Irving Thalberg

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Irving Thalberg (1899) moved from New York to Hollywood to work as an assistant producer for Carl Laemmle (he was the brain behind The Hunchback of Notre Dame of 1923 and the choice of Lon Chaney for the hunchback), and then joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer when it was formed. He was only 24, but he became the tyrant who ran the operations, supervising up to 50 movies per year. He famously forced Stroheim to shorten his films. He turned the producer into the real owner of the film, and largely invented the "star system". His operations made money throughout the Great Depression. He took chances on countless movies: Fred Niblo's Ben-Hur (1925), for which he recreated a realistic Roman set in Los Angeles, Victor Sjostrom's expressionist drama He Who Gets Slapped (1924), starring again Lon Chaney and launching the careers of Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, King Vidor's Hallelujah (1929), with an all-black cast, George Fitzmaurice's Mata Hari (1931), a talkie with silent-cinema star Greta Garbo, Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel (1932), with a multi-star cast (including Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford), Frank Lloyd's Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), which was partly filmed in French Polynesia, Robert Leonard's musical The Great Ziegfeld (1936), and The Good Earth (1937), with western actors playing Chinese peasants.

Thalberg always refused to be credited as the producer: none of the films that he conceived, engineered and shaped contains his name. He was considered a genius and mythologized, and he died in 1936 at the young age of 37. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Last Tycoon" is a fictionalized biography of Thalberg.

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