Irving Thalberg - Biography

Irving Grant Thalberg (May 30, 1899 – September 14, 1936) was an American film producer during the early years of motion pictures. He was called "The Boy Wonder" for his youth and his extraordinary ability to select the right scripts, choose the right actors, gather the best production staff and make very profitable films.

תוכן עניינים

Life and career

Thalberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, to German Jewish immigrant parents, William and Henrietta (Haymann). He had a bad heart due to childhood rheumatic fever and was plagued with other ailments all his life. Upon completing high school, he was employed by Universal Pictures' New York office, where he worked as personal secretary to legendary studio founder Carl Laemmle, the boss of Universal Studios. Irving Thalberg was bright and persistent, and by age 21 was executive in charge of production at Universal City, the studio's California production site.

He quickly established his tenacity as he battled with Erich von Stroheim over the length of Foolish Wives (1922), and controlled every aspect of the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). In 1924, he left Universal for Louis B. Mayer Productions, which shortly thereafter linked up with Metro Pictures Corporation to become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Thalberg became the merged studio's head of production.

The Big Parade (1925), directed by King Vidor, was Thalberg's first major triumph at MGM. Until 1932, when he suffered a major heart attack, he supervised every important MGM studio production, and combined careful pre-production groundwork with prerelease sneak previews which measured audience response. He also had full authority to reedit any MGM film.

At the time he joined MGM, Thalberg was dating actress Norma Shearer, whom he married in 1927. She considered early retirement after having her second child with Thalberg, but he was convinced he could continue to find good roles for her and encouraged her to continue acting. She went on to be one of MGM's biggest stars of the 1930s. Their two children were Irving Jr. (1930–1988) and Katherine (1935–2006).

At first, Thalberg and studio chief Louis B. Mayer got along famously well. However, they had different production philosophies. Thalberg preferred literary works, while Mayer preferred glitzy crowd-pleasing films. A clash was inevitable, and their relationship grew decidedly frosty. When Thalberg fell ill in 1932, Mayer took advantage of the situation and replaced him with David O. Selznick and Walter Wanger. When Thalberg returned to work in 1933, it was as one of the studio's unit producers, albeit one who had first choice on projects and MGM resources, including its stars, due to his closeness to Nicholas Schenck, who was then president of MGM corporate parent Loew's Inc. Schenck, who was the true power and ultimate arbiter at the studio, usually backed up Thalberg. As a result, he helped develop some of MGM's most prestigious ventures, including Grand Hotel (1932), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934 film starring his wife Norma Shearer), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), China Seas (1935), A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers, San Francisco (1936), and Romeo and Juliet (1936).


Thalberg died of pneumonia at age 37 in Santa Monica, California. At the time of his death, he was working on the preproduction of A Day at the Races (1937) and Marie Antoinette (1938).

Thalberg is buried in a private marble tomb in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, lying at rest beside his wife Norma Shearer Arrouge (Thalberg's crypt was engraved, "My Sweetheart Forever" by Shearer).


Thalberg's name appeared on the screen in only two of the pictures he produced, both of which were completed after he died. While he was alive, he refused to allow his own name to appear in his films as he was once heard to say "Credit you give yourself is not worth having". The credit for his final film, The Good Earth (1937) reads: "To the Memory of Irving Grant Thalberg his last greatest achievement we dedicate this picture." Another dedication to him appeared in the opening credits of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), a film that Thalberg set into motion, but never lived to see.

Thalberg, a good friend of the Marx Brothers and responsible for bringing them to MGM, once sent this often-repeated quote to Groucho Marx via letter on the latter's birthday: "The world would not be in such a snarl, if Marx had been Groucho instead of Karl."

In 1938, the multi-million dollar administration building built on the old MGM Studios in Culver City – now Sony Pictures Studios – was named for Thalberg. The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is also named for him.

In popular culture

F. Scott Fitzgerald based the character of Monroe Stahr in The Love of the Last Tycoon on Thalberg. In the 1976 film version he was played by Robert De Niro. Fitzgerald also based the short story "Crazy Sunday" on an incident which occurred while attending a party thrown by Thalberg. The story is included in Fitzgerald's 1935 collection Taps At Reveille. Thalberg was portrayed in the movie Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) by Robert Evans, who later was the producer of Chinatown (1974) and The Godfather (1972).

In an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the Universal Pictures of the silent era is depicted, along with characterizations of Irving Thalberg, John Ford, Erich von Stroheim, Carl Laemmle and Jack Warner.

In a sketch from the British TV comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus, a high-profile, egotistical movie producer named Irving C. Saltzberg (played by Graham Chapman) pitches a movie to a team of yesmen writers. Contrary to Thalberg's tendency to not credit himself, the end credits of this episode (which came right after this sketch) credited him for nearly everything, and all the names were slightly changed to look more like Irving C. Saltzberg (such as John C. Cleeseberg and Eric C. Idleberg).

The character "R.F. Simpson" in Singin' in the Rain is thought to be loosely based on Thalberg.



  • Reputation (1921)
  • Foolish Wives (1922)
  • Merry-Go-Round (1923)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
  • His Hour (1924)
  • He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
  • Greed (1924)
  • The Unholy Three (1925)
  • The Merry Widow (1925)
  • The Tower of Lies (1925)
  • The Big Parade (1925)
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
  • Torrent (1926)
  • La Bohème (1926)
  • Brown of Harvard (1926)
  • The Road to Mandalay (1926)
  • The Temptress (1926)
  • Valencia (1926)
  • Flesh and the Devil (1926)
  • Twelve Miles Out (1927)
  • The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)
  • London After Midnight (1927)
  • The Crowd (1928)
  • Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)
  • White Shadows in the South Seas (1928)
  • Show People (1928)
  • West of Zanzibar (1928)
  • The Broadway Melody (1929)
  • The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929)
  • Voice of the City (1929)
  • Where East Is East (1929)
  • The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)
  • The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
  • Hallelujah! (1929)
  • His Glorious Night (1929)
  • The Kiss (1929)
  • Anna Christie (1930)
  • Redemption (1930)
  • The Divorcee (1930)
  • The Rogue Song (1930)
  • The Big House (1930)
  • The Unholy Three (1930)
  • Let Us Be Gay (1930)
  • Billy the Kid (1930)
  • Way for a Sailor (1930)
  • A Lady's Morals (1930)
  • Inspiration (1931)
  • Trader Horn (1931)
  • The Secret Six (1931)
  • A Free Soul (1931)
  • Just a Gigolo (1931)
  • Men Behind Bars (1931)
  • The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)
  • The Guardsman (1931)
  • The Champ (1931)
  • Possessed (1931)
  • Private Lives (1931)
  • Mata Hari (1931)
  • Freaks (1932)
  • Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
  • Grand Hotel (1932)
  • Letty Lynton (1932)
  • As You Desire Me (1932)
  • Red-Headed Woman (1932)
  • Smilin' Through (1932)
  • Red Dust (1932)
  • Rasputin and the Empress (1932)
  • Strange Interlude (1932)
  • Tugboat Annie (1933)
  • Bombshell (1933)
  • Eskimo (1933)
  • La Veuve Joyeuse (1934)
  • Riptide (1934)
  • The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
  • The Merry Widow (1934)
  • What Every Woman Knows (1934)
  • Biography of a Bachelor Girl (1935)
  • No More Ladies (1935)
  • China Seas (1935)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  • A Night at the Opera (1935)
  • Riffraff (1936)
  • Romeo and Juliet (1936)
  • Camille (1936)
  • Maytime (1937)
  • A Day at the Races (1937)
  • Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937)
  • The Good Earth (1937)
  • Marie Antoinette (1938)


  • The Trap (1922)
  • The Dangerous Little Demon (1922)


Year Award Result Category Film
1923 Photoplay Awards Medal of Honor The Big Parade
1932 Smilin' Through
1934 The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Academy Awards

Year Result Category Film
1927–28 Nominated Best Unique and Artistic Production The Crowd
1928–29 Won Best Picture The Broadway Melody
1928–29 Nominated Best Picture The Hollywood Revue of 1929
1929–30 Nominated Best Picture The Divorcee
1929–30 Nominated Best Picture The Big House
1930–31 Nominated Best Picture Trader Horn
1931–32 Won Best Picture Grand Hotel
1931–32 Nominated Best Picture The Champ
1932–33 Nominated Best Picture Smilin' Through
1934 Nominated Best Picture The Barretts of Wimpole Street
1935 Won Best Picture Mutiny on the Bounty
1936 Nominated Best Picture Romeo and Juliet
1937 Nominated Best Picture The Good Earth


Further reading

  • Thalberg: Life and Legend by Bob Thomas (1969)
  • Thalberg: The Last Tycoon and the World of M-G-M by Roland Flamini (1994)
  • Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-believe Saints by Samuel Marx (1975)
  • Irving Thalberg's MGM by Mark Vieira (2008)
  • Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark Viera (2009)

External links

  • Cinemagraphe Review of the Roland Flamini biography of Thalberg: The Last Tycoon and the World of MGM

המאמר מזכיר את האנשים הבאים: Irving Thalberg

המידע הזה מתפרסם לפי רישיון לשימוש חופשי במסמכים של גנו (GFDL)
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