Louis B. Mayer, an Eastern European immigrant, was born and raised in poverty and rose to head one of Hollywood's most successful and enduring studios.
Mayer was a man in which everything except physical stature was writ large: He was ferociously driven and daring, a genius at gauging public taste, a tremendous discoverer of talent, a master of persuasion and a visionary of passion and imagination with a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility to audiences.
On Jan. 3, 1904, he moved to Boston and by June had married Margaret Shenberg, the daughter of a kosher butcher and cantor. After a stint as a Brooklyn junk dealer, he returned to Boston and was nearing the end of his rope when a friend who owned a nickelodeon told him of a burlesque theater for sale in the nearby mill town of Haverhill.
He acquired more theaters, handsomely refurbishing them all, branched out into distribution (the basis of his wealth would be his purchase of the New England rights to "The Birth of a Nation"), ventured into production and in 1918 moved his small company to Los Angeles. Six years later, it became part of a new company to be called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Samuel Goldwyn had already departed, and theater magnate Marcus Loew of Metro Pictures, who held the controlling interest, selected Mayer to become general manager and vice president.
Over the next 25 years, Mayer would create "the Tiffany of the studios" with "more stars than there are in heaven." In establishing the ultimate dream factory in Culver City, he became the prime creator of the enduring Hollywood of myth, home to stars like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, all of whom remain indelible icons of the screen.
Mayer became the highest-paid man in America, one of the country's most successful horse breeders, a political force and Hollywood's leading spokesman.