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Irving G. Thalberg DIRECTOR

Irving Grant Thalberg was born May 30, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York to German Jewish immigrant parents. He had a congenital heart defect, and was not expected to live past thirty. During his youth he also suffered from other ailments like rheumatic fever and diphtheria, so he required much rest. Still, the young Thalberg was a bright child, and he managed to graduate high school. Upon graduation, he found a job at a New York office of Universal Studios as the founder, Carl Laemmle’s, secretary. By twenty one years old Thalberg had escalated to production executive at the studio’s Hollywood production site.
While there he sought to create the best productions, introducing methods that would become standard for the industry. However, he also quickly developed tension with well known director and actor Erich von Stroheim on the film “Foolish Wives” (1922). When Stroheim continued to go over budget with the picture “Merry-Go-Round” (1923), Thalberg finally fired him and instead took full control over all aspects of production, beginning with Universal’s most profitable feature up until that point, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923). Although the producer found the studio much success, Laemmle refused to increase his pay. Thus, in 1923, Thalberg left for another studio.
He joined Louis B. Mayer’s small company in 1923, which was absorbed by Loews, Inc. and turned into Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer in 1924. The producer was put second in charge to Mayer, who would focus on the business side while Thalberg took charge of making the pictures. For the next twelve years, they made more than four hundred films and established MGM as the most successful studio in Hollywood.
While here Thalberg again found conflict with Erich von Stroheim, cutting his “Greed” (1925) from seven hours to two and taking over on “The Merry Widow” (1925). In the same year, he released King Vidor’s World War I epic “The Big Parade” (1925), the silent era’s most lucrative film. “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” (1925), while not the most profitable, showed the producer’s exhausting work approach. He was known to work tirelessly until a project was completed, and from 1924 to 1932 every single output by MGM was overseen by Thalberg.
He perfected the techniques he devised while at Universal, making sure all of the studio’s features were to his high standards. His approach seemed to be successful, for many of MGM’s films, called “prestigious films”, were thought of as art. Thanks to Thalberg, pictures such as “The Broadway Melody” (1929), “The Divorcee” (1930), “Grand Hotel” (1932), and “Red Dust” (1932) found the company reaping great profits.
While working at the studio he was also known for his innovative use of actors. Due to the Great Depression, the economy was failing and the public was not spending as much on entertainment. Thalberg came up with the idea of using more than one star in a film, as was Hollywood tradition, and found the plan to be a success. He additionally brought more actors to fame, including Lon Chaney, Helen Hayes, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, John Barrymore, and more. One of these rising stars, Norma Shearer, he married in 1927. During the thirties he turned her into one of MGM’s biggest celebrities. They remained wed until Thalberg’s death, and had two children, Irving, Jr. and Katherine.
As Thalberg’s popularity was growing (he was even one of the thirty six founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), so was Mayer’s jealousy of him. When the producer suffered from a heart attack in 1932 and took several months in Europe, Mayer eliminated his position. Consequently, when Thalberg returned in 1933 he served as but a “unit producer”. However, despite his lowered position in the studio and worsening health, he still managed to produce a great deal of classic films like “A Night at the Opera” (1935), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), “Romeo and Juliet” (1936), “San Francisco” (1936), “Camille” (1936), and “The Good Earth” (1937). The latter feature was the only to credit Thalberg as producer, as he was a modest person and often said “credit you give yourself is not worth having”. 

While in the middle of production of two films, “A Day at the Races” (1937) and “Marie Antoinette” (1938), Thalberg and his wife were on a Labor Day weekend vacation in Monterey, California. He came down with a cold and returned home a few days later. Unfortunately, lack of rest made his cold worse until it turned into pneumonia. He died of the disease shortly after, with family in his Santa Monica home on September 14, 1936. After his death, the Irving G Thalberg Award was instituted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize noteworthy achievements by industry producers.


1938   Marie Antoinette

1937   Broadway Melody of 1938

1937   A Day at the Races

1937   Maytime

1937   The Good Earth

1936   Camille

1936   Romeo and Juliet

1936   Riffraff

1935   A Night at the Opera

1935   Mutiny on the Bounty

1935   China Seas

1935   No More Ladies

1935   La veuve joyeuse

1935   Biography of a Bachelor Girl
1934   What Every Woman Knows
1934   The Merry Widow
1934   Outcast Lady
1934   The Barretts of Wimpole Street
1934   Riptide
1933   Eskimo 
1933   Tugboat Annie

1932   Strange Interlude

1932   Rasputin and the Empress
1932   Red Dust

1932   Smilin' Through

1932   Red-Headed Woman
1932   As You Desire Me

1932   Letty Lynton
1932   Grand Hotel

1932   Tarzan the Ape Man
1932   Freaks
1931   Mata Hari

1931   Private Lives

1931   Possessed

1931   The Champ
1931   The Guardsman

1931   The Sin of Madelon Claudet
1931   Menschen hinter Gittern
1931   Just a Gigolo
1931   A Free Soul

1931   The Secret Six

1931   Trader Horn

1931   Inspiration
1930   A Lady's Morals

1930   Way for a Sailor
1930   Billy the Kid

1930   Let Us Be Gay
1930   The Unholy Three
1930   The Big House
1930   The Rogue Song

1930   The Divorcee

1930   Redemption

1930   Anna Christie

1929   The Kiss

1929   Queen Kelly

1929   His Glorious Night
1929   Hallelujah!
1929   The Last of Mrs. Cheyney

1929   The Hollywood Revue of 1929
1929   Where East Is East

1929   Voice of the City

1929   The Trial of Mary Dugan

1929   The Broadway Melody
1928   West of Zanzibar

1928   Show People

1928   White Shadows in the South Seas

1928   The Adventurer
1928   Laugh, Clown, Laugh
1928   The Crowd
1927   London After Midnight
1927   The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
1927   Twelve Miles Out
1926   Valencia

1926   The Temptress
1926   The Road to Mandalay

1926   Brown of Harvard
1926   La bohème
1926   Torrent
1926   Flesh and the Devil
1925   Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
1925   The Big Paraden
1925   The Tower of Lies
1925   The Merry Widow
1925   The Unholy Three
1924   Greed
1924   He Who Gets Slapped
1924   His Hour
1923   The Hunchback of Notre Dame
1923   Merry-Go-Round
1922   Foolish Wives
1922   The Trap
1922   The Dangerous Little Demon
1921   Reputation   

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