Louis B. Mayer

Louis B. Mayer Photo

Louis B. Mayer was a film producer and executive also known as the ‘lion of Hollywood’. He was the ‘star system’ of the Metro-Golden-Mayer. He was also among the founders of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Mayer was born on 12th July 1884 in Minsk (present-day Belarus), Russian Empire. He moved to Rhode Island with his family in 1887 and lived there till 1892. After that they went to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada where Mayer also attended school which he did not like. So he left school to help his father in his scrap metal business. At 19 he moved to Boston in order to expand the family business but it wasn’t long before he grew weary of it and decided to do something else. Lucky for him a friend of his told him about a burlesque theatre which was for sale. The theatre did not have a very good reputation however Mayer made the smart move of opening it with a religious film. The budding business mogul started enjoying this business and started acquiring many old theatres to renovate them and restore their repute. He became partners with Nathan Gordon to take over a huge theatre chain in New England.

Mayer started distributing films in 1914. He got exclusive rights to the film ‘The Birth of a Nation’ using the money he got from selling his wife’s wedding ring. He had wanted to start a distribution agency in Boston but with the booming film industry of Hollywood, Mayer couldn’t stay away for long. Thus he moved to Los Angeles in 1918 where he formed ‘Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation’. Mayer soon became known for his flair of spotting talent and finding glamorous leads even from the back lots. Some of his momentous talent discoveries include Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn.

Marcus Loew had merged his company with Samuel Goldwyn’s studio but did not have a head executive and so Metro-Goldwyn turned to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and MGM Studios came into existence. Mayer became the head of the studio operations and vice president of Loews where he reported to Nicholas Schenck, Loew’s right hand man. During the next three decades Mayer became one of the leading names in the industry. His biggest hits included films like Ben-Hur (1925), Grand Hotel (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933) and The Good Earth (1937). MGM Studio was the maker of stars. It produced more movies and movie stars than any other studio. Mayer was the highest paid person in the country for almost ten years. The glory days of Hollywood studio era had faded by 1948 and MGM had not gotten an Oscar in a long time. Mayer had lost many of his connections and people thought he had lost his spark. In 1951 he left the company after 27 years after a dispute with Schenck. Six years later Mayer died due to leukemia. He was no doubt a true Hollywood mogul who had a huge influence in the rise of the film industry.