HOLLYWOOD EAST by Diana Altman

HOLLYWOOD EAST

Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Business history of the moviemaker from Minsk who helped found MGM, became feared and powerful, treated his stable of stars like a tearful father, and was a renowned vulgarian whose mangled bons mots were the lifeblood of movie colony gossip. Film historian Altman is the daughter of the late Al Altman, MGM's New York talent scout from the time MGM was founded in 1924 until the early 60's. The energetic and devoted Mayer started early in the amusement business. In 1907, at age 22, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a small city north of Boston, he borrowed $600 and opened the town's second movie theater, formerly known as the ``Garlic Box'' and renamed by him as the ``Gem.'' ``Louey said he regretted quitting school when he was twelve. He should have quit when he was ten. That way, everyone would not have had a head start on him,'' Altman tells us. Business gave Mayer stature. Then he had an even grander idea and cofounded a distributorship that delivered films to theaters, by rail in fireproof tins from New York, and got rental contracts from exhibitors for specific dates, then advertised the films to theater owners and the public. Mayer began making films in Brooklyn and, in 1923, made boy genius Irving Thalberg his production head. While the public still thought of Hollywood as the center of power for filmmaking, all money decisions were made in the studios' New York home offices. Joining his Mayer Company to the already established Metro and Goldwyn companies, Mayer became an employee of MGM, answerable to board chairman Nicholas Schenck, who in 1954 fired him. As MGM builds, then loses, its empire, Altman tells amusing stories about Metro stars, her father's screen tests of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, and of Mayer's great crying act when arguing with angry studio folk. Business and personalities well mixed--a much lighter read than Neal Gabler's An Empire of Their Own (1988). (Photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 1-55972-140-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Birch Lane Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1992