Acclaimed Hollywood biographer Eyman (Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford, 1999, etc.) tackles his most ambitious subject: the mogul of moguls who ran MGM.
To Esther Williams he was God, to producer Michael Balcon “the unspeakable Mayer,” to Montgomery Clift a gangster on a throne. Yet the real reason it’s hard to take the measure of Louis B. Mayer (1885–1957) is not that people held such dramatically different opinions of him, but that so many people were in a position to have opinions at all. The job Mayer held for most of his working life as head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (his name was added a year after the studio was formed in 1924) brought him into contact with everyone who was anyone in Hollywood. The story of his workaholic life is the story of MGM’s most successful, indeed only successful, quarter-century, and of the talented specialists who worked for him: production chief Irving Thalberg, designer Cedric Gibbons, producer Arthur Freed. Most are long gone, but Eyman has talked to over a hundred who aren’t and supplemented their memories with exhaustive archival research. The result is less a year-by-year chronicle of the legendary mogul’s life than a biography of Hollywood’s grandest studio during its grandest era. Though Eyman is scrupulously fair in documenting Mayer’s “pit-bull aggressiveness mixed with a placating neediness,” he defends Mayer against the charges of vulgarity and philistinism, pointing out that MGM’s most characteristic films (Grand Hotel, The Wizard of Oz, The Human Comedy, An American in Paris) have dated more obviously than their counterparts at Paramount and Warner Bros. because they spoke more precisely to the audience of their time.
Eyman marshals thousands of facts, and dozens of opinions, with brio, wit and authority to create a monument worthy of the greatest studio head of them all. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)