Irving Thalberg: Creating the Hollywood Studio System, 1920-1936

The Academy recognized legendary production executive Irving Thalberg (1899-1936) with a major gallery exhibition featuring unpublished photographs, enlightening documents, poster art, props and costumes from motion pictures overseen by Hollywood’s original “Boy Wonder.” The installation, guest curated by historian and Thalberg biographer Mark A. Vieira, explored Thalberg’s role in the creation of the Hollywood studio system during the 1920s and ’30s.

Thalberg became the general manager of Universal Studios at age 20. Three years later, he joined Louis B. Mayer at his small L.A. studio, and the following year Louis B. Mayer Productions was merged with two larger studios to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Together, Mayer and Thalberg made MGM the most successful film studio at the time. Thalberg introduced many innovations in studio practice, including story conferences, sneak previews and extensive retakes, and established the role of the producer as a creative force. He was referred to as the “movie doctor” for his keen sense of how to correct flaws in films.

All the more remarkable is the fact that Thalberg accomplished so much at such a young age. His death at 37 stunned Hollywood. Shortly after his passing, the Academy established the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which is presented periodically to to a creative producer whose body of work reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production.

The exhibition included portraits by George Hurrell and Clarence Bull of many of Thalberg’s stars, including Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer (Thalberg’s wife). Also on display were costumes designed by Adrian and set designs by Cedric Gibbons. Films represented in the exhibition included “Ben-Hur” (1925), “Anna Christie” (1930), “Mata Hari” (1931), “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Freaks” (1932), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), “A Night at the Opera” (1935), “Romeo and Juliet” (1936), “Marie Antoinette” (1938), and others.

Exhibition Information

September 17 through December 13, 2009
The Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery
Don't Show Again