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Irving Grant Thalberg (May 30, 1899 – September 14, 1936) was an American film producer during the early years of motion pictures. He was called "The Boy Wonder" for his youth and ability to select scripts, choose actors, gather production staff, and make profitable films, including Grand Hotel, China Seas, A Night at the Opera, Mutiny on the Bounty, Camille and The Good Earth. His films carved out an international market, "projecting a seductive image of American life brimming with vitality and rooted in democracy and personal freedom", states biographer Roland Flamini.
Irving Grant Thalberg
May 30, 1899 (1899-05-30)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 14, 1936(1936-09-14) (aged 37)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California|
|Occupation(s)||Film producer, director, studio manager|
|Children||Irving Thalberg Jr. (1930–1987)|
Katharine Thalberg (1935–2006)
|Relatives||Sylvia Thalberg (sister)|
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and as a child was afflicted with a congenital heart disease that doctors said would kill him before he reached the age of thirty. After graduating from high school he worked as a store clerk during the day and to gain some job skills took a night class in typing. He then found work as a secretary with Universal Studios' New York office, and was later made studio manager for their Los Angeles facility. There, he oversaw production of a hundred films during his three years with the company. Among the films he produced was The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).
In Los Angeles, he partnered with Louis B. Mayer's new studio and, after it merged with two other studios, helped create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). He was made head of production of MGM in 1925, at the age of twenty-six, helping MGM become the most successful studio in Hollywood. During his twelve years with MGM, until his premature death at the age of 37, he produced four hundred films, most of which bore his imprint and innovations, including story conferences with writers, sneak previews to gain early feedback, and extensive re-shooting of scenes to improve the film. In addition, he introduced horror films to audiences and coauthored the "Production Code", guidelines for morality followed by all studios. During the 1920s and 1930s, he synthesized and merged the world of stage drama and literary classics with Hollywood films.
Thalberg created numerous new stars and groomed their screen images. Among them were Lon Chaney, Ramon Novarro, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy, Luise Rainer, and Norma Shearer, who became his wife. He had the ability to combine quality with commercial success, and was credited with bringing his artistic aspirations in line with the demands of audiences. After his death, Hollywood's producers said he had been the world's "foremost figure in motion-picture history". President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote, "The world of art is poorer with the passing of Irving Thalberg. His high ideals, insight and imagination went into the production of his masterpieces." The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given out periodically by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1937, has been awarded to producers whose body of work reflected consistently high-quality films.
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