2 October 2014

An irreparable loss to the motion picture industry

On 14 September 1936, producer and MGM executive Irving Thalberg died of pneumonia at the early age of 37. His premature death shocked the whole film industry. Known as MGM's "Boy Wonder", Thalberg was responsible for many of the studio's earliest successes, including such classics as "Greed" (1924, co-produced with Erich von Stroheim), "Grand Hotel" (1932), "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) and "A Night at the Opera" (1935). Always striving for both commercial success and the highest quality --he was the first man to realise that a good film needed a good script, not only big stars--, Thalberg oversaw the production of more than 400 films during his twelve years at MGM. To achieve the quality he wanted, he introduced several production methods which became standard for the whole industry (including sneak previews to gauge the public's reaction and the re-shooting of scenes). Furthermore, Thalberg created many new stars and helped the careers of established stars, like Norma Shearer who became his wife in 1927. During his lifetime, Thalberg never wanted screen credit as producer; it wasn't until his last picture "The Good Earth", which was completed after his death and released in 1937, that he was finally credited on screen. 

Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer photographed in 1929. The couple was married from 1927 until Thalberg's death in 1936.
The document for this post is not a letter, but a statement to the press issued on the day of Irving Thalberg's death. On 14 September 1936, Will H. Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), addressed the press with the following words:


Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc.
28 West 44th Street 
New York, N.Y.

MONDAY, SEPT. 14, 1936


Hollywood, Calif., Sept. 14---Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, today said:
"The death of Irving Thalberg is an irreparable loss to the motion picture industry. No one can take his place, though others may come to do his work. 
"Brilliant, courageous, a careful workman, who always gave his best, he had the vision and the genius which made him a leader in the industry's constant progress toward the highest levels of art and entertainment. It is a tragedy that he should be taken from us in the very fullness of his youth. For one of his abilities, life offered so much more to do. 
"Such productions as THE BIG PARADE, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and ROMEO AND JULIET will stand as monuments to Irving Thalberg, but he was destined for ever finer things.
"He will be a living memory. He had the highest esteem and the deepest affection of everyone in the industry. Through his death the industry has lost one of its foremost figures and I have lost a friend."

Clockwise: Norma Shearer, Irving Thalberg and son; Norma and Irving in July 1936; Will H. Hays, president of the MPPDA; Irving, Norma and Louis B. Mayer at the premiere of "The Great Ziegfeld" on 18 April 1936.

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