The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer company, or MGM, was founded on this date in 1924 when Marcus Loew, owner of the Loew’s theater chain, took control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. MGM was the dominant Hollywood film studio through World War II, producing such classics as The Wizard of Oz, the originalBen Hur and the Charlton Heston remake, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gigi, An American in Paris, Doctor Zhivago, the “Our Gang” and Laurel and Hardy comedy shorts, and many, many others. Its stars included Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lon Chaney, Judy Garland, Charles Laughton, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow — ”more stars,” said the company’s informal slogan, “than there are in the heavens.” After 1927, the company was run by Louis B. Mayer, who made his first fortune as the sole distributor of D.W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, Birth of a Nation (1915). Mayer was a devoutly assimilationist Jew, politically conservative, ruthless in business, saccharine in his tastes. Between 1939 and 1950, he was the highest paid executive in America. He was a supporter of the Hollywood blacklist; he identified with Senator Joseph McCarthy and considered Dwight D. Eisenhower to be too moderate at the 1952 GOP Convention — by which time Mayer had been fired from his post at the ailing MGM.
“If the Jews were proscribed from entering the real corridors of gentility and status in America, the movies offered an ingenious option. Within the studios and on the screen, the Jews could simply create a new country, one where they would not only be admitted, but would govern as well.” — Neil Gabler, An Empire of Their Own
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.