Merchant of Dreams: Louis B Mayer, MGM and the Secret Hollywood by Charles Higham - review by Patrick O'Connor

Patrick O'Connor

Poor Boy makes Good in Boomtime USA

Merchant of Dreams: Louis B Mayer, MGM and the Secret Hollywood

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In the 1920s, established as one of the most powerful movie studio bosses, Louis B Mayer proved to be as difficult with his family as he was with his errant starlets. Charles Higham, in this richly gossipy book, describes the ‘highly fraught’ family dinners over which Mayer senior presided. He would go over and over the qualities he expected from prospective suitors for his daughters, Edith and Irene. The boys they dated should be ‘handsome, clean-cut, athletic, college educated, preferably in the movie business and (a touch of the improbable) would be virgins’. Above all he forbade them to have anything to do with the Selznick boys. Irene promptly set out to win David O Selznick.

Mayer must have been driven to despair by his employees, for whom he felt something of the same paternalistic ambition. The haughty Garbo, the scandalous Crawford and Harlow, the drunken Gilbert and foul-mouthed Gable – how they got any work done seems extraordinary. Perhaps the most troublesome of all was

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