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Louis B. Mayer was a film mogul and the most influential person in Hollywood from the mid-1920s to the late-1940s.
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In 1924, MGM was formed by a merger of Louis B. Mayer’s Metro Pictures Company with the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. Under Mayer's influence, MGM productions were characterized by elaborate sets, gorgeous costuming and pretty girls. Such pictures as Ben-Hur, Grand Hotel and The Good Earth gained MGM the reputation for entertaining films of consistently high quality.
Film producer and executive Louis Burt Mayer was born to an Eastern European Jewish family in Minsk, Russia. Though he was reportedly born on July 12, 1884, Mayer would claim throughout his life that he was born on the Fourth of July; he was similarly unclear about the exact location of his birth. The future mogul was the middle child of five siblings, with two sisters and two brothers, all of whom grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
At the age of 12, Mayer quit school to help his father run the family scrap metal business. When he was 19, he moved to Boston, expanding the father-son scrap enterprise into the United States. Soon after he arrived, Mayer met and married a butcher's daughter, Margaret Shenberg. The couple had two daughters, Edith Mayer (1905-1987) and Irene Mayer (1907-1990), who would both go on to marry movie executives.
It wasn't long before Mayer grew tired of the family business and began to look for a less gritty line of work. Luckily, a friend in the know tipped him off to a burlesque theater for sale in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a joint known derisively as the "Garlic Box." It was a rundown theater with a bad reputation, but the enterprising young Mayer smartly chose to premiere a religious film at the establishment's opening, immediately currying favor with community skeptics.
The budding businessman soon got a taste for success and began to acquire more and more old theaters in the area, rebuilding their reputations and facades in equal measure. After taking over all five of Haverhill's theaters, he partnered with Nathan Gordon to gain control of a large theater chain in New England.
In 1914, Mayer made his first foray into film distribution when he bought exclusive rights to the landmark picture The Birth of a Nation with the money he earned pawning his wife's wedding ring. He would also start a distribution agency in Boston and a talent-booking agency in New York. However, the siren song of Hollywood couldn't be ignored for long; in 1918, Mayer moved to Los Angeles to form Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation.
By then the producer had gained a reputation for his hunger, audacity and ability to spot talent. Far from a hands-off studio honcho, Mayer cultivated a specialty for acquiring talent and roaming the back lots looking for his next glamorous lead. Some of Mayer's landmark discoveries included Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Fred Astaire.
The producer's watershed moment would come when Marcus Loew came knocking on his door.
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