Being in the right place at the right time put many of Hollywood’s pioneers on the road to success, including MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, who died Oct. 29, 1957, at age 73.
In 1923, Mayer was a struggling producer trying to survive as major studios solidified control of the movie business. Mayer’s tiny company was based at the Selig Zoo on Mission Road near downtown L.A., where pioneer William Selig kept wild animals for jungle movies. Mayer’s production chief was the very young Irving Thalberg, who’d headed production at Universal until falling out with founder Carl Laemmle over not wanting to marry the boss’s daughter.
Mayer’s movies were being released through Metro Pictures, the large but struggling Hollywood studio owned by New York theatre tycoon Marcus Lowe. To get the steady stream of pictures he needed, Lowe directed his attorney, J. Robert Rubin, to acquire the financially troubled Goldwyn Company, which owned a 35-acre studio in Culver City. Although Goldwyn shared producer Samuel Goldwyn’s name, he no longer headed it after endless disputes with his partners.
When Mayer heard about the intended acquisition he realized that while Lowe had money to compete and would soon own a prime studio facility, he’d have no one able to make all the movies he needed. During months of negotiations between Lowe and Goldwyn, Mayer grew his own studio, stockpiling ideas for future pictures and hiring high-profile British writer Elinor Glyn to create original movie material.
After buying Goldwyn, Lowe visited L.A. to see his new studio. Mayer knew Rubin and got him to bring Lowe to Mission Road to meet Mayer & Thalberg, enabling Mayer to plant a seed about his ability to generate all the movies Lowe needed. When Lowe returned to New York, he found he’d also acquired two wildly overbudget Goldwyn pictures — the epic BEN HUR, shooting in Italy; and auteur Erich von Stroheim’s drama GREED, which ran over seven hours.
Lowe had Mayer come to meet in New York. He bought Mayer’s company and put Mayer, Thalberg & Rubin in charge of his new studio. They’d get 20% of the profits to share (with 10% going to Mayer) as long as they produced at least 15 films in the next two years — which they actually did in less than half a year! The deal creating Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was signed on April 10, 1924. On Saturday, April 26, the studio officially opened with Mayer proudly presiding over a day of festivities.
“Well, do anything, if you do something right, we’ll use it, and if you do something wrong, we’ll fix it, but do something and do it now.” – Louis B. Mayer