with Alicia Mayer

Born This Day: Louis B. Mayer’s earliest memories were of hard work, cold and hunger.

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Sarah Mayer (seated middle left) with her five children: Yetta (standing), Ida, Louis, Rudy and Jerry. Photo taken in Saint John, Canada

Louis B. Mayer was born on 12 July, 1884 in Dumier, Ukraine.

In the late 1880s, nearly 250,000 Jews fled the anti-Semitic pogroms of Ukraine and Russia. Most went to the United States but roughly ten percent landed in Canada.

Around 1891, Sarah and Jacob Mayer and their five children settled in Saint John, Canada. Louis would finish school with no more than a 5th grade education, leaving to help support his family. His earliest memories were of hard work, cold and hunger, but also of his beloved mother.

From the time he was a small boy Louis had an indomitable will to succeed but what makes him so special is that he helped thousands of people to succeed. In fact, many of those whose careers he helped launch became our own idols, they became our own vision of what success looks like. The 800 films created during L.B.’s time at the helm at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer include some of America’s, and the world’s, most loved films. Still, decades later we watch them over and over again.

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First Academy Awards Banquet.

In his nearly 40 year career in the film business, Louis B. Mayer was instrumental in the founding and/or running of several studios, notably MGM, of course, but also Metro Pictures and 20th Century Pictures. He conceived the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). He, along with several studio heads, helped found the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and other film industry bodies.

During WWII he and other Jewish moguls and executives surreptitiously funded spies to infiltrate pro-Nazi groups. They may have taken other actions but they are lost to time and secrecy.

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Louis B. Mayer, May Robson, Irving Thalberg, Lionel Barrymore

He was loved by many and yes, hated by some but frankly, when your sole resource is creative people and your career spans decades, it would be a miracle not to pick a few fights here and there and make an enemy or two. And always there is context, and two sides to every story, we must always remember that.

Thankfully, over the last few years, some really stellar scholarship from award-winning biographers, such as Scott Eyman, has really helped balance the conversation.

Now it is time to simply honor the man and the legacy he left behind, which includes those 800 films, a constellation of stars who are still loved and adored today, a film industry, which in many ways has never again seen the likes of the Golden Era of Hollywood, and so much more to celebrate.

Happy birthday, Uncle Louis! You deserve the accolades.

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