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Louis B. Mayer

(1885—1957) Russian-born American film executive

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Russian-born US film executive who became one of Hollywood's most powerful film magnates.

Born in Minsk, Mayer emigrated as a child with his family to Canada, where he began his working life as a scrap-metal dealer. His entry into the motion picture business came in 1907, when he acquired the first of a chain of picture houses in New England. He later became a distributor, securing the highly profitable New England distribution rights for D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915). Production interests soon followed and by 1924 the amalgamation of the Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer companies, to form MGM, had been completed. ‘Paternalistic’, ‘despotic’, ‘sentimental’, are some of the conflicting adjectives that have been used to describe Mayer, who became the highest paid person in the USA and wielded almost unfettered power for more than two decades. Under his control such stars as the Barrymores, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor were to appear in a long string of highly successful films.

Mayer was also actively involved in setting up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1927) and was president of the Association of Motion Picture Producers (1931–36). In 1950 the Motion Picture Academy presented him with a special award and the following year he left MGM, after being forced to retire by the board.

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