THALBERG by Roland Flamini


The Last Tycoon and the World of M-G-M
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 Second full-fledged life of Irving G. Thalberg (the first being Bob Thomas's Thalberg, 1969), the Hollywood boy- wonder/producer (1899-1936) upon whom F. Scott Fitzgerald drew for his hero Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon. Flamini (Sovereign, 1991, etc.) has a winner in his magnetic subject--the unfailingly interesting genius and cofounder of M-G-M- -whom he separates neatly from the image created by Fitzgerald. Longtime Hollywood readers won't find a ton of new stuff here: Thalberg's life has been picked over by biographers of his wife Norma Shearer and by other historians of the M-G-M factory, not to mention folks in the Fitzgerald industry. But Flamini has found wonderful script conferences in which we see Thalberg plain and in action as he guides some 50 movies a year through production: We watch the producer walk up and down his office, flipping a $25 gold piece as he revises and invents before a generally silent team of co-workers. Though Flamini fails to credit Thomas's Thalberg as a source, as if his own were the first life of Thalberg--and though he at one point mistakes Blanche Sweet for Olga Baclanova in Tod Browning's Freaks--he writes well, avoiding clichÇs and half-baked conjecture, and keeps the reader alert through the sheer intelligence of his approach. Thalberg, we learn, was born with a congenital heart defect and was slated for early death. Bedridden for three years as a youth, he read widely, both novels and philosophy, later took business courses, came into film business in his teens, was studio manager of Universal City at age 20, then production chief at M-G-M, with a special affinity for the creative staff. Movies became his religion, while the glorification of his wife in stuffy ``quality'' productions set up his worst misfires. An essential glimpse into the hot center of early filmmaking. (B&w photographs)

Pub Date: March 7th, 1994
ISBN: 0-517-58640-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993


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