Thalberg, Irving G.

Thalberg, Irving G. (Grant)

(1899–1936) movie executive; born in New York City. Sickly as a youth, he mastered shorthand and typing and at age 19 became the secretary to Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Film Manufacturing. His understanding of the film business led Laemmle to put him in charge of reorganizing Universal's Hollywood studios in 1919. In 1923 he was hired by Louis B. Mayer, becoming supervisor of production for the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Despite his youth, he combined strong administrative decisiveness with a genius for recognizing what made a successful movie and he helped to make MGM a leading studio, involving himself in every detail and demanding excellence. He introduced the "sneak preview" to gauge audience response before releasing a film. A 1932 heart attack forced him to retire prematurely, but since 1937 the Academy of Motion Pictures has honored outstanding producers with the Irving G. Thalberg Award.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.