Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark Vieira - review by Frank McLynn

Frank McLynn

Man with the Golden Touch

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince


University of California Press 504pp £24.95

Irving Thalberg (1899–1936) was the most famous producer in the history of the movies. He was known as the ‘Boy Wonder’ for his dominance of the industry from the age of twenty-one, and was famously fictionalised by Scott Fitzgerald in The Last Tycoon. By any standards Thalberg was a phenomenon, though it must be acknowledged that he got his foot in the door initially through nepotism. The son of German-Jewish immigrants, he had powerful connections. After high school in Brooklyn, he was employed as personal secretary by Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Pictures, a man notorious for the number of his relations who worked at Universal; as Ogden Nash famously quipped: ‘Uncle Carl Laemmle has a very large faemmle.’ Hardworking, brilliant, a superb administrator, Thalberg was head of production at Universal’s Hollywood studios (actually in Culver City) by the age of twenty-one.

In 1924 he left Universal to become head of production at the newly formed MGM, whose creation was an interesting story in itself. In 1920 the exhibiting company Loew’s Inc bought Metro Pictures and then in 1924 merged with Sam Goldwyn’s production company (though Goldwyn himself at once

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