I wish to politely disagree with Gottfried Reinhardt’s implication that the seeds of MGM’s demise were planted with the death of Irving Thalberg (“When MGM Ranked at the Head of the Class,” Aug. 17).
Two words are most frequently associated with Thalberg-- genius and legend . He indeed was both. And no one can dispute that.
But when Thalberg died (Sept. 14, 1936), many Hollywood insiders quietly forecast MGM’s doom, insisting that with the studio’s creative force gone MGM would soon wither and die under the “crude” hand of Louis B. Mayer.
Yet the facts are that some of that studio’s greatest films and greatest years came after Thalberg’s death: “Wizard of Oz;” “Ninotchka”; “Goodbye, Mister Chips”; “Singin’ in the Rain”; “An American in Paris,” plus many more--all post-Thalberg. Even “Gone With the Wind,” though made by David Selznick, was made with MGM’s money and Mayer’s decisions helped get it made. (Thalberg, incidentally, turned down the book “GWTW.”)
So, MGM turned out hundreds of good pictures, made money, paid dividends and flourished long after 1936. As vital to MGM as Thalberg was, his overall contributions have been slightly overestimated in the long haul by film historians while--in my judgment--Mayer’s have been considerably underrated.