Irving Grant Thalberg is one of the greatest producers who ever lived. Not only was he the Vice President of Production at MGM, he was an innovator, a genius, extraordinary, gifted, creative and very well respected in Hollywood. He also happened to be the husband of actress Norma Shearer.
Thalberg began his career at the age of twenty when Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle made him a General Manager. While at Universal he clashed with Erich Von Stroheim for going over budget on two films. He fired Von Stroheim making him the first director to ever be fired.
At the age of 24 Thalberg was working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer heading production. He would make MGM one of the most successful studios. The films he produced were of the highest quality and standards. He is responsible for producing The Big Parade (1925), The Divorcee (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and San Francisco (1936) just to name a few. At MGM Thalberg once again clashed with Von Stroheim over the eight hour running time of Greed (1924). It was eventually cut down to two hours.
Thalberg said, “I, more than any other person in Hollywood, have my finger on the pulse of America.” He had a knack for knowing what the public wanted. He made stars out of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. He pioneered the preview process of movies. He would go to a smaller community and preview a movie and give out suggestion cards. If the audience didn’t like something he would order re-takes and make the movie better.
On September 19, 1927 Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer married. They had two children; Irving Jr. and Katherine.
Thalberg‘s health was never the best. He was never expected to live past 30. He was dedicated to his work. You could say he was a workaholic. After the filming of the chariot race in Ben Hur (1925) Thalberg was overworked and had a heart attack. He was 26. In 1932 he suffered another heart attack.
On September 14, 1936 Irving G. Thalberg died of phenomena. His death at the age of 37 shocked Hollywood. On the day he was laid to rest all the studios paused for a moment of silence. FDR said, “The world of art is poorer with the passing of Irving Thalberg. His ideals, insight, and imagination went into production of his masterpieces.” Thalberg never took a screen credit saying, “Credit you give yourself is not worth having.” The only time his name appeared on screen was during the opening credits of The Good Earth (1937).
The Irving G. Thalberg Award is awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to “creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” It is a coveted honor and to this date only 39 awards have been given out. Some of the recipients of this prestigious award have included: David O. Selznick (1939), Walt Disney (1941), Cecil B. DeMille (1952), Alfred Hitchock (1967) and George Lucas (1991).