Canadian-born Norma Shearer arrived in New York in 1920 aged 17, hoping to become one of Florenz Ziegfeld's new 'Follies'. Ziegfeld, however, rejected her after which Shearer, determined to make it in America, sought and found work as an extra in several films. A year later, Shearer got a bigger break, landing a minor role in a B-film called The Stealers. Irving Thalberg, vice-president of Louis B. Mayer Pictures (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), was impressed with Shearer's work and eventually signed her to a contract in November 1923. Shearer's first contract was a six-month contract with options for renewal, her first salary being $250 per week.
On 6 May 1924, Irving Thalberg wrote the following letter to Norma Shearer regarding the renewal of her contract. Thalberg informed Shearer that her contract would be extended for one year and her salary raised to $450 per week. By the end of 1925, Shearer had signed a new contract with MGM at $1,000 per week, to be increased to $5,000 over the next five years. Shearer would be at the height of her career in the 1930s when she was known as the 'Queen of MGM'. In 1937, she signed her last contract with MGM, which was a six-picture deal at $150,000 per film (the deal included Marie Antoinette (1938), The Women (1939) and Escape (1940)).
Thalberg's letter was written 3 years before he and Shearer would be married. The couple remained married until Thalberg's untimely death in 1936. They had two children.
Miss Norma Shearer
C/o Louis B. Mayer Studios, Inc.,
43800 Mission Road,
Los Angeles, California.
Dear Miss Shearer:
Referring to your contract of employment with us, dated November 14th., 1923, and particularly to paragraph Twenty-two (b) 22 (b) thereof, you are hereby notified that the undersigned elects to and does hereby exercise the option provided for in said paragraph Twenty-two (b) 22 (b), namely, of extending the term of your employment for an additional period of twelve (12) months, commencing June 14th., 1924, upon the terms and conditions contained in said contract, and that the compensation to be paid to you for a period of not less than forty (40) weeks during said period shall be Four Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($450.00) per week.
Yours very truly,
LOUIS B. MAYER STUDIOS, INC.
BY "signed Irving Thalberg"