollar salary. Under Mayer, MGM produced a litany of successful films and the greatest stars, including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and many others.

By 1948, however, MGM was seeing a considerable dropoff in its success. Three straight years without an Oscar flared up an old feud between Mayer and Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM's parent, Loews, Inc. Mayer frequently called Schenck "Mr. Skunk." Schenck forced Mayer to sell his collection of thoroughbred horses (whom Mayer supposedly paid more attention to than his MGM duties), control costs and find "a new Thalberg." Mayer complied, hiring writer and producer Dore Schary as production chief. The two never got along, with Schary (who was 20 years Mayer's junior) preferring gritty message pictures to Mayer's taste for "wholesome" films. After three years, Mayer called Loews headquarters in New York with an ultimatum--"It's either him, or me." Schenck responded by firing Mayer from the post he'd held for 24 years. Mayer tried to stage a boardroom coup, but failed and largely retired from public life.

Mayer had two daughters from his first marriage to Margaret Shenberg. Daughter Irene Gladys Mayer, married famed film producer David O. Selznick and second daughter Edith (Edie) Mayer was married to producer William Goetz who became President of Universal Pictures.

Active in Republican Party politics, Mayer served as the vice-chair of the Republican Party of California from 1931 to 1932 and its state chair between 1932 and 1933.

Louis B. Mayer died on October 29, 1957 and was interred in the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles, California.

See also: Other Canadian pioneers in early Hollywoodde:Louis B. Mayer es:Louis B. Mayer


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