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

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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?

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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 Thirteen: Gloria Grahame by Karina Longworth

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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

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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

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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

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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 Eight: Eddie Mannix by Karina Longworth

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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

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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

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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 Three: Buster Keaton's Biggest Mistake by Karina Longworth

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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

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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