Louis B. Mayer

Louis B. Mayer, born Eliezer Mayer, studio executive (born at Minsk, Russia ca 1885; died at Los Angeles, Ca 29 Oct 1957). Louis B. Mayer's working-class family immigrated to New York when he was a small child, and in 1890 moved to Saint John, NB, where his father became a junk dealer.

Louis B. Mayer, born Eliezer Mayer, studio executive (born at Minsk, Russia ca 1885; died at Los Angeles, Ca 29 Oct 1957). Louis B. Mayer's working-class family immigrated to New York when he was a small child, and in 1890 moved to Saint John, NB, where his father became a junk dealer. As a youth he helped with the family business, and in later years liked to recall the crude anti-Semitism he was subjected to while picking through Canadian garbage for useful scrap. In 1899 the now-profitable business modulated into ship salvage, and by 1904 Mayer was travelling through various American cities, selling scrap metal. Settling in Boston, he bought a small theatre in 1907 and began showing movies. Later he bought other theatres, and in 1915 he made an enormous profit after securing the regional distribution rights to D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation.


MGM
Logo of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios

By 1917 Louis B. Mayer had formed his own production company, and the following year he began operations in Los Angeles with his first film, Virtuous Wives. In 1924, Marcus Loew, who already owned Metro Pictures, bought a controlling interest in the Samuel Goldwyn company and Louis B. Mayer Pictures to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Mayer was appointed vice-president and general manager, a position he retained until 1951 when he was forced out in a power struggle with Dore Schary, his former production chief.

Under Louis B. Mayer's leadership, MGM became known as the "Tiffany studio" with "more stars than there are in the heavens." Typically MGM films were wholesome entertainment exalting female virtue, patriotism and family values. The studio specialized in lavish musicals, and Mayer, although uneducated and distrustful of intellectualism, had an unerring understanding of popular taste. He was known to be tyrannical, quick-tempered and paternal. He treated his staff and stars like one big family and insisted on being called Uncle Louie. He was also a founding member and driving force behind the creation in 1927 of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was responsible for the annual industry awards that became known as the Oscars. Louis B. Mayer spent the last years of his life in an unsuccessful bid to regain control of the studio he built.

The Oscars



Further Reading

  • Bosley Crowther, Hollywood Rajah (1960); Sam Marx, Mayer and Thalberg (1975).