Irving Grant Thalberg (May 30, 1899 – September 14, 1936) was an American film producer during the early years of motion pictures. He was called "The Boy Wonder" for his youth and ability to select scripts, choose actors, gather production staff, and make profitable films, including Grand Hotel, China Seas, Camille, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Good Earth. His films carved out an international market, "projecting a seductive image of American life brimming with vitality and rooted in democracy and personal freedom," states biographer Roland Flamini.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and as a child was afflicted with a congenital heart disease that doctors said would kill him before he reached the age of thirty. After graduating high school he worked as a store clerk during the day and to gain some job skills took a night class in typing. He then found work as a secretary with Universal Studios' New York office, and was later made studio manager for their Los Angeles facility. There, he oversaw production of a hundred films during his three years with the company. Among the films he produced was The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In Los Angeles he partnered with Louis B. Mayer's new studio and, after it merged with two other studios, helped create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). He was made head of production of MGM in 1925, at the age of twenty-six, helping MGM become the most successful studio in Hollywood. During his twelve years with MGM, until his early death at age 37, he produced four hundred films, most of which bore his imprint and innovations, including story conferences with writers, sneak previews to gain early feedback, and extensive re-shooting of scenes to improve the film. In addition, he introduced horror films to audiences and coauthored the “Production Code,” guidelines for morality followed by all studios. During the 1920s and 1930s, he synthesized and merged the world of stage drama and literary classics with Hollywood films.
Thalberg created numerous new stars and groomed their screen images. Among them were Lon Chaney, Ramon Novarro, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Luise Rainer, Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, and Norma Shearer, who became his wife. He had the ability to combine quality with commercial success, and was credited with bringing his artistic aspirations in line with the demands of audiences. After his death, Hollywood's producers said he had been the world's "foremost figure in motion-picture history." President Roosevelt wrote, "The world of art is poorer with the passing of Irving Thalberg. His high ideals, insight and imagination went into the production of his masterpieces." The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given out periodically by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1937, has been awarded to producers whose body of work reflected consistently high quality films.
He is also known as Irving Grant Thalberg.
Thalberg and Shearer took a much-needed Labor Day weekend vacation in Monterey, California, in 1936, staying at the same beachfront hotel where they spent their honeymoon. A few weeks earlier, Thalberg's leading screenwriter, Al Lewin, had proposed doing a film based on a soon-to-be published book, Gone With the Wind. Although Thalberg said it would be a "sensational" role for Gable, and a "terrific picture," he decided not to do it: