Louis Burt Mayer was an early film producer who co-founded the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Mayer believed in wholesome entertainment and was known for his efforts to involve big Hollywood stars in his productions. Mayer eventually lost his position at MGM because of his conservative views and because of his misplaced confidence in the company’s loyalty to him.
1. The Orpheum
The Orpheum was Mayer’s first movie theater. This refurbished theater would become the first of five theaters that Mayer would own in the city of Haverhill, where he lived. From that point, he collaborated with Nathan H. Gordon and created the Gordon-Mayer partnership. This partnership would eventually control the largest theater chain in New England.
2. Success in Film Distribution
The partnership then decided that they would organize a film distribution agency in America. That decision turned out to be a profitable business investment. Following their success in film distribution, the next steps up the business ladder would involve creating a talent booking agency and then forming a production company.
In 1924, Metro Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn’s Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Mayer Pictures combine to form one company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Mayer would be the “Vice-President in Charge of Production” for the next 27 years. In effect, he controlled the company during that time.
4. Success Through
Mayer’s motion picture studio was the most financially successful studio in the world in the 1930’s. They were so successful that the studio continued to pay dividends on their stock even through the Great Depression.
5. Securing Hollywood’s Hottest Stars
Another part of what made Mayer so successful was his ability to secure the hottest Hollywood actors to perform in his films. Movie stars like Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and many others worked with Mayer.
6. Father Figure
Mayer was not shy about voicing his opinions about who should and should not be in his movies and what content was and was not appropriate. The actresses that he worked with often saw him as a father figure as he was sure to be the gentleman who ensured that no one would be asked to perform in a way that he felt was unsuitable.
7. No Contracts Required
By the late 40’s America’s taste for entertainment was changing. The television was introduced and, because of a lawsuit and Supreme Court decision, film studios and movie theatres were no longer required to enter into contracts to exclusively show certain films.
8. “Message Pictures” vs. “Wholesome Pictures”
The film studio had gone three years without receiving any awards and that upset the men in the boardroom. A new production V.P. was hired and a boardroom disagreement between Mayer and the new executive cost Mayer his job. From that point on MGM would focus more on “message pictures” instead of “wholesome” ones.
9. Life After MGM
Following his dismissal from MGM, Mayer served as the Vice Chairman of the California Republican Party from 1931 to 1932 and as its state chairman between 1932 and 1933. Mayer also owned or bred a number of successful thoroughbred race horses. It was said that his racing stables were among the finest in the country. Thoroughbred of California magazine named him “California Breeder of the Century” in 1976.
Mayer was involved in a number of controversial and very public events that took place during the last years of his life. The first event was related to the death of Ted Healy and the second had to do with the arrest and dismissal of William Haines.