Louis B. Mayer


Enjoy the Oscars every year?

You can thank Louis B. Mayer, the Hollywood mogul who hatched the idea for the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But let's just say that Mayer's motives had more to do with the word "ulterior"
than "artistic".

In the middle 1920s, the unionization of Hollywood looked imminent, striking fear
into the executives who controlled the movie industry.

And no Hollywood figure was more powerful and ruthless than Mayer, who believed
that if you couldn't keep a union out, you could at least create a
management-friendly version and have some control over it.

The Academy is just one of Mayer's legacies. He ruled Hollywood for decades as
head of MGM. During the 1930s and '40s, the studio set the standard all others
tried to follow, influencing mass culture and world opinion. At one point, MGM
cranked out major feature films every week, employing thousands of artists and
technicians, making -- and breaking -- film stars upon Mayer's whims.

Today, 75 years after its founding, MGM's roaring lion is one of the most
recognizable logos in the world.

Born in Russia in 1885, Mayer immigrated with his parents to the United States.
After completing elementary school, he chose to work in his father's scrap-metal
business rather than continue his formal education.

Smart, tough and ambitious, Mayer bought a run-down movie theater in Boston in
1907. He fixed it up and turned it into an outlet for high quality films. Soon, he
would own the largest theater chain in New England. Ultimately, he moved to
Hollywood, merged his production company with others and formed the foundation
of MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). He rose to the top, the studio guided by his
philosophy of quantity and quality.

If he could have, Mayer probably would have liked to rewrite the final take of his
life. He died in 1957 from leukemia, ousted from MGM by a new generation of
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The creation of MGM was orchestrated by Marcus Loew (1870–1927), who began
building a chain of vaudeville and nickelodeon theaters in 1904 and 1905; by 1919,
when it became Loew's, Incorporated, it was the leading chain of first-class theaters
in the United States, concentrated in the New York area. Loew began to expand
beyond film exhibition with the 1920 purchase of Metro Pictures, a nationwide
distribution company with modest production facilities in Los Angeles. Two major
acquisitions in 1924 completed Loew's expansion into full-scale, vertically integrated
operation. The first was Goldwyn Pictures, an integrated company whose major
component was its sizable production plant in Culver City. Built in 1915 by studio
pioneer Thomas Ince (1882–1924) as the home of Triangle Pictures, the forty-acre
expanse featured glass-enclosed stages, a three-story office building, and a full
complement of labs, workshops, dressing rooms, storage facilities, and staff
bungalows. Cofounder Sam Goldwyn (1882–1974) had been forced out in an
earlier power struggle, so Loew was in need of top executives to manage the studio.
Thus the second acquisition involved Louis B. Mayer Productions, a small company
that focused on A-class pictures and was capably run by Mayer and his young
production supervisor, Irving Thalberg (then age twenty-five), who had already
supervised production at Universal.