Happy 130th Birthday Louis B. Mayer

Guideposts magazine February 1951 front cover

The February, 1951 issue of Guideposts magazine featuring Louis B. Mayer and his article, “The Echo.”

“A simple rule, but to me it has been a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.”

Louis B. Mayer in His Own Words

Many of you won’t be surprised to learn that just in time for my great-uncle’s 130th birthday, he reached out to ensure his own words could be heard, instead of merely the volumes that have been written about him, true and otherwise, since his death in 1957.

Two days ago, and completely out of the blue, I was contacted by Brett Leveridge of Guideposts magazine offering to share with me the inspirational article L.B. wrote for the February 1951 issue. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Guideposts was established by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (most notably the author of The Power of Positive Thinking and If You Think You Can You Can)  in 1945 to provide inspiration to the returned servicemen of WWII but found, instead, that their most avid readers were women, especially in the midwest and south. Although they initially missed their target audience, nearly 70 years later, Guideposts is still going strong – as is Dr. Peale’s positive thinking message.

As you can imagine, I was stunned and delighted and when I told Brett that the next day would be Louis’ birthday, he was shocked. So I am thrilled to share this article with you, as well as the front cover of that very issue. But first, some context because you may find this story a bit over-sweet but it is important to note that for my great-uncle, his mother represented the very pinnacle, not only of womanhood, but of love. And of course, in Jewish culture, the mother of the family is the young child’s steward into higher ideals, and certainly in his generation, the mother’s role would have been deliberately focused on the religious directive to “Know Him in all your ways,” meaning to also see God in the mundane and every day life.

Tragically, L.B.’s mother would never see his success: Sarah Mayer died in Saint John, New Brunswick from complications of gall bladder surgery in October, 1913. Her death was his greatest sadness.

It is well known that Louis B. Mayer had no more than an elementary school education, so we can assume that these words below were dictated to his secretary Ida Koverman and she polished the final article and the magazine’s editor did the rest. Or, he may even had worked with one of MGM’s greatest writing talents to take his childhood experience, his thoughts about how it had shaped his life and his desire to share his story as a guiding principle for anyone willing to listen and learn.

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Hollywood Essays is now on iBooks!

Hollywood Essays iBook front coverThe new Hollywood Essays iBook, with a wonderful foreword by film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, features 15 of my most popular essays about the Mayer family of Hollywood and the stars and filmmakers they worked with during the golden era of motion pictures.

This ebook contains the amazing and evocative family photos that are at the heart of each of my essays, along with additional materials, such as Photoplay magazine pages, other fantastic photographs and links to full movies and other media. The ebook was designed in iBooks Author.

To buy Hollywood Essays for just $5.99, or to download your free sample chapter, click here. Please note that most of the essays in the ebook collection are now no longer available on this blog.

Attention classic Hollywood bloggers: there 10 free preview copies available. Please leave a comment below so that I can provide you with your coupon code.

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Blog closed

Thank you for visiting HollywoodEssays.com – it has been closed until further notice, however will remain a resource for the fight against Ben Urwand’s book The Collaboration. To see a complete list of the 30+ rebuttals, critical reviews and controversy coverage, click here.

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Face to face with Ben Urwand: the question I asked and his reply

photo(1)Tonight I attended Ben Urwand’s talk about his book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler at the Sydney Jewish Museum, interestingly titled, “The Arrangement Between Hollywood and Hitler.” This was evidently his only presentation in Australia.

If you have been following this blog, or my account on Twitter, you will know I have been fighting tooth and nail since late June to ensure the world hears from the many eminent film scholars and historians who have made serious allegations of shoddy scholarship against Ben Urwand and his book. This battle has been fought almost entirely through online rebuttals and critical reviews, as well as via blog posts, tweets, emails and comments.

Links to 34 rebuttals, critical reviews and controversy coverage here.

So to come face to face with Urwand, to pose a question to him live, was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss – even if I also knew it would be his room, so to speak, with an audience loaded with his family and friends (Urwand is from Sydney) and attendees who would be inculcated by his sensationalist claims and dazzling ‘evidence.’ This was exactly what happened as Ben Urwand rolled out his multimedia presentation to suitable gasps and the shaking of heads across the packed crowd of around 130 people.

I was shocked to see him start his presentation by claiming the inspiration for his nine years of research and subsequent PhD thesis and then book, as coming from a Paramount memo signed off by an exec with “Heil Hitler,” when in fact, Urwand has said on numerous occasions publicly and in his book’s introduction that it was a comment from Budd Schulberg that Louis B. Mayer had shown movies to the Nazi consul, George Gyssling, that got him started.

When his presentation concluded, the first question was from an elderly man to the effect that wasn’t Warner Bros morally above the other studios? – indicating Urwand’s premise had been accepted hook, line and sinker and as such, the man’s desire to find some “good Jews” amongst all of the other Jewish moguls Urwand had spent 40 minutes portraying as on par with the Nazis.

I raised my hand to ask the next question, and when the microphone was given to me, I introduced myself as a grandniece of Louis B. Mayer. There was a ripple of gasps across the room. My question was as follows:

“Your PhD thesis, and then your book, were predicated on a comment by Budd Schulberg, who was known to hate Louis B. Mayer, that LB would screen movies for George Gyssling, the Nazi consul. Here is the key portion of the quote in your book:

‘. . . I heard about the way that Louis Mayer would kowtow, we were amazed when we heard it, but he was definitely doing it. I think the consul even came to the studio and looked at his pictures and said yes, that’s all right, no take that out, it was unbelievable.’ Refer endnote 163

What proof do you have for this serious accusation, which you have repeatedly referred to, considering your own endnote #163 about Schulberg’s comment simply refers to a transcript of him referring to hearsay and even Schulberg does not mention his source for this claim, nor did he witness this, i.e. “we were amazed when we heard about it” – so where’s your proof?”

photo(2)Urwand suddenly became tongue-tied and began to refer to something else – I think Louis B. Mayer’s comments on another topic – but I pulled Urwand back and said that was not what I had asked: I asked about his proof for endnote 163. After a couple of minutes of stumbling around for something coherent to say and some very interesting body language, Urwand simply fell back to his constant refrain when he has been challenged over his six month long, international book tour, “It’s all documented in my book.”

photo(4)The problem is Ben Urwand, it isn’t. Your endnotes would make M.C. Escher proud.

A question was then asked about the validity of telling the Jewish moguls’ story from the perspective of German archives. Isn’t that exactly what Hitler and the Nazis would have wanted – to control the narrative of their most hated? Through The Collaboration, the long dead Nazi regime gets to do just that, as in this story, the bad guys are the Jews; the pervasive and frightening anti-semitism within America is stripped away; the constrictive regulatory environment; and the moguls’ covert and other personal efforts, such as paying for spies to infiltrate pro-Nazi groups, and private, unrecorded actions, all get in the way of Urwand’s fable. Instead, everyone has a good laugh about Hitler’s love of King Kong and Mickey Mouse.

Urwand was then asked if he would update the book if errors were identified. He answered that in all of the criticism he received, not one error had ever been found but yes, if there were any, he would. Of course, most of the rebuttals have found errors and all point to hugely manipulative errors of omission.

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Mark Horowitz, author of The Myth of Jewish Hollywood’s Collaboration With the Nazis published in Tablet Mag on December 20th, 2013 in the comments section, “…filled with errors…and outright fantasy.”

I was grateful for two brave questions from a Hebrew teacher and historian who pressed Urwand to consider his book’s almost total lack of context for the majority of the years his text covers and his manipulative choice of the word “collaboration” in his title. The questioner even supplied him with a more appropriate German word but again Urwand staunchly defended his loaded choice. Interestingly, the next question again took up the word collaboration, but unfortunately she also followed with praise for the book’s endnotes when, in fact, they are like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland.

I went into this event with no expectations and certainly the only thing I came away with was a sense of personal pride that I showed up on behalf of the much maligned Jewish studio heads and executives, including uncle Louis, who cannot speak for themselves and so defend their legacies against this callow book. Though the last few months have been exhausting, I am so glad I could bring the effort of so many directly to Urwand’s door for his one Australian appearance.

I am grateful for the immense support I have received through Twitter (especially film journos and classic film fans), via my blog and from family, friends and colleagues. I am in awe of the powerful and thorough rebuttals and critical reviews written by knowledgeable and dedicated academics, historians and esteemed film bloggers (all listed here), many of whom have become part of the support network that seemed to organically embrace me during some very tough times. I have also received numerous emails and messages of support from many who have not chosen to speak publicly but felt strongly enough to be in touch.

My final message echoes what prominent film academics and historians have said: it is time for Harvard University Press to withdraw this deeply flawed book from sale. The idea that Ben Urwand continues to receive profits off the back of The Collaboration is shameful. But more than this, having witnessed how he manipulates his audience at his personal appearances (read film historian Joel W. Filner’s account of this from Urwand’s presentation at the prestigious Wiener Library in London on November 4th) we know he has no regard for the ramifications of his showmanship. He simply wants to sell books.

Thank you and I hope you all have a wonderful, happy and restful holidays. I’ll be back with more Hollywood Essays in 2014.

(Special thank you to Farran Nehme aka @selfstyledsiren who came up with two excellent questions for tonight’s session but sadly, I was only able to ask one.)

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Ida and the Sinner, Mae West

My great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings with the unstoppable Mae West. Date unknown, however might be early 1930s. Mae West was most likely a VIP guest of a Jewish Home for the Aged event in Los Angeles.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Mae West

ONE OF THE hardest things to do is to accurately judge the impact of a rebel after society has morphed in their direction. It’s the difference between falling down a set of stairs and remembering it as stubbing your toe.

Mae West – vaudevillian, Broadway sensation, playwright and movie star – was a pioneering sex icon so many decades ago that American women had only just taken off their corsets, much less burnt their bras.

Born in 1893 in Brooklyn, by the time she was seven she was performing in amateur shows and winning local talent contests. By 14, Mae West was performing professionally in vaudeville shows and by her late teens she was on Broadway and singled out for attention by the New York Times, despite the show closing after just a few performances.

When the right material dried up, Mae West started writing her own scripts. Her first starring role on Broadway was in 1927 in Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Audiences loved it, critics hated it, but city officials were aghast, especially the city’s district attorney and zealous crime fighter, Joab H. Banton, the son of a judge and determined to fight indecency in all its forms.

Banton promised to “rid the stage of naked women, if necessary by backing up patrol wagons to the stage doors and taking the performers, just as they are to the night court so the judge can see just what audiences are compelled to look at.” Of course, audiences weren’t complaining and it didn’t appear that any man or woman had been dragged kicking and screaming to see the naked women in question. Nevertheless, Banton made it clear smut would not be tolerated:

“I intend to treat the stage the same way as we treated the night clubs. Clothing must be lowered at the bottom and raised at the top, while indecency in lines, situations and elsewhere must be ended!”

On Monday, 28 March all hell broke loose on Broadway as Continue Reading »

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CJ Johnson of ABC Radio podcast Movieland interviews Alicia Mayer

CJ Johnson of Movieland and Alicia Mayer

CJ Johnson, producer and host of the Movieland podcast on ABC Radio, chats with Alicia Mayer about the controversial book by Ben Urwand The Collaboration, the family’s collection of photos and forgotten Hollywood scandals.

CJ Johnson, host and producer of Movieland, ABC Radio’s podcast for lovers of film and the film business, interviewed me for the latest episode. Together, we cover the controversy over Ben Urwand’s book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler and what it has taken to defend my great-uncle, Louis B. Mayer, from Urwand’s sensationalistic claims. At the time of the interview I had not yet read the book. I point to the many film scholars and historians who have deemed it, as Jeanine Basinger put it, “a film historian’s nightmare.”

I also cover my role as my generation’s historian and how the collection of photos that our family shares inspired my blog HollywoodEssays.com and has also led to the unearthing of some long-forgotten scandals. In the process, we also discuss the intersection of vaudeville and the early film business. It’s a far-ranging interview and I am grateful for the opportunity for a comprehensive discussion with a fellow film nut, especially one as well-read and genuinely interested as CJ Johnson.

I hope you will join me in subscribing to the Movieland podcast, which can be found by clicking here. For the local ABC Radio 702 Sydney link click here.

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3 Things You Didn’t Know About Louis B. Mayer

Louis B Mayer cartoon

Three things you didn’t know about Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss, Louis B. Mayer:

1. Your money or your life

On June 26, 1942 Louis B. Mayer received a rambling three page letter purportedly from six men who wanted him dead but would accept $250,000 to let him live. The letter began: “MR MAYER, IS YOUR LIFE WORTH $250,000 TO YOU BECAUSE IF IT ISN’T – YOU WILL BE A VERY DEAD MAN INSIDE OF TWO SHORT WEEKS!” A news clipping from the Los Angeles Times was attached about an unsolved murder. At the top had been scrawled: “THIS MAN THOUGHT WE WERE KIDDING.” A post card was sent a week later demanding the money should be left addressed to “Robert Sexton” at the Ambassador Hotel. On July 13th, two men – Meyer Phillip Grace (39, a former boxer) and Channing Drexel Lipton (25, noted as a gas attendant but the son of former MGM writer Lew Lipton) – attempted to pick up the parcel and were immediately arrested by the FBI. The matter went to trial but despite it looking like an open and shut case, Grace and Lipton were acquitted. Strangely enough, there is an Australian connection: Channing Drexel Lipton married in Sydney in 1955.

2. Dr. Louis B. Mayer

In May 1939, L.B. was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of New Brunswick for “cultural advancement of moving pictures.” He later attended a luncheon given by the New Brunswick Premier, A. A. Dysart and his cabinet, where he was also bestowed the “freedom of the city of Saint John” by the mayor. In his speech L.B. told the audience, “Refuse to be discouraged. Sweat and sweat some more, work and work some more. If you have anything at all you’re bound to get there. I have a great investment in Saint John. My mother lies buried in Saint John. I’m coming home to my mother. I am sentimental enough to feel she knows I am being honored by my home folks. I believe she knows and is smiling. My heart is overflowing.”

3. Female doctor

Jessie Marmorston became L.B.’s doctor after he witnessed her take charge when one of the men at a Sunday night poker game frequented by MGM execs died of a massive coronary. Marmoston was issuing orders, telling everyone what to do or get out of the way. L.B. was stunned and asked who this woman was. Someone said she was a doctor and then and there he decided she would be his doctor too. L.B. saw Marmorston almost daily – he would send his car to pick her up from her home – and not only relied on her as his personal physician but also vented about his family and the business. Marmorston became his sounding board and her regard for him in return was enormous. Despite their very close friendship, Marmorston always called him “Mr. Mayer” and he always referred to her as “Doctor.”

RIP ~ Louis B Mayer ~ July 12, 1884 – October 29, 1957

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

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