Happy Birthday, Norma!
Hollywood Dreams Made Real
Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
A recent book by Mark A.Viera, Hollywood Dreams Made Real, tells the story of Irving G. Thalberg, the great film producer at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer from 1924 to his early death in 1936. Nicknamed “The Boy Wonder”, Thalberg had a particular gift for guiding and controlling the ideal narrative flow – both in the creation of a screenplay and, more importantly, during countless hours in the editing room. He elevated the “look” of the screen picture to the quality of fine art, demanding new and unexplored technique from his lighting designers and cinematographers. The end result is a bevy of 400 films that thrilled audiences at the time and continues to stir the soul and imagination of viewers today – probably right now on the TCM Channel. Thalberg’s vision and work created “more stars than there are in Heaven” and, fourscore years later, his particular stable of performers remain household names and their enduring fame the stuff of absolute Immortality. In his lavish book, published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Mr. Viera presents an overview of producer Irving Thalberg, guiding the reader sequentially through his career with a series of previously un-published remembrances from Mrs. Thalberg – Norma Shearer – along with recollections from other MGM veterans as well as newly discovered interviews and data from unseen production records. The book is abundant with 260 rare duotone photographs – including major portraits, set and location stills, many of which have never before been published. It is interesting to note that when Chief Executive Louis B. Mayer engaged Thalberg as Vice President In Charge of Production (in 1923, at $500 a week), the first assignment was to find a Leading Lady. Enter Norma Shearer. Happy Birthday, Norma!
“Since women have found and tasted their new freedom, I don’t believe that they will ever give it up. Various people have predicted a return to almost mid-Victorian conventions. They say that the pendulum of public opinion is bound to swing backward. But I don’t think that women will ever go back to the old prewar restrictions on thought and action. Women have tasted freedom and they like it.” — Norma Shearer, Hollywood Dreams Made Real.
MR. & MRS. IRVING THALBERG. Wedding Day, 29 September 1927
Hollywood Dreams Made Real is a collector’s dream. From the cover design through the page layout, and the exquisite quality of selected images*, Mark Viera has created a volume befitting of Hollywood Royalty. The featured stars are Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Lon Chaney. The photos reflect the intensity of the times, the excitement and wonder of unprecedented celebrity, the glamour of World Premieres, and the dazzling designs of MGM Studios’ resident artists. MGM kept its promise to release 50 pictures a year. Some grossed more than others. Studio bosses knew all about showcasing their featured players. They were masters at manipulating their superstars, creating images to dazzle the eye, and fashioning stories that tweaked the Censors and kept the public coming back week after week. The author’s chapter on 1932 is particularly relevant to our own times. Thalberg is defying The Great Depression. “Most of the fourteen films he made from stage plays in 1932 were profitable,” says Viera. “Two were unusually so.” One of them was Grand Hotel with Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lewis Stone. It remains one of the greatest films of all time. The other money-maker was Smilin’ Through starring Norma Shearer and Frederic March.
SMILIN’ THROUGH (1932) – Norma Shearer.
The Wedding Day of “Moonyean Clare”. Watch out for the jilted lover! He’s gone mad with drink. He’s taken his gun!
A popular Broadway play of the 8-hanky variety, the first film version of Smilin’ Through was released in 1922 featureing legendary silent screen goddess Norma Talmadge. It’s was one of those rare opportunities where the Leading Lady gets to play two parts of equal value. Talmadge also produced the work, proved to be a knock-out, and created something of a stir. In 1925, Shearer would test The Code with her dual roles in Lady of the Night. According to Viera, Mrs. Thalberg did more than her share to keep the Company’s profits high. “With The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Strangers May Kiss, and Strange Interlude, Thalberg had turned his wife into the torch bearer for the single standard.”
LADY OF THE NIGHT (1925) – Norma Shearer
“I decided to slick back my hair,” says the lovely Norma Shearer, “and wear a beauty spot and spit curls. I had a tight skirt, black silk stockings, and heels so high I could hardly walk. I tied a red tulle bow around my neck. With my hands on my hips and some chewing gum, I was all set up for business.”
“In Hollywood Dreams Made Real,” says Mark Viera, “I have assembled an album of photographs from Thalberg’s films. This book is not intended to be, nor can it be, a conventional biography. Thalberg deserves a full-scale biography, one that details previously unexamined aspects of his professional, political, and personal lives, and one that dispels the foolish and sometimes hostile apocrypha that have formed around his legend. I am preparing that book.”
LESLIE HOWARD and NORMA SHEARER. On the set of Romeo and Juliet, 1936.
“Cameraman William Daniels made Romeo and Juliet perhaps the most beautifully lit film of the entire black and white era.” — Mark Viera
Click here to order: Hollywood Dreams Made Real – Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M
* The photographs included above are not taken from Mr. Viera’s book.
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: email@example.com.
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