MGM Stories

Jean Harlow (Dead Blondes Flashback) by Karina Longworth

Listen, download this episode, or find on iTunes.

Jean Harlow was the top blonde of the 1930s, and even though she didn’t survive the decade -- she died in 1937 at the age of 26 -- she’d inspire a generation of would-be platinum-haired bombshell stars. Today we revisit our 2015 episode on Harlow, to set the stage for the relentless forward march of Dead Blondes through the Twentieth Century.

This episode originally debuted in October 2015. The original show notes for this episode can be found here

MGM Stories Part Fifteen: The End of Louis B. Mayer by Karina Longworth

img.png

In the 1940s, Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in America, one of the first celebrity CEOs and the figurehead of what for most Americans was the most glamorous industry on Earth. In 1951, Mayer was fired from the studio that bore his name. What happened -- to Mayer, and to movies on the whole -- to hasten the end of the golden era of Hollywood?

Find this episode on iTunes

Special thanks to Craig Mazin, who throughout this series played Louis B. Mayer. Mazin will return in a supporting role as Mayer next season, which begins in late January. Thanks also to all of our special guests this season, including Wil Wheaton, Dana Carvey, Steve Zissis, Kelly Marcel, Adam Goldberg, Rian Johnson and Noah Segan. 

And extra super special thanks to Teddy Blanks, who created our new iTunes logo, and Henry Molofsky, who edited this episode and every episode this season.  

We will be on hiatus for the next four weeks. Happy holidays, happy New Year, and we'll speak to you in late January!

Sources:

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

Picture by Lillian Ross

The Genius of the System by Thomas Schatz

MGM Stories Part Fourteen: Elizabeth Taylor from Michael Wilding to Eddie Fisher by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

Elizabeth Taylor grew up on the MGM lot, spending 18 years as what she referred to as “MGM chattel.” The last four years of that 18 year sentence were arguably the most interesting. From 1956-1960, she made a run of really interesting films including Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Butterfield 8, and she met the “love of her life”, Mike Todd, and turned him into her third husband. When Todd died a year later Liz sought comfort in the arms of Todd’s friend - and Debbie Reynolds’ husband — Eddie Fisher. Taylor capped off the decade by almost dying, winning her first Oscar, and breaking free from MGM to become the highest paid actress up to that time.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

MGM Stories Part Thirteen: Gloria Grahame by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

Gloria Grahame arrived in Hollywood in 1944, after Louis B. Mayer personally plucked her from the New York stage, and changed her name. But Grahame was the rare actress who Mayer didn’t know how to turn into a star. Finally in 1947, Mayer gave up on Grahame and sold her contract to RKO, where she flourished as a femme fatale in film noir. Grahame's career would be marred by her compulsive plastic surgery, her increasingly eccentric on-set behavior, and gossip about her love life, which included marriages to both director Nicholas Ray, and his son, Tony. 

Sources:

Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame by Vincent Curcio

Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director by Patrick McGilligan

Grahame on the cover of LIFE Magazine

"Gloria Grahame: In praise of the naughty mind" by Donald Chase, Film Comment

"Fatal Instincts: The dangerous pout of Gloria Grahame" by Dan Callahan, Bright Lights Film Journal

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky and included a cameo by Noah Segan.

MGM Stories Part Twelve: Lana Turner by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

Lana Turner, the legendary "Sweater Girl" was one of MGM’s prized contract players, the epitome of the mid-century sex goddess on-screen and an unlucky-in-love single mom off-screen who would burn through seven husbands and countless affairs. After nearly twenty years as a star not known for her acting prowess, Turner's career suddenly got interesting in the late 1950s, when the hits The Bad and the Beautiful, Peyton Place and Imitation of Life sparked a reappraisal of her talents. In the middle of this renaissance, Turner became embroiled in one of Hollywood history’s most shocking scandals: the murder of Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato at the hand of her 14 year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane.

Sources: 

The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger

Lana: The Lady, The Legend, The Truth by Lana Turner

Detour: A Hollywood Story by Cheryl Crane with Cliff Jahr

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties by Sam Kashner and Jennifer Macnair

MGM Stories Part Eleven: David O. Selznick, Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

In 1941, David O. Selznick signed a young actress named Phylis, who was then married to actor Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train). Selznick renamed Phylis “Jennifer Jones,” and set to work turning her into a star, helping her to earn an Oscar for her first film under her new name. Selznick and Jones also began an affair, and Selznick’s romantic and professional obsession with Jones would result in the destruction of both of their marriages, as well as the creation of at least two movies transparently about Selznick’s passion for his star actress. But in a tragic echo of Selznick’s own film A Star is Born, as he threw his weight behind turning Jones into a star, Selznick himself lost his footing in Hollywood.

Special thanks to special guests Adam Goldberg (who reprised his role as David O. Selznick), Craig Mazin (who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer), and Rian Johnson (who reprised his role as John Huston).

Sources: 

David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick

Paul Green, Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films

Robert Walker official fan site

Walker's New York Times obituary

MGM Stories Part Ten: David O. Selznick, The Mayers & Gone With the Wind by Karina Longworth

img.png

Find this episode on iTunes

In 1930, after putting in time at MGM and RKO, Paramount executive David O. Selznick married Irene Mayer, the daughter of L.B. Mayer. Irene’s father would soon thereafter bring Selznick to MGM to fill in for an ailing Irving Thalberg, but MGM, in all its grandeur, was too small for Selznick’s dreams. He started his own independent studio, through which he created the original A Star is Born, the only Hitchcock movie to win Best Picture, and the biggest hit in the history of Hollywood, Gone with the Wind. Starring Adam Goldberg as David O. Selznick, and Craig Mazin as Louis B. Mayer.

Sources:

This episode was inspired by a post on our forum requesting the story of the love triangle between Selznick, actor Robert Walker and his wife, the future Jennifer Jones. As part of my research, I went to the BFI Library to read David Thomson's out-of-printShowman: The Life of David O. Selznick, and I became so engrossed that when the library closed I ended up ordering a used copy and carrying it with me on a trip from London to Los Angeles and back -- a commitment, because at 820 pages, even the paperback is heavy and hard to wedge into a carry-on. It was totally worth it. Thomson is a lot like his subject, in that neither is known for their ruthless ability to self-edit, but both put their passion out there in a way that I find fascinating. Thomson really made me feel the grand arc of Selznick's life and career, and after finishing his book, I realized I couldn't just tell the Jennifer Jones story -- I had to at least summarize at length the 30-something years of Selznick's life before he met his second wife. This is preamble became long enough to be it's own episode, so we'll get to Jennifer Jones next week. I guess I'm not great at self-editing, either.

Other sources:

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

A Private View by Irene Mayer Selznick

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allie Gemmill. 

MGM Stories Part Nine: Spencer Tracy by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

When Spencer Tracy signed with MGM, he was a character actor better known for his problem drinking (and very public extramarital affair with Loretta Young) than for his movie hits. But the studio made him a star, and by the time Katharine Hepburn was looking for a male star who could play a prototypical American male opposite her very idiosyncratic persona, Tracy was the obvious choice. Tracy and Hepburn became one of the most legendary Hollywood couples of the century, on-screen and off, and their partnership helped to canonize both as important stars. But their personal relationship was complicated by his drinking and his relationships with other women -- including his wife.

Sources: 

The "most recent biographies" of Tracy and Hepburn mentioned in this episode are William J. Mann's Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn and James Curtis' Spencer Tracy: A Biography. The latter disputes the former, at least where the sex lives of its subjects are concerned. I'm honestly not sure what to believe about Tracy and particularly Hepburn's sex life, and I'm honestly not sure it really matters; what's more interesting to me is the ways in which stories/rumors/ideas about famous people circulate in the culture and become a part of their history, whether they're true or not. 

Other sources: Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir by Garson Kanin; Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman; and City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s by Otto Friedrich.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allie Gemmill. 

Special thanks to our special guests: Steve Zissis played Spencer Tracy; Kelly Marcel played Katharine Hepburn; and Craig Mazin returned as Louis B. Mayer. 

This episode is sponsored by Audible.com Go to Audible.com/remember for a free audiobook and a 30-day trial.

This episode is also sponsored by Squarespace. Start your website with no credit card required by going to Squarespace.com and using the offer code REMEMEBER. 

MGM Stories Part Eight: Eddie Mannix by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

In the new Hollywood satire from the Coen Brothers, Josh Brolin plays a studio "fixer" named Eddie Mannix. The real Eddie Mannix was a New Jersey-born reputed gangster who rose through the ranks at MGM to become the studio's general manager. His position required ensuring that the darker, more scandalous actions of MGM’s biggest names were kept hidden from the public and press at large. While devoting his career to protecting the personal lives of MGM’s employees, Mannix had his own colorful personal life: a chronic adulterer with a history of domestic violence, he married his mistress Toni, who went on to have a Mannix-endorsed affair with Superman star George Reeves, whose death under mysterious circumstances further complicated Mannix's legacy.

Sources:

There is a book on Eddie Mannix; it's called The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine. It includes quite a lot of conjecture and speculation, so I tried to only include in the episode information that could be found in at least one other source. In attempting to confirm details, I came upon archival articles which complicate matters by mixing apparent truth with clear inaccuracies or spin, such as this one about Mary Nolan's lawsuit against Mannix in which he is referred to as a "Hollywood director." In the episode, I did the best I could to sort out the most likely versions of the truth. 

Other sources:

Mary Nolan: Tragic Star by Eve Golden

David Stenn's original Vanity Fair article on Patricia Douglas (sadly not on Vanity Fair's actual site)

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, The Lady and the Death of Superman by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

MGM Stories Part Seven: MGM's Children - Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland by Karina Longworth

Find this episode on iTunes

After Irving Thalberg’s death in 1936, Louis B. Mayer doubled down on "family entertainment" at MGM. To support this new wave of content, Mayer started signing younger and younger performers to groom into stars — training them in song and dance, creating a schoolhouse on the MGM lot to comply with state educational requirements, and keeping the kids chaperoned by publicists day and night. This episode will cover the differing experiences of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland -- best friends and screen partners who grew up together within MGM’s stable of child stars.

Special thanks to this episode's special guests -- Craig Mazin returned as Louis B. Mayer, and we are honored to welcome Dana Carvey as Mickey Rooney. 

This episode includes clips from the short film Every Sunday, and this segment from Broadway Melody of 1938.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky

Sources:

Clarke, Gerald. Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland. Delta, 2000

Eyman, Scott. Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Luft, Lorna. Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir. Gallery Books, 1999.

Rooney, Mickey. Life is Too Short. New York: Villard Books, 1991.

Wayne, Jane Ellen. The Golden Guys of MGM: Privilege, Power & Pain. Robson Books, 2004.

Zierold, Norman J. “The Mick” in The Child Stars. Coward-McCann, 1965.

MGM Stories Part Six: Jean Harlow by Karina Longworth

Find this episode on iTunes

As part of the publicity campaign for his film Hell's Angels, Howard Hughes made Jean Harlow a star, branding her “The Platinum Blonde.” But after Hell's Angels, Hughes couldn’t figure out what to do with Harlow, so she ended up signing a contract with MGM, at the urging of Paul Bern, who became Harlow’s new impresario and husband. Despite the fact that Louis B. Mayer had dismissed her as just a “floozy,” Harlow had five years of super stardom at MGM. But during that time, Bern died under mysterious circumstances — as did Harlow herself, in 1937, at the age of 26

Sources:

Eyman, Scott. Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster, 2008 Kindle Edition.

Fleming, E.J. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine McFarland & Co Inc, 2004. Kindle Edition.

Stenn, David. Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow Lightning Bug Press, 2000

MGM Stories Part Five: William Haines and Hollywood's First Openly Gay Marriage by Karina Longworth

Find this episode on iTunes

The rare silent star who made a relatively smooth transition to sound films, William “Billy” Haines was one of the top box office stars of the late 1920s-early 1930s. Beginning in 1926, Haines started living with Jimmie Shields, and the two men became one of the most popular couples on the Hollywood social scene, facing little if any homophobia among the industry’s elite. But as times changed and the heat from the censors began to get hotter, MGM began to put pressure on Haines to pretend to be someone he wasn’t.

Very special thanks to Wil Wheaton, who played William Haines, and Craig Mazin, who reprised his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

The primary source for this episode was William J. Mann’s biography of Haines, Wisecracker. Other sources consulted include:

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: A Divine Star. London: The Robson Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.

Bowers, Scotty. Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2013. Kindle Edition.

Chandler, Charlotte. Not The Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster, 2008 Kindle Edition.

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster, 1997. Kindle Edition.

E. J. Fleming. The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine McFarland & Co Inc, 2004. Kindle Edition.

Golden, Eve. John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Photoplay, Jan-Jun 1927

MGM Stories Part Four: John Gilbert and Greta Garbo by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

Rising romantic lead John Gilbert signed with MGM in 1924 and the next year he starred in King Vidor’s The Big Parade, the studio’s biggest hit of the silent era. That same year, Louis B. Mayer brought his new discovery to Hollywood: an enigmatic Swedish actress named Greta Garbo. Garbo and Gilbert starred together in the romantic melodrama Flesh and the Devil, and began a relationship in real-life, which was eagerly exploited by the still-fledgling Hollywood publicity machine. Gilbert’s career suffered from his contentious relationship with Mayer, and his increasing alcoholism, while Garbo’s star continued to rise. In 1933, Garbo made it a condition of her MGM contract extension that the studio cast Gilbert as her love interest in Queen Christina. Within three years, Gilbert was dead. Within ten years, Garbo’s career had taken a turn, too

Special thanks to special guest star Craig Mazin, reprising his role as Louis B. Mayer.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

This episode included a clip from the John Gilbert film His Glorious Night, pulled from Kevin Brownlow's incredible silent era documentary Hollywood. Hollywood is watchable in several installments on YouTube.

We are proud to welcome our new sponsor, Audible.com! Get a free audiobook and a 30-day trial at Audible.com/remember

Sources:

Basinger, Jeanine. Silent Stars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 2012

Bret, David. Greta Garbo: The Divine Star. London: Robson Press, 2012. 

Conway, Michael; McGregor, Dion & Ricci, Mark. The Complete Films of Greta Garbo. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1991.

Eyman, Scott Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 2008

Eyman, Scott The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. 1998

Golden, Eve John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars (Screen Classics) The University Press of Kentucky. Kindle Edition. 2013

Krützen, Michaela. The Most Beautiful Woman on the Screen: The Fabrication of the Star Greta Garbo. Berlin: Peter Lang, 1992.

"Garbo's Last Days" by Michael Gross. New York Magazine, May 21, 1990

MGM Stories Part Three: Buster Keaton's Biggest Mistake by Karina Longworth

img.jpg

Find this episode on iTunes

In 1928, silent comedy star Buster Keaton made what he would later call “the worst mistake of my career”: against the advice of fellow silent comedy auteurs like Charlie Chaplin, he gave up his independent production shingle and signed a contract with MGM. A vaudevillian who got his start working with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, by the late 1920s Keaton had established himself as a solo writer, director and star who was known for doing his own spectacular but reckless stunts. Keaton joined MGM with a promise from his friend Joe Schenck that nothing would change, only to find himself in his new situation demoted from artistic boss to employee of a corporation interested in protecting its investment above all. The lack of agency and ability to personally control the quality of his own work within the confines of Mayer’s studio drove Keaton to alcoholism, which further doomed his tenure at MGM. Keaton’s experience is perhaps the first major example of an indie filmmaker “selling out” to a big studio, only to be swallowed up by the system.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

Sources for this episode: 

My Wonderful World of Slapstick by Buster Keaton and Charles Samuels

Buster Keaton Oral History, Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

The Fall of Buster Keaton by James L. Neibaur

"Movie Classic" article about Keaton's "kidnapping" scandal

This episode includes clips of Keaton speaking, found at the following two sources:

So Funny it Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, a documentary by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird.

Keaton in conversation with Studs Turkel, September 1960. 

We also borrowed this clip from Sunset Boulevard:

MGM Stories Part Two: Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst and Citizen Kane by Karina Longworth

img.png

Find this episode on iTunes

Marion Davies is enshrined in memory as the gorgeous but questionably talented mistress of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst -- thanks in part to the depiction of a Davies-esque character in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. But Davies’ involvement with the much older Hearst both ensured she would have a movie career, and perhaps doomed Davies to ridicule and limited stardom. This episode will explore how Davies and Hearst hooked up, the mutually beneficial working relationship between Hearst and Louis B. Mayer, the souring of that relationship over MGM’s (mis)use of Davies and Mayer’s effort to block the release of Kaneon Hearst’s behalf

Special thanks to Larry Herold, who reprised his role as Orson Welles. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky. Our research intern is Allison Gemmill. 

Sources for this episode:

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution by Scott Eyman

The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst by Marion Davies

Marion Davies by Fred Guilles

Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies by Louis Pizzitola

Silent Stars by Jeanine Basinger

This is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich

MGM Stories Part One - Louis B. Mayer vs. Irving Thalberg (YMRT #56) by Karina Longworth

img.png

Find this episode on iTunes

Welcome to the fifth season of You Must Remember This! This season, called MGM Stories, is going to tell 15 tales about people who worked at the same movie studio over the course of five decades and counter-culture-hastened decline.

Established in 1924, MGM was the product of a merger of three early Hollywood entities, but the only person working there who got to have his name in the title was studio chief Louis B. Mayer. For the first dozen years of its existence, Mayer’s influence over the company would be at least matched by that of producer Irving Thalberg, who was perceived as the creative genius to Mayer’s bureaucrat. This episode will trace the rise of MGM through the 1920s and early-mid 30s, covering Mayer’s long-evolving working relationship with Thalberg, the creation of the MGM “star factory” identity and unique power within the community of Hollywood, and the in-fighting which would end with Mayer poised to seize his crown as the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Special thanks to Dan Saraceni and Liz Lui, who contributed ideas that inspired this episode in our forum, and Craig Mazin (screenwriter and co-host of the Scriptnotes podcast), who guest stars as Louis B. Mayer. This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky, and our research intern is Allison Gemmill. The outro music to this ep is "We're a Happy Family" by The Ramones.

As you may have noticed, the podcast has a new distribution partner, Panoply. You can find the whole family of Panoply podcasts at itunes.com/panoply. If you subscribe to the show on iTunes, it should feel like nothing has changed, but if you have any problem finding or listening to episodes, please contact me using the link at the top of the page. 

This season, as promised, was inspired by suggestions made by our listeners on our Forum. As the season continues, we'll be contacting listeners whose ideas influenced specific episodes. This season, which will last until the end of 2015, is fully scheduled, but you can continue to use the Forum to suggest ideas for future seasons, and also to discuss this current season or past episodes with other listeners. 

The primary sources for this episode were Lion of Hollywood by Scott Eyman, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, and a number of oral histories accessed at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript archive, including the recollections of Dore Schary, Anita Loos, and Sheilah Graham.

If you're new to our show, check out our four previous seasons -- including the series Star Wars and Charles Manson's Hollywood - on iTunes.