Louis B. Mayer and the simple photo that tells the story of a rich civic life that is all but gone today

Well, no glamour today, folks. Just three old people – now long gone – who, by the time this photo was taken in 1955, had given selflessly to civic life for decades.

Louis B Mayer + Harry Seelig + Ida watermarked

There’s my great-uncle, Louis B. Mayer, who aside from M-G-M and the thousands of jobs he created and hundreds of luminary careers he helped foster, also helped to create the film industry’s apparatus, which included the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), the Oscars, and various other industry bodies, just too numerous to mention. His actions, and the many who worked with him, helped to create an ecosystem that filmmakers, distributors, filmgoers and even film students, benefit from today.

hollywoods spies laura b rosenzweigBut behind the scenes, L.B. also, along with other Jewish execs and moguls, helped fund spies to infiltrate pro-Nazi groups that sprung up in Los Angeles in the 1930s. I can’t wait to read Laura Rosenzweig’s new book on the topic, Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles, which is out next month. L.B. and others may have taken further surreptitious actions, perhaps yet to be discovered by film historians and researchers.

Louis B. Mayer also gave heavily to the Wilshire Blvd Temple (as did Irving Thalberg, the Warner brothers and others) and on my recent trip to LA, I saw the beautiful, massive ‘rose’ window that faces Wilshire, now thankfully fully restored.

Mary Pickford letter I dreamt about you last night Aug 7 1951 JHA watermark
A letter from Mary Pickford to my great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings, referencing Louis B. Mayer. And I adore the additonal handwritten note: “I dreamt about you last night.”

He gave generously financially to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, which is the subject of this photo. Here he is with Harry Seelig, Jr., an attorney and twice president of the JHA, and my great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings (Louis’ older sister), who devoted her life to fundraising for the organization.

But L.B.’s influence also helped ensure an annual trooping through the doors of of the rich and famous to his sister’s fundraising events. And during my scanfest at the JHA, I was read letters revealing that he and Mary Pickford worked closely to ensure financial targets were met. That was a new connection for me.

I have many photos that include Harry Seelig, Jr. and of course, hundreds with Ida – her story of civic life could fill a book. Sadly, just two years after this photo, Louis B. Mayer would die of leukemia. Thirteen years later, Ida would pass of a heart attack at her home, her famous base of operations on South Tremaine, just a few blocks from the Wilshire Blvd temple. And in 1985, Harry Seelig would tragically be hit by a car.

IMC Woman of the Yr 1957
Ida Mayer Cummings included in the 1957 Woman of the Year feature, Los Angeles Times.

But they all lived long, rich lives. I’m sure if we could interview them from beyond they would say they received more than they gave. As Ann Frank said, who uncannily knew this when she was far too young to understand: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

So, my friends, in that one photo you’re looking at multiple decades of giving between three people – of showing up and making things happen, of saying yes and digging deep, of getting up early and staying up late, of flying solo and collaborating, of sheer blood, sweat and tears…

Here’s to those of you who give to your community selflessly, and all there ever is to show for it is a photo, and of course, the deep satisfaction of knowing you’re doing the right thing.

I tip my to you!

Copyright 2017 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.