I am familiar with Mayer’s early years. The immigration from Russia, the poverty years as a metal and trash collector in New England. Right around the corner in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I did pieces at Channel 7 in Boston back in the 1970s about Mayer’s early years before we had an internet with easy access to Hollywood history. Much of my stuff rehashed old studio publicity memos and interviews with then-surviving actors who either loved or hated the golden days.
Eyman skips past the usual tabloid stuff about MGM’s stars, the oft-repeated gossip and cliché analysis about the studio suits. He really digs into the lives of these legendary people. He had confidential files which had been long dormant under the thumbs of the mogul’s estates. The day-in day-out details are mind boggling.
I just finished a section where Mayer, Thalberg, Goldwyn and others used their studio power and personnel to torpedo the gubernatorial aspirations of Upton Sinclair in California. They played very dirty pool, aligning themselves with William Randolph “Citizen Kane” Hearst to orchestrate what FOX news does today.
I had to stop when I reached the section where Thalberg, the erstwhile ‘Golden Boy cum Last Tycoon-Great Gatsby” hero tries to strongarm the fledgling writer’s union. He does the “you’ll never work in Hollywood” again bit with writers trying to form their union.
It reminded me of my days at ABC Network News where there was not very subtle pressure from top level suits to censor, alter, or ignore information we were getting from overseas reporters in Vietnam, Moscow, and sometimes China. The pressure was most obvious with the Vietnam casualty reports which were the numbers from the daily MACV briefings.
We had the real numbers from veteran correspondents like Don Baker, Ted Koppel and others when we took in their reports in the editing (verbatim) studios. I was part of the new wave of young reporters who didn’t mind sparring with the old guard suits who were getting their marching orders from the Pentagon.
Our union — the WGA (Writers’ Guild of America) — got lots of pressure from the very top level of the Network. As relatively low-level grunts, our union basically told us to “just do your jobs” with not so subtle asides about “don’t take any shit from the suits about the content of the news.” Some of the older WGA members were afraid of losing their jobs.
We newbies didn’t know fear. We were too hungry for success, too young to be afraid of intimidation. Therefore, I had this rush of old memories reading the Mayer book. It’s fascinating how things never change in “the biz.”
And that’s entertainment!