Motion Picture Producer, Executive. Even though he had a short life, Thalberg made sure he would have a productive and full life. As an infant, his mother was informed by doctors that because of a congenital heart defect, he probably would never make it many years past thirty. He was a sickly child and needed a lot of bed rest, but he was a very bright student and an avid reader. Many people attribute his voracious reading habits to his mastery of story structure and thus his great success as a motion picture producer in later life. After graduating high school, a family friend of the Thalbergs, Rachel Laemmle, introduced the young man to her husband Carl, who at the time was the head of Universal Studios. It just so happened that her husband needed a new secretary, and for $25 a week Irving accepted the job and excelled at it. His hard work paid off, and he was promoted to a studio executive and given a big raise. Mere months later, he had been promoted again, this time to general manager of the studio. That was not to be his final position at Universal, as he was promoted yet again and appointed the head of production. Though still only in his early twenties at the time, many people throughout Hollywood had heard Thalberg's name and about the brilliant things he was doing for Universal Studios. One such person was Louis B. Mayer, the head of the newly-formed studio of MGM. In 1924, he was offered the position of vice president at MGM, putting him second only to Mayer in the studio's chain of command. It wasn't long before MGM was the most powerful and productive studio in the United States. Everybody, even Mayer himself, was scared of Thalberg, not because he wasn't by all accounts a really nice and gentle person, but rather because of how much power he had. He insisted on strict deadlines, testing material before live audiences, solid plots, post-production previews, pre-production guidelines, and a committed work ethic among his actors. Every single movie made at MGM between 1924 and 1932 was made under his guidance, among them Flesh and the Devil (1926), Red Dust (1932), The Big Parade (1925), and The Broadway Melody of 1929. In 1927 he married Norma Shearer, who was a very popular leading lady at MGM and whom he hoped to turn into the studio's biggest star. They were to become one of Hollywood's power couples, and had two children, Irving, Jr. and Katherine. He was also one of the thirty-six founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, as Thalberg's influence and prestige grew, Mayer began to be resentful of him and no longer felt as affectionate towards him as he had before. In response to this trying situation, Thalberg went to Nicholas Schenck, who was the president of Loew's, Inc. (MGM's parent company), and told him that Mayer had been neglecting his duties and making him do all of the work, when they were supposed to have been taking equal responsibility for it. The situation didn't improve much when Schenck gave Thalberg more shares of MGM stock than he gave to Mayer, and on Christmas 1932, Thalberg suffered a heart attack. While he and Norma were away in Europe, hoping this break from work might improve his health, Mayer brought his son-in-law David O. Selznick to the studio as an independent producer and sent Thalberg a telegram informing him that his position, Head of Production, no longer existed. When he returned to MGM in August of 1933, he found himself as just another producer in the vast studio. However, in spite of his lessened position and frail health, he still managed to produce a number of classic films, such as The Good Earth (1937), A Night at the Opera (1935), and Camille (1936). One of the last films he produced, The Good Earth was his first and only film to feature his name on the credits, and even that was posthumous. Being a very modest person, Thalberg had never wanted to take credit for his productions, often saying that, "Credit you give yourself is not worth having." On Labor Day weekend in 1936, Thalberg caught a cold, which swiftly turned into pneumonia and then a coma. MGM suspended all of its productions for several days after he died at the age of thirty-seven and all of Hollywood shut down for five minutes of silence on the day of his funeral. His weak heart had finally permanently given out.
Bio by: Carrie-Anne
1902–1983 (m. 1927)