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Credit you give yourself isn't worth having.” – Irving G. Thalberg

Many people have been so-called “Boy Wonders in their chosen profession. Usually they fade away without consequence, causing only the occasional ripple in the pond every now and then. When it comes to making movies, Irving G. Thalberg created a splash. When everything was said and done, he had been nominated for “Best Producer” eight times, winning twice.

Born in Brooklyn, New York back in 1899, Thalberg’s childhood wasn’t the easiest one. Often sick as a youth, he was helped along the way by a doting mother. When he was forced to quit high school after a bout of rheumatic fever, Thalberg took to reading everything he could get his hands on. It was during this time that he first developed his capacity for what went into the telling of a good story and the ideas began stacking up in his head.

After taking some dead end secretarial positions, he was introduced to one Carl Laemmle, who just happened to be the boss of Universal Pictures. Laemmle hired the young Thalberg as his personal secretary and it wasn’t long afterwards that the legend was born.

Thalberg was only twenty-one years old when he was put in charge of the Universal lot in California. During his time there, he came up with many cost cutting initiatives and it wasn’t long before other studios began knocking on his door in search of his services. Eventually he decided upon the fledgling MGM and went to work for Louis B. Mayer.

Since Mayer already controlled the purse strings, Thalberg was put in charge of the creative end of the business. It turned out to be a good decision and soon the studio was producing a steady stream of hits. One of the policies that Thalberg brought with him was the idea of perfection at all costs. With this in mind, Thalberg and other producers under his charge were allowed to re-shoot scenes and do what seemed like limitless takes that didn’t “feel” right when they hit the screening room. Another strategy that he adopted was that of an open door policy. No ideas were dismissed without discussion and they could come from anyone from as low on the totem pole as a stage hand to that of the star of the show.

As just about anybody can attest, for all those that heap praise on you, you’re sure to have your share of detractors. Two of Thalberg’s were rival producer Erich von Stroheim and legendary actor Edward G. Robinson. In Stroheim’s case, most people chalked it off to professional jealousy and the fact that Thalberg fired him twice from films already under production. In Robinson’s case, he felt that Thalberg was attempting to type cast him into certain roles rather than letting him expand his artistic freedoms.

Thalberg seemed to have the world as his oyster but all of that changed when he suffered a heart attack in 1932. He was only 33 years old. While he was recuperating, Mayer, who was often jealous of Thalberg, decided to stage something akin to a coup. He wrested creative control away from him and severely reduced his authority. Thalberg it seemed, had become nothing but a figurehead.

When 1936 rolled around, Thalberg had had enough. He was getting ready to bolt from MGM and start up his own independent production company along the lines David O. Selznick. Sadly, it was not to be. Thalberg came down with a case of pneumonia and died at the tender age of 37.

The next year, in recognition of his achievements, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in his honor. The award is still given out today.

In his relatively short time, Thalberg left behind a pretty impressive body of work. Remember that quote at the beginning of this tribute? Well, Thalberg was true to his word. In the following filmography, his name never appeared as producer in the credits. The only time it ever did was after his death when the film The Good Earth was dedicated to him in 1937.


Marie Antoinette (1938) (producer)
Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) (executive producer)
A Day at the Races (1937) (producer)
Maytime (1937) (executive producer)
The Good Earth (1937) (executive producer)
Camille (1936) (producer)
Romeo and Juliet (1936) (producer)
Riffraff (1936) (executive producer)
A Night at the Opera (1935) (producer)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) (producer)
China Seas (1935) (executive producer)
No More Ladies (1935) (producer)
Biography of a Bachelor Girl (1935) (producer)
What Every Woman Knows (1934) (executive producer)
The Merry Widow (1934) (producer)
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) (producer)
Riptide (1934) (producer)
La Veuve joyeuse(1934) (producer)
Eskimo (1933) (producer)
Tugboat Annie (1933) (producer)
Strange Interlude (1932) (producer)
Rasputin and the Empress (1932) (executive producer)
Afraid to Talk (1932) (producer)
Red Dust (1932) (producer)
Smilin' Through (1932) (producer)
Red-Headed Woman (1932) (producer)
As You Desire Me (1932) (producer)
Letty Lynton (1932) (executive producer)
Grand Hotel (1932) (producer)
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) (producer)
Freaks (1932) (producer)
Mata Hari (1931) (producer)
Private Lives (1931) (producer)
Possessed (1931) (producer)
The Champ (1931/I) (producer)
The Guardsman (1931) (producer)
The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) (producer)
A Free Soul (1931) (executive producer)
Just a Gigolo (1931) (executive producer)
Menschen hinter Gittern (1931) (producer)
The Secret Six (1931) (producer)
Trader Horn (1931) (producer)
Inspiration (1931) (producer)
A Lady's Morals (1930) (producer)
Way for a Sailor (1930) (producer)
Billy the Kid (1930) (producer)
Let Us Be Gay (1930) (producer)
The Unholy Three (1930) (producer)
The Big House (1930) (producer)
The Rogue Song (1930) (producer)
The Divorcee (1930) (producer)
Redemption (1930) (producer)
Anna Christie (1930) (producer)
The Kiss (1929) (producer) (uncredited)
His Glorious Night (1929) (producer)
Hallelujah (1929) (producer)
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) (producer)
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) (producer)
Where East Is East (1929) (producer)
Voice of the City (1929) (producer)
The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929) (producer)
The Broadway Melody (1929) (producer)
West of Zanzibar (1928) (producer)
Show People (1928) (producer)
White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) (producer)
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) (producer)
The Crowd (1928) (producer)
London After Midnight (1927) (producer)
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) (producer)
Twelve Miles Out (1927) (producer)
Flesh and the Devil (1926) (producer)
Valencia (1926) (producer)
The Temptress (1926) (producer)
The Road to Mandalay (1926) (producer)
Brown of Harvard (1926) (producer)
La Boheme (1926) (producer)
Torrent (1926) (producer)
Ben-Hur (1925) (producer)
The Big Parade (1925) (producer)
The Tower of Lies (1925) (producer)
The Merry Widow (1925) (producer)
The Unholy Three (1925) (producer)
Greed (1924) (producer)
He Who Gets Slapped (1924) (producer)
His Hour (1924) (producer)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) (producer)
Merry-Go-Round (1923) (producer)
Foolish Wives (1922) (producer)
Reputation (1921) (producer)



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