Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince

Synopsis

Hollywood in the 1920s sparkled with talent, confidence, and opportunity. Enter Irving Thalberg of Brooklyn, who survived childhood illness to run Universal Pictures at twenty; co-found Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at twenty-four; and make stars of Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow. Known as Hollywood's "Boy Wonder," Thalberg created classics such as Ben-Hur, Tarzan the Ape Man, Grand Hotel, Freaks, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Good Earth, but died tragically at thirty-seven. His place in the pantheon should have been assured, yet his films were not reissued for thirty years, spurring critics to question his legend and diminish his achievements. In this definitive biography, illustrated with rare photographs, Mark A. Vieira sets the record straight, using unpublished production files, financial records, and correspondence to confirm the genius of Thalberg's methods. In addition, this is the first Thalberg biography to utilize both his recorded conversations and the unpublished memoirs of his wife, Norma Shearer. Irving Thalberg is a compelling narrative of power and idealism, revealing for the first time the human being behind the legend.

Excerpt

The awards ceremony of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences takes place once a year. One award, however, is not presented yearly. The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is presented only when the Academy’s Board of Directors wishes to honor a special producer, one whose work reflects “a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” Past recipients of this prestigious award include Walt Disney, Jack L. Warner, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Warren Beatty. The Thalberg award was first presented on March 10, 1938, to Darryl F. Zanuck, so current viewers of the awards may ask about its namesake. If Irving Thalberg could be magically conjured up on Oscar night, those viewers would be surprised at his attractiveness, his modesty, and his wisdom. More than seventy years after his premature death, the “Boy Wonder” continues to influence the industry to which he gave his life, yet his name is not a household word like Disney or Warner.

Viewers of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) know that David O. Selznick produced Gone with the Wind and that Cecil B. DeMille produced The Sign of the Cross; their names are in the credits. Look at the credits of Ben-Hur, The Big Parade, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, and hundreds of other Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films made between 1924 and 1936. These films survive—a vibrant component of American culture, respected, beloved, and enjoyed. Irving Thalberg supervised all of them and personally produced scores of them, but unless you know Hollywood history, you might think they were made by Leo the Lion. Thalberg . . .

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