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Karie's Blog
Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Mar. 5, 2008 | 6:18 PM

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Louis B. Mayer: Lion of Hollywood

On Feb. 28th, I came down with a horrible cold and have now spent days on end in bed.  The good part is that I’ve finally had time to catch up on some reading.  In this case, I read Lion of Hollywood.  I have long been curious to read a really good book about Mayer.  The problem that I often encounter with film related biographies is that they either canonize or demonize their subjects, offering only one side of what is always a very deep, multi-layered complicated person’s life.  Many of these books also tend to be very poorly researched, which I find annoying.  To me, the same standard of research, accuracy and integrity should be applied to a star bio that say gets applied to a bio of someone like Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill for example.  Often though, that is not the case.  Many star bios I’ve read tend to be conjecture, gossip, lies and often wildly unsubstantiated claims.  Fortunately this biography of Louis B. Mayer is a great one that is incredibly well researched and a compelling read.  Being that I love film history, I’ve often read many rumors and stories about Louis B. Mayer in various other biographies.  Lion of Hollywood goes to great lengths to present an accurate and balanced portrait of the man. 

The book chronicles Mayer’s impoverished childhood and his humble beginnings as a junk dealer.  He began at the very ground floor of the film business at a time when it was all just developing and being formed as an industry.  He was a great showman with an eye for talent and a relentless drive for success.  As the head of M-G-M, he put quality first and often did so at great expense.  That is certainly not done as often today.  The book goes beyond his career achievements and into the complexities of his mind, personality and background.  One of the M-G-M stars once referred to Mayer as “the best actor on the lot” and they weren’t kidding.  In spite of his reputation as a ruthless titan, Mayer could produce tears and even sobs on a moment’s notice in order to persuade an actor to take a role or to leverage a deal.  He had a flair for melodrama that would put almost any performer to shame.  Mayer valued the idea of America and good clean family films.  It becomes clear that Irving Thalberg was the true artistic force behind the studio in the early years and was far more interested in taking risks.  The book also chronicles Mayer’s difficult and often fractured relationships with his wives, daughters and co-workers.  The book also provides interesting perspectives on what various actors thought of him.  There are some who loved him dearly and others who swore that he was the devil incarnate. 

I wondered upon starting the book how I would feel about Louis B. Mayer after I had finished reading it.  Having finished, I can only say that I have mixed feelings.  I do however agree with a quote in the book from filmmaker Richard Brooks, “So, MGM gave me opportunity after opportunity for seven and a half years there I paid my dues and I learned my craft.  And I learned it from some great people.  The Mayers and the Warners and the Cohns—the did some terrible things, but they loved movies.  I can’t say that about many film executives nowadays.  They don’t even like movies.”

I think his sentiment says it all.  If you are looking for a great Hollywood bio, I highly recommend Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer.  It is well written, brilliantly researched and a fantastic read.

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