I’ve just read, for the second time, Scott Eyman‘s brilliant biography of Louis B. Mayer, ‘LION OF HOLLYWOOD, The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer’ (who gave his name to the legendary ‘METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER’ movie studio). It is a must-read for anyone who, well, loves ‘the movies’ beyond specific movies – if you love ‘the movies’ culturally, perhaps specific genres, e.g. musicals, certainly if the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood, Pickford/Fairbanks, through Garbo, the transition from silent movies to ‘talkies’, the casualties, John Gilbert et al, through the classic years, e.g. 1939 and ‘Gone with the Wind’, to Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable, if, like me, it captivates you, you will love this book.
BUT this is not just a biography for lovers of ‘the movies’ and Hollywood – this is the biography of a man who, cutting to the chase, was born into poverty in Russia, moved, as a kid, with his family, to United States, was brought up in Canada and moved back to the US, as a scrap metal collector/dealer, at the age of 19. This man was hungry – literally – ambitious, focused and determined to escape poverty, to be someone and that he did, BIG TIME (I guess that is a pun though unintended). If you enjoy reading about the human spirit, entrepreneurship, business titans, achievers and winners, regardless of their field of endeavour, you’ll enjoy this biography.
LB’s journey, his trials and tribulations, his successes, his failures and his ability to keep bouncing back, if it had been the story in one of his movies, the cinema-going public would surely have said that it was just too far-fetched, too ridiculous, too unbelievable and laughable – but it was anything but fiction! If it hadn’t been for Louis B. Mayer, and yes, the other Hollywood moguls, the world would be a very different place today!
I’m certainly not saying that Mayer was a saint – far from it – Eyman has authored a warts ‘n all biography of a man who, whilst, yes, a genius in various respects, had numerous character flaws, personality traits, which rendered him, in the eyes of many in social, business and family circles, an ogre, a tyrant, a dreadful human being. Mayer was capable of colossal acts of generosity and kindness but he was also prone to childlike tantrums, vile outbursts and acts of vengeance. He was a complex character, to say the very least! I don’t know if my overall opinion of the man, having read this biography, is, relative to his mercurial episodes, incongruous or if the author feels the same way and led me to my conclusion, or if, perhaps, I’ve been overly blinded to his undoubted faults by his genius, I really don’t know, but, on balance, I’m left admiring him, celebrating with him when he’s up and sympathising with him when he’s down. I don’t want to give too much away, no ‘spoilers’, but in his dotage, my heart goes out to him.
This biography is clearly the result of meticulous research and could not have come about if the author had simply been doing his job. Scott Eyman, there can be no doubt, loves ‘the movies’, loves the ‘golden age of Hollywood’ and the imagery, the visuals he conjures up with his vocabulary, language and phraseology, his style of writing, makes the reading of this biography as magical an experience as watching some of the movies gifted to us by LB whilst he was at the helm of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer:
‘(Cedric) Gibbons (‘the most powerful arbiter of style at the studio’) arrived every day in his Duesenberg, wearing a gray homburg and gloves…’
– isn’t that a wonderful imagine, just how one, certainly I, imagine Hollywood’s ‘beautiful people’ arriving at MGM every day.
And to come into this:
‘Stars were the coin of Mayer’s realm, and nothing was too good for them. “It was wonderful,” remembered the singer Frances Langford, who was under contract to the studio in the middle 1930s. “They did things for you. Your dressing room was customised for you. There were fresh flowers, changed every day. And when Mayer would come on the set, it was lovely, like the family being visited by the father. RKO and Paramount were nice, but they weren’t that way. They were Metro”‘
The roll call of the other, now and, for that matter, back then, mythical figures referred to in this biography include, of course, ‘the boy wonder’, Irving Thalberg, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo (as aforementioned), King Vidor, Nick and Joe Schenck, Charlie Chaplin, George Cukor, Edith Head, Bob Hope, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Gene Kelly, Fred Quimby, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, Billy Wilder, Hedda Hopper, Howard Keel, John Huston…the list goes on and on and on….
You have probably gleaned from this blog that I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this biography of Louis B. Mayer and I heartily recommend it!
Scott has whetted my appetite…. next up, possibly his book, ‘THE SPEED OF SOUND, HOLLYWOOD AND THE TALKIE REVOLUTION 1926-1930′ or a biography of John Gilbert or Ramon Navarro. Irene Mayer Selznick (one of LB’s daughter’s, who married and divorced David O. Selznick), her autobiography, ‘A Private View’, also looks fascinating.
If you take my advice and decide to read Scott Eyman’s Louis B. Mayer biography, I hope and trust that you’ll enjoy it.