Louis B. Mayer

Active - 1915 - 1997  |   Born - Jul 4, 1885   |   Died - Oct 29, 1957   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Comedy

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Former junkman Louis B. Mayer rose to become one of the most influential and powerful men in Hollywood during the '30s and '40s, when he was the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, once considered the grandest of Hollywood studios that claimed to have "more stars than there are in the heavens." He was born Eliezer Mayer in Minsk, Russia. The son of a laborer, he emigrated with his family to New York during his childhood. They then moved to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada where young Mayer helped out in his father's successful junk and scrap metal operation. As a young man, Mayer went to Boston and set up his own junk business. He too was successful and after marrying a kosher butcher's daughter in 1904, bought a ramshackle motion picture theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts for a song. After renovating it, he vowed only to show the best films. The gambit was successful and he continued buying theaters until he owned New England's largest theater chain. He then began working in film distribution during 1914 -- when The Birth of a Nation came out, he made a fortune. In 1917, after founding a production company -- first called Alco, and then Metro -- Mayer moved to L.A. with star Anita Stewart. Metro was purchased by studio helmer Marcus Loew in 1924. Loew also bought up controlling interests in the Goldwyn company and in Louis B. Mayer Pictures; the result was MGM, and Mayer was appointed vice-president. He remained there until he was forcibly ousted in 1951. It was Mayer who set the tone of the studio and he quickly became a grandfather figure to all. Though not universally beloved, Mayer was respected for his talent for understanding the public's wants. He was adept at picking personnel and stars; very conservative, he sought to impose his high moral standards upon the films MGM produced, thus many of the films were family oriented. To create his high-quality films, he hired only the best of the best. His first production chief was the brilliant Irving Thalberg. At his apex, Mayer was the highest paid person in the United States, making well over a million dollars a year. The conservative Mayer was also politically active and served as the California state chairman of the Republican party for many years. It was Mayer who formed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the source of the Oscars) in 1927. In 1951, his production chief since 1941, Dore Schary, successfully dethroned King Louis. Mayer then became acting advisor to the Cinerama corporation. The rest of his life was spent unsuccessfully trying to regain some kind of financial control over MGM.

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