Dreams Made Real: MGM and Irving Thalberg

Updated Otober 16, 2009

Mark Vieira has two new books: Already available is The Making of Some Like It Hot co-written with the films star Tony Curtis from John Wiley Publishing. And Vieira's followup to his Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M will come out on November 15, 2009: Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince from University of California Press.

Vieira is also the guest curator for an exhibit on Thalberg which is being shown at the Academy of Motion picture Arts adn Sciences in Beverly Hills. Above is an image from the exhibit.

Mark Vieira Book Thalberg
Above: Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M

Mark Vieira
Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg
and the Rise of M-G-M has Hollywood Dreams Made Real for approximately $31.50 ($50.00 retail)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Review: Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M
Mark Vieira's book is an affectionate portrait of both Thalberg and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Vieira follows Thalberg's development as the super-producer bar-none, providing a luxurious catalog of still images tracing the career trajectory of Thalberg's movie stars and the film's produced at the 'dream factory' until Thalberg's death in 1936.

"Dreams Made Real" is not meant to be a typical biography, in fact Vieira's introduction states that the book is really a picture companion to the volume he wishes to publish that would go into detail on Thalberg's life story. Nonetheless, the six chapters and 18 sections in this book outline the highlights of each forward episode in Thalberg's life, telling us of the general development of M-G-M and using many anecdotes to flavor the feeling for what Hollywood was like in it's very earliest era.

Vieira covers Thalberg's relationship with Carl Laemmle at Universal, Thalberg's move to work at Louis B. Mayer productions, and then how that soon evolved into M-G-M when the demand for more and better 'product' came from theatre-chain owner Marcus Leow. Vieira uses a brief film-by-film analysis to show Thalberg's refining of his production techniques that made it possible for him to absolutely control vast numbers of projects simultaneously and his attempts to make each individual film better than the one before.

Also described are Thalberg's relationships with various stars, his marriage to Norma Shearer, and his close and warm partnership with Louis Mayer that steadily soured as M-G-M grew into the most important studio in the world of film.

Vieira's friendly enthusiasm for his subject includes the famous (and not so famous) personalities around M-G-M like Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow and the whole pantheon of M-G-M stars of the 20s-30s. Thalberg battles with directors Erich von Stroheim, lets Tod Browning make the public relations disaster Freaks, molds star John Gilbert only to see him decline into alcoholism, and resurrects The Marx Brothers after the box office debacle of Duck Soup at Paramount. Despite having a golden touch for producing quality films, there are still more than a few failures in Thalberg's large portfolio, particularly obvious is Thalberg's misunderstanding of Buster Keaton, applying M-G-M production methods that improved other stars and films but sabotaged Buster.

Like Vieira's other handsome volumes about classic Hollywood, the descriptive captions and the large number of large, high quality photographs combine to make a reader want to seek out these sometimes obscure films. Vieira's writing style is something of a love letter besides a historical chronicle, and the opposite of many a modern biography that picks it's subject apart in order to fixate on the warts and foibles. Vieira admires Thalberg (which is easy to do if you hold his M-G-M films in any esteem) and in the final chapter speculates on what Thalberg could have accomplished if he had lived. It is poignant because Vieira has earlier in the book stated his case succinctly that Thalberg's taste and brains made M-G-M what it was, and how film careers depended upon that in order to succeed, and how they floundered later without it.

After Thalberg

But M-G-M survived Thalberg, indeed by the time he died the politics inside M-G-M had already shunted him into his own production unit (the most important one, but still a step down from when all of M-G-M was his personal production unit.) Louis B. Mayer's jealousy and Thalberg's dwindling health conspired to limit 'the boy wonder,' and what could have been possible is the standing question left by the book's end.

The production quality of the book is high. Glossy, medium-weight pages and evenly balanced photograph reproduction are easy and interesting to look at (over 200 not known to be published before). In a time when many books have over-sharpened images from too much tinkering with computer tools, these pages seem to be in close league with the classic over-sized 'coffee table' art books of Abrams, though "Dreams Made Real" measures but 11.25" x 9.375."

This is a warm, fascinating book of deep feeling for classic Hollywood, for M-G-M and for 'boy genius' Irving Thalberg.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Here is the catalog information from Abram Books describing Hollywood Dreams Made Real:

Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of M-G-M
Abrams Books
260 color illustrations, 240 pages, 11 x 9"
ISBN: 0-8109-7234-4
EAN: 978081097234-6
£ 25.00
Available November 1, 2008

Ben-Hur, Flesh and the Devil, Tarzan the Ape Man, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty, A Night at the Opera, The Good Earth - most filmgoers even today have heard of these Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer classics from the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention the remakes they spawned. Yet fewer know the name of the young genius behind these masterworks, Irving G. Thalberg.

Nicknamed the ‘Boy Wonder’, Thalberg was running Universal Pictures at the age of twenty and M-G-M at twenty-three. Thirteen years later, he was dead. During that brief span, from 1924 to 1936, he supervised more than four hundred M-G-M films; made stars of, among others, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Clark Cable, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney and Greta Garbo; gave Hollywood careers to stage legends from Helen Hayes to the Barrymores; and strove to elevate film to the level of fine art. This groundbreaking new book tells the story of Thalberg’s short but productive life and confirms his role as the prime architect of the Hollywood studio system. Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg's M-G-M is the first book to treat the ‘Boy Wonder’ as a human being, using unpublished correspondence, interviews and archival documents to reveal the beguiling, mesmerizing man behind the legend.

In this enthralling volume, acclaimed film historian Mark A. Vieira sets the record straight with a strict and gripping chronology of Thalberg’s life. He interweaves the unpublished recollections of his wife, Norma Shearer, and those of other M-G-M veterans with newly discovered transcripts of Thalberg’s conversations; data from previously unseen production records; and a treasure trove of images from Thalberg’s films, most of which have never before been in print.

about the author
Mark A. Vieira is a photographer, film historian and the author of four other critically acclaimed books on Hollywood published by Abrams. He lives in Los Angeles.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Other books by Mark Vieira are:

Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits
224 Pages
George Hurrell's Hollywood portraits, collected into a broad overview of some 275 photographs selected by Mark Vieira. Featuring Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Jane Russell, and many others, the book discusses Hurrell's techniques and his impact, in particular his role in visually defining the era known as Hollywood's golden age.

Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy
228 Pages
Author Mark Vieira traces Garbo's career through some 300 photographic images and a chronicle of her Hollywood films from 1926 to her retirement in 1941.

Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood
240 Pages
Vieira covers pre-code Warner Bros, Paramount, MGM and other studios films, with an assembled gallery of 275 photographs. The book features Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Mae West, Joan Blondell, James Cagney, and Greta Garbo, among others.

From the review by Gary Morris at the online Bright Lights Film Journal discussing the book:

start quoteVieira’s research — incorporating production files, scripts, period publications, interviews, private correspondence — is solid, and adds density to the text. His style is engaging and frequently droll. Of Marion Davies on the set of Going Hollywood, he says: "She took a deep breath, concentrated on a spotlight, and froze her features in a semblance of romantic abandon. No one knew that she was dead drunk.End Quote

Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic
264 Pages
This is the most handsome book on Horror Films I have ever seen. Full of clear and excellently printed black and white stills, it is a treat for the eyes from cover-to-cover. Vieira's text is full of unusual information, concise analysis and his obvious affection for the subject. From the silent films of Chaney, to the Universal films of the 30s-40s, and well beyond that, Vieira goes over the well-trod ground of classic horror films and finds much more than the same old facts and dates. There's nothing that compares to this book for sheer production values and well-rationed brevity over so many films and stars.

In the Picture: Production Stills from the TCM Archives
164 Pages
A collection of 150 images culled from the Turner Classic Movies still photograph library. With emphasis on Hollywoods classic eras - the 30s through the 60s, the book is organized and narrated by Mark Vieira. Films like Ben-Hur, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and newer movies like Giant, the Dirty Dozen and Bullitt are featured.


Mark Vieira website on his projects

Review of the 1994 Thalberg bio "The Last Tycoon and the World of MGM" by Roland Flamini

Original page 2009. Updated Sept 2013.

What's Recent