Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Film Makers 6: Louis B. Mayer

Louis B. Mayer’s puritanical streak manifested itself in many aspects of his personal life and in the nature of his films at MGM. Scott Eyman in his Lion of Hollywood: the Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer uses a well-known comment to describe how L.B. reconciled his moral code with the flamboyant sexual conduct of some of his early stars. John Gilbert was a notorious womanizer; William Haines liked men and boys.

Eyman tells us: "Mayer’s feelings about sex were similar to those of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who made the famous remark about not caring what people did -- as long as they 'didn’t scare the horses'.”


  1. Hi Gerald, how are you? I hope that all is well with you. I just wanted to say “hi,” and make an observation about LB Mayer and John Gilbert. I had seen John Gilbert in GENTLEMAN’S FATE (1931) before I learned of the controversy regarding his voice being unsuitable for sound pictures. I thought his voice was fine, but he did seem to be a bit “weary” with the whole process of film making. I saw the film again on TCM during the SUMMER UNDER THE STARS tribute, and I was impressed that John Gilbert was the one bright spot in the film (not to disparage Louis Wolheim). I couldn’t help speculating, as with many Hollywood myths, would this even be an issue today if a person were unaware of the “trouble over his voice”. I can highly recommend DARK STAR by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, a biography by Gilbert's daughter that succeeds in separating fact from fiction and presents an honest portrait of the man’s career and life.

  2. Hello Karin: Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on John Gilbert.
    My only purpose in this posting had nothing to do with Gilbert, per se. I was reading Scott Eyman’s book and I liked the humor in the horse remark. I try to intersperse short anecdotes and humor as a change of pace to longer postings.

    The “horses” remark actually originated, in a longer form, with Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter. (Forgive me if you know all this.) The remark about Gilbert in the Posting was only in the context of Scott Eyman’s take on Mayer’s attitude to the behavior of his stars. Gilbert and Haines were mentioned in that context.

    My knowledge about Gilbert is below rudimentary and I have no particular feelings about his work or his behavior. I have not seen enough of his films to have formed any opinion. I am probably more a creature of my upbringing – steeped in forties films, when I was first exposed to large images in dark houses. I have learned most about thirties films at the same time as many of today’s young persons – once the films were reissued in some volume and shown on VCR, DVD and, as you mention, Turner Classic Movies.

    Congratulations again on winning Matthew’s contest – his is my favorite blog. He is most knowledgeable about many periods, especially about thirties films and more particularly pre-code. He also maintains a fine English sense of humor, the exchanges on his site are quite collegial and he has a devout passion for “Madam Satan.” Best. Gerald.

    I will add a few of Gilbert’s films to my ever expanding Netflix Queue. And I will add “Dark Star” to my reading list, but I am currently overwhelmed in studying the moguls.