Thalberg, Irving Grant

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THALBERG, IRVING GRANT (1899–1936), U.S. film producer and executive. Born in New York, Thalberg joined Universal Pictures soon after leaving high school and was the studio's general manager at 24, when he produced The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). A year later he was Louis B. Mayer's right-hand man, and soon after the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer merger in 1924 he became the company's production chief. He produced Ben-Hur in 1926.

Thalberg guided mgm in its transition from the silent screen to sound, breaking box-office records with the pioneering musical Broadway Melody (1929). He was responsible for some of the most celebrated films of his time, such as Greed (1924); The Big Parade (1925); Mata Hari (1931); Grand Hotel (1932); Strange Interlude (1932); Bombshell (1933); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934); The Merry Widow (1934); China Seas (1935); Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); San Francisco (1936); Camille (1936); Romeo and Juliet (Oscar nomination for Best Picture, 1936); several *Marx Brothers comedies; and the much-acclaimed The Good Earth (Oscar nomination for Best Picture, 1937). He brought many performers to fame, among them John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer, whom he married in 1927 on her conversion to Judaism. (She returned to Christianity in 1942.)

Thalberg was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, established in 1927. Others were Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner brothers, Harry and Jack.

Thalberg's final project for mgm was Marie Antoinette (1938), which was in the early stages of production at the time of his death. The title role went to Shearer, who took a keen interest in the film and considered it an ode to her husband. Dubbed "the boy wonder" early in his career, Thalberg died of pneumonia at age 37.

Although he produced almost 90 films, Thalberg did not permit his name to appear in any of the film credits, believing that "credit you give yourself is not worth having."

After his death, credit was awarded him in the form of the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Created by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the annual award is presented to acknowledge "creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production."


B. Thomas, Thalberg: Life and Legend (1969). add. bibliography: M. Samuel, Mayer and Thalberg: The Make-Believe Saints (1975); R. Flamini, Thalberg: The Last Tycoon and the World of mgm (1994).

[G. Eric Hauck /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]