i have been meaning to scan and post this for a while now, Jeff W. mentioning L. B. Mayer in the Higham For President thread inspired me to finaly do it and post it. this is just too good not to share. From the Lillian Ross book, PICTURE, a trully marvelous book. this discription below had me in stiches, i've re-read it and laughed many times. Ross has a great writing voice. she also wrote on Chaplin, and hemingway.
The maze of paths followed by all the individuals at MGM who work together to make a motion picture led inexorably to the office of Louis B. Mayer, and I found him there one day, behind a series of doors, talking to Arthur Freed, a producer of musicals for the studio.
Mayer's office was about half as large as the lounge of the Music Hall, and he sat behind a huge cream colored desk overlooking a vast expanse of peach colored carpet. The walls of the office were paneled in cream colored leather, and there was a cream colored bar, a Cream-colored fireplace with cream colored fire irons, cream-colored leather chairs and couches, and a cream colored grand piano. Behind Mayer's desk stood an American flag and a marble statue of the MGM lion. The desk was covered with four cream colored telephones, a prayer book, several photographs of lions, a tintype of Mayer's mother, and a statuette of the Republican Party's elephant. The big desk hid most of Mayer, but I could see his powerful shoulders, decked in navy blue, and a gay, polkadot bow tie that almost touched his chin. His large head seems set upon the shoulders, without an intervening neck. His hair is thick and snow white, his face is ruddy, and his eyes, behind glasses with amber colored frames, stared with a sort of fierce blankness at Freed, who was showing him a report on the box office receipts of his latest musical, then playing at the Radio City Music Hall.
"Great! I saw it!" Mayer said, sweeping Freed back with his arm. "I said to you the picture would be a wonderful hit. In here!" he cried, poking his index finger at his chest. "It wins the audience in here!" He lifted his snowy head and looked at the cream colored wall before him as though he were watching the Music Hall screen. "Entertainment" he cried, transfixed by what he seemed to see on that screen, and he made the face of a man who was emotionally stirred by what he was watching. "It's good enough for you and I and the box office," he said, turning back to Freed. "Not for the smart alecks. It's not good enough any more," he went on, whining coyly, in imitation of someone saying that winning the heart of the audience was not good enough. He pounded a commanding fist on his desk and looked at me. "Let me tell you something!" he said. "Prizes! Awards! Ribbons! We had two pictures here. An Andy Hardy picture, with little Mickey Rooney, and 'Ninotchka,' with Greta Garbo. 'Ninotchka' got the prizes. Blue ribbons! Purple ribbons! Nine bells and seven stars! Which picture made the money? `Andy Hardy' made the money. Why? Because it won praise from the heart. No ribbons!"
"Hail" Mr. Freed said.
"Twenty six years with the studio!" Mayer went on. "They used to listen to me. Never would Irving Thalberg make a picture I was opposed to. I had a worship for that boy. He worked. Now they want cocktail parties and their names in the papers. Irving listened to me. Never satisfied with his own work. That was Irving. Years later, after Irving passed away, they still listened. They make an Andy Hardy picture." He turned his powerful shoulders toward me. "Andy's mother is dying, and they make the picture showing Andy standing outside the door. Standing. I told them, `Don't you know that an American boy like that will get down on his hands and knees and pray.' They listened. They brought Mickey Rooney down on his hands and knees." Mayer leaped from his chair and crouched on the peach colored carpet and showed how Andy Hardy had prayed. "The biggest thing in the picture!" He got up and returned to his chair. "Not good enough," he said, whining coyly again. "Don't show the good, wholesome, American mother in the home. Kind. Sweet. Sacrifices. Love." Mayer paused and by his expression demonstrated, in turn, maternal kindness, sweetness, sacrifice, and love, and then glared at Freed and me. "No!" he cried. "Knock the mother on the jaw!" He gave himself an uppercut to the chin. "Throw the little old lady down the stairs!" He threw himself in the di reaction of the American flag. "Throw the mother's good, homemade chicken soup in the mother's face!" He threw an imaginary plate of soup in Freed's face. "Step on the mother! Kick her! That is art, they say. Art!" He raised and lowered his white eyebrows, wiggled his shoulders like a hula dancer, and moved his hands in a mysterious pattern in the air. "Art" he repeated, and gave an angry growl.
"You said it," said Freed.
"Andy Hardy'! I saw the picture and the tears were in my eyes," Mayer said. "I'm not ashamed. I'll see it again. Every time, I'll cry."
"In musicals, we don't have any of those phony artistic pretensions," Freed said.
Mayer gave no sign that be bad heard Freed. "Between you and I and the lamppost," he said, straightening his bow tie, "the smart alecks around here don't know the difference between the heart and the gutter. They don't want to listen to you. Marie Dressler! Who thought you could take a fat old lady and make her a star? I did it. And Wally Beery. And Lionel Barrymore." He leaned back in his chair, one hand tucked into his shirt, his eyes squinting, his voice turning into the querulous rasp of Dr. Gillespie informing Dr. Kildare of his diagnosis of the disease. Then, resuming his natural manner, he said, "The audience knows. Look at the receipts. Give the audience what they want? No. Not good enough." He paused.
"Thoreau said most of us lead lives of quiet desperation," Freed said quickly. "Pictures should make you feel better, not worse."
Again Mayer did not seem to hear. "`The Red Badge of Courage,"' be said. "A million and a half. Maybe more. What for? There's no story. I was against it. They wanted to make it. I don't say no. John Huston. He was going to do `Quo Vadis.' What he wanted to do to the picture! No heart. His idea was he'd throw the Christians to the lions. That's all. I begged him to change his ideas. I got down on my hands and knees to him. I sang `Mammy' to him. I showed him the meaning of heart. I crawled to him on hands and knees. "Mammy, Manny!' With tears. No! No heart! He thanked me for taking him off the picture. Now he wants `The Red Badge of Courage.’ Schary wants it. All right. I'll watch. I don't say no, but I wouldn't make that picture with Sam Goldwyn's money."
this book is an incredible view into what is was like to work in the studio system. it's sad that a guy as talented as Freed always had to have the grosses of his last picture in his jacket pocket to pull out and show in a moment's notice. everyone kissed Mayer's ass. no wonder people like welles, and huston could not work in this type of atmosphere.