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Louis B. Mayer
Written by James Colt Harrison   

louisbmayer.jpgBirth Name : Lazar Mayer

Date of Birth: July 4, 1882

Place of Birth: Minsk, Byelorussia, Ukraine

Date of Death: October 29, 1957

Place of Death: Los Angeles, CA. (aftermath of kidney infection)

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Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer Simon & Schuster
Once considered a monster, a manipulator, and an intimidator, Louis B. Mayer is being re-evaluated as a master showman, an astute businessman, and one of the great studio moguls of all time. In the book Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, author Scott Eyman debunks all the previous lies, rumors and simple mis-truths about a man who created the most glamorous dream factory in the world - Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios.

At the height of MGM's glory, more than 5,000 people worked on the studio lot. It wasn't that way when the company was formed in 1924. Mayer merged his small, independent studio Metro with Goldwyn and Metro Goldwyn Mayer was born without mogul Samuel Goldwyn participating.

Mayer began making his mark in the movie business and was an astute producer and manager.

Author Eyman points out although stage and screen actress Helen Hayes wasn't particularly fond of Mayer, she admired the company and once said, "It was the great film studio of the world. Not just of America, but of the world."

Building the studio that had more stars than there are in Heaven was quite an accomplishment by a relatively uneducated boy who was born in 1885 in Dumier, Ukraine, moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, and later settled in Haverill, Massachusetts.

Mayer and his father were in the scrap metal business but never dealt in rags. "I never picked rags. Never! All we ever did was pick up scrap metal," Mayer adamantly once said according to author Eyman. The family was desperately poor, and the ambitious boy finally had to get out to make something of himself. The book points out in interesting detail Mayer's early life and how he got out of the quagmire of poverty.

By 1904 Mayer, 22, moved to Boston, married Margaret Shenberg, and started a family, first with daughter Edith (1905) and Irene (1907). Nickelodeons were all the rage, and Mayer had a chance to buy an old theater in Haverill. "What I saw in front of me wasn't that dingy theater," the author quotes Mayer. "I saw what it could become." Thus Mayer started in the "movie business."

Mayer propelled his business acumen into a fleet of theaters, all needing films to show. When his need of product outgrew his sources, he decided he could make his own pictures and eventually ended up in Hollywood.

Mayer hit Hollywood at the right time, when the movie industry was in its formative years. And by merging his tiny Metro Pictures with the Goldwyn outfit he started a dynasty the likes of which as never again been seen.

The difference between Mayer and today's movie-makers was he was a showman. He loved movies, he was very patriotic and loved his country, and he believed in the family. Singing star Howard Keel said, "L. B. Mayer was the guts behind that studio. The guts - and a great, great showman." Thus, the films he began producing personified those very virtues. Mayer himself once said, "I am going to make pictures you can take your mother and children to see. I am not going to make pictures for the sake of awards or for the critics." And he did that for the more than 30 years he was the helm of MGM.

In appreciating the mogul's accomplishments in the movie business, author Eyman points out that Mayer believed in stars and was instrumental in the creation of the star system. Known as the Tiffany of film studios, MGM was the studio where actors and actresses were pampered, trained, groomed and disciplined. Mayer sometimes acted as the player's father figure and was a strict disciplinarian.

Mickey Rooney, the biggest box-office star in 1940, said, "He was the daddy of everybody and vitally interested in everybody. He was genuinely broken-hearted when (Jean) Harlow died. They always talk badly about Mayer, but he was really a wonderful guy."

Other studios had stars, but none could approach the magnitude and luminosity of MGM's Golden Era of movie stars. The lot was once home to the mysterious European import Greta Garbo. Clark Gable, dubbed The King, stayed at MGM for years under contract.

The beautiful female stars Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, Esther Williams, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford and Greer Garson; the musical stars Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Gloria de Haven, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Ann Blyth, Debbie Reynolds, Mario Lanza, Eleanor Powell and Frank Sinatra; the comics Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante Marx Brothers, Virginia O'Brien, Red Skelton and Marie Dressler; leading men Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, James Stewart, Peter Lawford, Ricardo Montalban, William Powell, John Barrymore, Robert Taylor and Fernando Lamas; and the great character-stars Rosalind Russell, Frank Morgan, Agnes Moorhead, Marjorie Main, Angela Lansbury, Van Heflin, Wallace Beery, Louis Calhern, Margaret O'Brien, Walter Pigeon, Keenan Wynn and Johnny Weismuller were all MGM stars among many, many more.

It was Mayer who discovered them, nurtured them and kept them under his protective wing. What a phenomenal accomplishment that was!

Life-long MGM film director Clarence Brown was a devoted friend. "To me, Louis Mayer was a god," said Brown. "People hated him out of simple envy. He was a great filmmaker and a great executive. Mayer handled the talent. That's why MGM was the greatest studio. When that changed, MGM began to fall apart."

All in all - Louis B. Mayer roared to make MGM great.

 

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