Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Eliezer Mayer in Minsk, Russia, 4 July 1885; family emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada, 1888. Family: Married 1) Margaret Schenberg, 1904 (marriage dissolved), two daughters; 2) Lorena Danker, 1948. Career: Helped in father's scrap business; 1904—moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to set up his own scrap business; became nickelodeon manager; 1915—moved into distribution; 1917—formed the independent Mayer Production Company in New York; 1920—opened studios in Hollywood; 1923—hired Irving Thalberg as vice president and production assistant; 1924—vice president in charge of production and general manager of the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Productions with Loew and Sam Goldwyn; Thalberg became supervisor of individual film production, Mayer took charge of the west coast operation; 1931–36—president of the Motion Pictures Producers Association; 1951—left MGM. Awards: Special Academy Award, for "distinguished service to the Motion Picture industry," 1950. Died: In Hollywood, California, 29 October 1957.
Greed (von Stroheim); Bread (Schertzinger); Sinners in Silk (Henley); The Arab (Ingram); He Who Gets Slapped (Sjöström); His Hour (K. Vidor); The Navigator (Keaton and Crisp); Sherlock, Jr. (Keaton)
Ben-Hur (Niblo); Cheaper to Marry (Leonard); Confessions of a Queen (Sjöström); Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (Borzage); The Denial ( The Square Peg ) (Henley); The Dixie Handicap (Barker); Excuse Me (Goulding); Fine Clothes ( Fashions for Men ) (Stahl); The Great Divide (Barker); Mare Nostrum (Ingram); The Big Parade (K. Vidor); The Merry Widow (von Stroheim); The Snob ; Sally, Irene and Mary (Goulding); The Torrent (Bell); The Temptress (Stiller and Niblo); Brown of Harvard (Conway); La Bohème (K. Vidor); Go West (Keaton); Seven Chances (Keaton); The Tower of Lies (Sjöström); The Monster (West); The Unholy Three (Conway); The Masked Bride (Cabanne)
Flesh and the Devil (Brown); The Magician (Ingram); The Scarlet Letter (Sjöströmm); The Enemy (Niblo); Blarney (de Sano); Valencia (Buchowetski); Twelve Miles Out (Conway); The Road to Mandalay (Browning); The Waning Sex (Leonard); Paris (Goulding); The Barrier (Hill); Bardelys the Magnificent (K. Vidor); Upstage (Bell); The Black Bird (Browning)
The Garden of Allah (Ingram); Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Neilan); This Sporting Genius (Neilan); The Great Love (Neilan); White Shadows in the South Seas (Van Dyke); The Crowd (K. Vidor); The Student Prince (Lubitsch); Mr. Wu (Nigh); London After Midnight ( The Hypnotist ) (Browning); Mockery (Christensen); The Taxi Dancer (Millarde); Love (Goulding); The Unknown (Browning)
The Wind (Sjöström); Our Dancing Daughters (Beaumont); Voice of the City (Mack); The Divorcee (Leonard); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard); The Kiss (Feyder); Broadway Melody (Beaumont); The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller); Wickedness Preferred (Henley); The Mysterious Lady (Niblo); A Lady of Chance (Leonard); Across to Singapore (Nigh); The Cameraman (Sedgwick); The Actress (Cukor); A Woman of Affairs (Brown); The Divine Woman (Sjöström)
Anna Christie (Brown); The Big House (Hill); His Glorious Night (Barrymore); Redemption (Niblo); Hallelujah (K. Vidor); The Mysterious Island (Tourneur and Hubbard); Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Reisner); Alias Jimmy Valentine (Conway); The Trail of '98 (Brown); Our Modern Maidens (Conway); Thunder (Nigh); Untamed (Conway); Dynamite (DeMille)
Min and Bill (Hill); Paid (Wood); A Free Soul (Brown); The Easiest Way (Conway); Way for a Sailor (Wood); Those Three French Girls (Beaumont); A Lady's Morals (Franklin); Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (Leonard); Men of the North (Roach); Billy the Kid (K. Vidor); Madam Satan (DeMille); The Sin of Madelon Claudet (Selwyn); Trader Horn (Van Dyke); Romance (Brown); Paid (Wood); The Unholy Three (Conway); The Rogue Song (Barrymore); Good News (Grindé)
The Champ (K. Vidor); Possessed (Brown); As You Desire Me (Fitzmaurice); The Guardsman (Franklin); Private Lives (Franklin); Red-Headed Woman (Conway); Freaks (Browning); Tarzan the Ape Man (Van Dyke); The Wet Parade (Fleming); Come Clean (Horne); Inspiration (Brown); Mata Hari (Fitzmaurice); A Free Soul (Brown); The Squaw Man (DeMille); The Man in Possession (Wood); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian); New Moon (Leonard); The Secret Six (Hill)
Rasputin and the Empress (Boleslawsky); Red Dust (Fleming); Grand Hotel (Goulding); Gabriel over the White House (La Cava); Strange Interlude (Leonard); Smilin' Through (Franklin); The Music Box (Parrott)
Tugboat Annie (LeRoy); Treasure Island (Fleming); Manhattan Melodrama (Van Dyke); The Thin Man (Van Dyke); Queen Christina (Mamoulian); Dancing Lady (Leonard); Night Flight (Brown); Dinner at Eight (Cukor); Eskimo (Van Dyke); When Ladies Meet (Beaumont); The Barbarian ( A Night in Cairo ) (Wood); Hold Your Man (Wood); Bombshell (Fleming)
David Copperfield (Cukor); Merry Widow (Lubitsch); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); A Wicked Woman (Brabin); The Show-Off (Riesner); Sadie McKee (Brown); Chained (Brown); The Painted Veil (Boleslawsky); Tarzan and His Mate (Gibbons); Riptide (Goulding); Viva Villa! (Conway)
China Seas (Garnett); A Tale of Two Cities (Conway); San Francisco (Van Dyke); Anna Karenina (Brown); A Night at the Opera (Wood); Libeled Lady (Conway); Rendezvous (Howard); Whipsaw (Wood); No More Ladies (E. Griffith and Cukor); Ah Wilderness (Brown)
The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor); The Good Earth (Franklin); The Broadway Melody of 1936 (Del Ruth); Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke); Born to Dance (Del Ruth); Rose Marie (Van Dyke); Fury (Lang); After the Thin Man (Van Dyke); Tarzan Escapes (Thorpe)
Camille (Cukor); Captains Courageous (Fleming); Night Must Fall (Thorpe); A Family Affair (Seitz); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Boleslawsky); Parnell (Stahl); The Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (Green); Rosalie (Van Dyke); Maytime (Leonard); The Firefly (Leonard); A Day at the Races (Wood)
Sweethearts (Van Dyke); Young Doctor Kildare (Bucquet); Boys Town (Taurog); Mannequin (Borzage); Test Pilot (Fleming); Three Comrades (Borzage); The Crowd Roars (Thorpe); A Yank at Oxford (Conway); The Citadel (K. Vidor); Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Ross); Ninotchka (Lubitsch); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Thorpe); The Wizard of Oz (Fleming); Gone with the Wind (Fleming); The Women (Cukor)
Strike Up the Band (Berkeley); Pride and Prejudice (Leonard); Little Nellie Kelly (Taurog); The Broadway Melody of 1940 (Taurog); Northwest Passage (K. Vidor); Edison the Man (Brown); Boom Town (Conway); Waterloo Bridge (LeRoy); The Philadelphia Story (Cukor); Comrade X (K. Vidor); Strange Cargo (Borzage); I Love You Again (Van Dyke); Escape (LeRoy)
Billy the Kid (Miller); Two Faced Woman (Cukor); A Woman's Face (Cukor); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Fleming); Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy); Smilin' Through (Borzage); The Chocolate Soldier (Del Ruth); Babes on Broadway (Berkeley); Lady Be Good (McLeod); Ziegfeld Girl (Leonard)
Mrs. Miniver (Wyler); Woman of the Year (Stevens); Keeper of the Flame (Cukor); Her Cardboard Lover (Cukor); I Married an Angel (Van Dyke); Tarzan's New York Adventure (Thorpe); White Cargo (Thorpe); Johnny Eager (Le-Roy); Me and My Gal ( Pier 13 ) (Walsh); Random Harvest (LeRoy)
Above Suspicion (Thorpe); Madame Curie (LeRoy); Bataan (Garnett); Stand by for Action ( Cargo of Innocents ) (Leonard); A Guy Named Joe (Fleming); Lassie Come Home (Wilcox); The Heavenly Body (Hall); Cabin in the Sky (Minnelli); Girl Crazy ( When the Girls Meet the Boys ) (Taurog); Thousands Cheer (Sidney)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli); Broadway Rhythm (Del Ruth); Bathing Beauty (Sidney); The Seventh Cross (Zinnemann); Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (LeRoy); The White Cliffs of Dover (Brown); Mrs. Parkington (Garnett)
Anchors Aweigh (Sidney); The Valley of Decision (Garnett); Adventure (Fleming); The Clock ( Under the Clock ) (Minnelli); National Velvet (Brown); Son of Lassie (Simon); They Were Expendable (Ford); The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin)
The Yearling (Brown); The Harvey Girls (Sidney); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf); Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli); The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett); Lady in the Lake (Montgomery)
The Hucksters (Conway); Homecoming (LeRoy); Sea of Grass (Kazan); Cass Timberlane (Sidney); High Wall (Bernhardt); Good News (Walters); Song of Love (Brown); Merton of the Movies (Alton); Green Dolphin Street (Saville); Fiesta (Thorpe); The Unfinished Dance (Koster); Cynthia ( The Rich Full Life ) (Leonard)
Easter Parade (Walters); The Pirate (Minnelli); Words and Music (Taurog); Summer Holiday (Mamoulian); On an Island with You (Thorpe); Luxury Liner (Whorf); Command Decision (Wood); State of the Union (Capra); The Search (Zinnemann)
On the Town (Donen and Kelly); Take Me Out to the Ball Game ( Everybody's Changing ) (Berkeley); The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters); Intruder in the Dust (Brown); Adam's Rib (Cukor); Neptune's Daughter (Buzzell); That Midnight Kiss (Taurog); Any Number Can Play (LeRoy); Little Women (LeRoy)
Father of the Bride (Minnelli); Annie Get Your Gun (Sidney); Three Little Words (Thorpe); Summer Stock ( If You Feel Like Singing ); The Toast of New Orleans (Taurog); Two Weeks with Love (Rowland); Duchess of Idaho (Leonard); King Solomon's Mines (Bennett); To Please a Lady (Brown); The Miniver Story (Potter); A Life of Her Own (Cukor); Devil's Doorway (A. Mann); The Asphalt Jungle (Huston); Crisis (R. Brooks); Mystery Street (J. Sturges); Right Cross (J. Sturges); The Next Voice You Hear (Wellmann)
The Great Secret (Cabanne—serial)
Human Desire (North); Virtuous Wives ; In Old Kentucky (Neilan); Midnight Romance ; Mary Regan
Harriet and the Piper (Bracken); The Inferior Sex
The Child Thou Gavest Me ( Retribution ) (Stahl); Her Mad Bargain (Carewe); The Invisible Fear (Carewe); Playthings of Destiny (Carewe); Sowing the Wind (Carewe)
The Dangerous Age (Stahl); One Clear Call (Stahl); The Song of Life (Stahl); Her Kingdom of Desire (Neilan)
The Famous Mrs. Fair (Niblo); The Eternal Struggle ( The Man Thou Gavest Me ; The Master of Woman ) (Barker); Hearts Aflame (Barker); Pleasure Mad (Barker); Strangers of the Night (Niblo); The Wanters (Stahl)
Thy Name Is Woman (Niblo)
Ross, Lillian, Picture , New York, 1952.
Crowther, Bosley, Hollywood Rajah , New York, 1960.
Marx, Sam, Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-Believe Saints , London, 1975.
Eames, John Douglas, The MGM Story , New York, 1976.
Carey, Gary, All the Stars in Heaven , London, 1981.
Gabler, Neal, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood , New York, 1988.
Brownstein, Ronald, The Powder and the Glitter , New York, 1990.
Altman, Diana, Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer & the Origins of the Studio System , Carol Publishing, 1992.
Higham, Charles, Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M. & the Secret Hollywood , New York, 1994.
Tygiel, Jules, The Great Los Angeles Swindle: Oil, Stocks & Scandal During the Roaring Twenties , Collingdale, 1998.
Photoplay (New York), vol. 44, no. 3, August 1933.
Theater Arts , vol. 35, no. 9, September 1951.
Sight and Sound (London), vol. 22, no. 4, April/June 1953.
Obituary in Times (London), 30 October 1957.
Obituary in Motion Picture Herald , vol. 209, no. 5, 2 November 1957.
Time (New York), 4 April 1960.
Sight and Sound (London), vol. 45, no. 3, Summer 1976.
Giles, D., "The Ghost of Thalberg: MGM 1946–1951," in Velvet Light Trap (Austin), Spring 1978.
Berg, A. Scott, "Louis B. Mayer: MGM's Archetypal Studio Head at Home," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Film and TV Technician , no. 544, February 1991.
Thompson, David, "Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, MGM and the Secret Hollywood," in New Republic , 12 April 1993.
Rickman, Gregg, "Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1993.
Gordon, Alex, "J for Jewish: Motion Pictures with Jewish Connections," in Sight and Sound (London), March 1997.
Niderost, E., "The Ultimate Mogul: Louis B. Mayer," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1997.
Schulberg, Budd, "Lion of Hollywood—Louis B. Mayer," in Time , 7 December 1998.
* * *
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with its internationally famous symbol of a roaring "Leo the Lion," surely represented the most famous of the Hollywood studios of the 1930s and 1940s. The studio executive in charge of the 52 feature films and hundreds of short subjects that emerged annually from that filmmaking empire was Louis B. Mayer. During those glorious years MGM had a complete movie factory with 27 sound stages on a 168-acre Culver City, California lot. MGM's laboratories could process 150,000 feet of film each day, and its property rooms contained more than 15,000 items to be used in movie after movie. It fed the films produced directly to Loew's theaters, its parent company.
MGM's method of film production reflected Mayer's conservative business philosophy. During the Great Depression, the studio publicly projected an image as the Tiffany of studios: a high class, elegant operation. Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer headlined in a series of high-gloss, sophisticated melodramas, guaranteed to project positively with even the most jaded movie fan.
But Mayer covered all his bets, making a wide variety of feature films, many of which we would hardly classify as "high class." Consider that in MGM's best years, the early 1930s, the studio's star who most often was ranked highest in popularity polls was none other than 61-year-old, gruff Marie Dressler. Dressler played an older woman with a heart of gold in Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie , two hits of the period, and brought MGM far more money than Garbo or Shearer.
Indeed Mayer's MGM studio-factory employed a vast array of stars. In the 1930s, he set up a series of Tarzan jungle adventures with Johnny Weissmuller, slapstick comedies with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and the satire and burlesque of the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races . Year-in, year-out through the two decades of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy represented Mayer's most long-lived stars, two rugged males essaying roles which many took to define the ideal American male.
During the 1940s, Mayer went on to sponsor a certain glossy brand of Technicolor musical. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) with Judy Garland (and directed by her then husband Vincente Minnelli), Easter Parade with Garland and Fred Astaire, and the innovative On the Town , starring Gene Kelly and co-directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, offered widely engaging films, and attracted large audiences. But Technicolor musicals cost a great deal, and thus never did make much in the way of pure profit. In the 1940s Mayer contributed more to the Loew's bottom line with the low-budget B Dr. Kildare and Hardy family series. Our Gang comedy shorts also made millions for Loew's. In the 1940s the studio also developed the popular Tom and Jerry cartoon series.
Mayer prospered during the 1930s and into 1940s. Nonetheless, while larger than life to the moviegoing public on a daily basis and from a purely business perspective, he always knew he worked for a division of a larger multinational corporate enterprise, Loew's, Inc. Loew's management, led by Nicholas M. Schenck who was based in New York City, had hired Mayer as part of the 1924 merger that had created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Indeed, prior to the merger, Mayer had produced his own films, a corpus now long forgotten.
Schenck kept Mayer as MGM studio chief as long as Mayer did well. But with the arid days of the late 1940s and into the television era of the 1950s, MGM began a financial slide downhill. Mayer was blamed for the red ink, and as an employee, not top executive, was blamed for the debacle and summarily kicked out. Mayer thus did not end his career at MGM but working for a rival, helping Cinerama crack the widescreen movie market during the 1950s.