Posts Tagged ‘Irving Thalberg’

Norma and Irving’s Wedding

Thursday, March 4th, 2010


Norma Shearer and

Irving Thalberg’s belated honeymoon


Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer


By Allan R. Ellenberger


Actress Norma Shearer and MGM producer Irving Thalberg were married on September 29, 1927 at Thalberg’s home, 9419 Sunset Boulevard (this was previously the home of actress Pauline Frederick and at the time was 503 Sunset Blvd.).


The marriage ceremony was attended by about fifty guests. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi Edgar Magnin in the garden beneath a canopy of chrysanthemums. Norma, who was dressed in a gown of ivory velvet, was given in marriage by her brother, Douglas Shearer. Louis B. Mayer acted as best man, while the maid of honor was Sylvia Thalberg, Irving’s sister. Instead of taking an immediate honeymoon, the couple postponed their trip until the following summer.


Upon their return, Norma shared some highlights with Los Angeles Times columnist, Grace Kingsley




The Shearer-Thalberg wedding party



“It is refreshing for an American actress to go to Europe because she is thought much younger than she is. Foreign women prefer to look chic rather than young. They are sophisticated at an earlier age.


“Women in Monte Carlo do not really dress beautifully, at least not nowadays. They still have lovely jewels and their clothes are merely a background for those. But the Sporting Club at Monte Carlo lives entirely up to the movie sets.


“The Riviera is delightful, and the Cornish Drive is the nearest thing to Hollywood I saw. But I must admit it’s more beautiful.


“Speaking of comparisons, I’m afraid I’ve made a mortal enemy of a certain Paris newspaper man. He came to interview me the one day when I was hot and tired from a long trip around town. He asked me what I thought of Paris, and I said I wouldn’t take the whole of it in exchange for Hollywood or something like that. Irving came over and gave my hand a squeeze, meaning for me to be careful. So I tried to make up by saying that Pairs was nice, but – here Irving gave my hand another awful squeeze. He didn’t seem to know that I was trying to veer around slowly, so as not to be too obvious. After the man had gone Irving said, ‘Didn’t you notice me squeezing your hand?’


“I said, ‘You nearly killed me.’


“In Rome we went to the opening of one of our pictures, Tell It to the Marines. We thought we should dress up. So I put on my ermine coat and Irving wore his evening clothes. We expected to find a wonderful theater, but instead the house was down an alley and was a funny old place. We found out that in Italy it is only the middle and lower classes who go to pictures. The management presented me with some lovely roses and we were placed in a box. At the end of the first  reel the lights went up, as they do after every reel over there, and people began waving to each other, whistling and eating.


“They caught sight of me all done up in ermine, and I suppose they thought I was some one they should applaud. So they did. I got a great thrill out of it. I was awfully fussed, and whenever I get fussed before an audience, I always kiss my husband. That always is a good piece of business to cut to! Irving gave the crowd the Fascistic salute and it went great.


“In Algiers, thanks to a certain guide, we viewed some places seldom seen by tourists. We were supposed to be met by a courier and he planned to get there when we did, but we were a day ahead of time, and we had only a day and half, so we missed him. We got into a taxi and told the driver to take us somewhere. We finally discovered that he was going round and round the same square. The day was slipping by, and we were very discouraged. Finally up came a greasy, thoroughly disreputable looking fellow, who said he was a guide. Our driver had been told not to trust us to anyone. He told us the man was a thief and a villain. But Irving is not to be downed by difficulties. He said the he would take a chance. After driving up to a remote part of the town, the guide said for us to get out of the car, and he told the driver to go away and meet us later at a certain place.


“I was sure we were going to be cracked over the head, and I was terrified every minute as we walked down the streets that were streaming with filth.


“The guide asked us if we wanted to see a Spanish dance. I don’t know what the Spaniards would think of that dance! We were taken up into a little room decorated brightly in cheap Moorish mosaic imitations and colors. Six girls were dancing. I thought Spanish dancers wore a great many clothes. I still think so. But these girls didn’t. They wore indeed very, very little and that little consisted entirely of – what do you think? – silk stockings!


“Then we went into a gambling place where the Algerian sheiks were playing for money. These sheiks weren’t at all good looking. Their faces were seamed and weather beaten.  Their eyes were wild and fierce looking. Their supposedly white clothes were dirty and bedraggled. Arab princes of the desert may be better looking.


“All the time I had been devoured by fear.


“Finally we started home, and we found our driver just where our guide had told him to be.


“What’s more we found that our villainous looking guide was really a mild family man with six children, who sold binoculars as a steady job, and who turned an honest penny occasionally by acting as guide!”



Novarro and Hurrell

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010


Ramon Novarro and Hurrell



By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 10, 2020


In 1928, Ramon Novarro became friends with Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a woman flier who became famous for breaking speed records in her plane, Mystery Ship. Years later she founded the Happy Bottom Ranch in the Antelope Valley, which became an oasis in the desert for aviators depicted in the film, The Right Stuff (1983).


Pancho was introduced to Ramon at a party, and the two became an unusual couple cavorting around Hollywood in Ramon’s sports cars. Pancho was not the glamorous type and was known for her profanity, which she used liberally.


Pancho was a staunch supporter of George Hurrell, a struggling photographer who had taken many photos of her. Ramon had told Pancho that he was planning to make his concert debut in Vienna and needed new portraits. She suggested Hurrell, and Ramon asked her to set up an appointment. Pancho excitedly told Hurrell about Novarro’s request, to which he replied, “I’m flattered, but why doesn’t he use MGM’s photographer?”



Ramon Novarro and Pancho Barnes (Photo: Pancho Barnes Trust Estate)



She explained that Novarro was planning an upcoming concert tour and added, “He doesn’t want MGM to know about it right now. If he asked Ruth Harriet Louise to do it, the prints would be all over the studio.”


That evening Hurrell prepared his tiny studio at 672 Lafayette Park Place to greet the Ben-Hur of the screen. Soon Novarro’s sports roadster arrived, and he and Pancho made their way to Hurrell’s studio, where the two were introduced. Pancho, who was breathless and giddy, excused herself, explaining she had to meet some new pilots down at Mines Field. Hurrell sensed there was a budding romance between  her and Ramon, which was precisely what Pancho wanted people to think.


After Pancho left, Hurrell set up his equipment while Novarro changed. Within minutes, he turned around and saw the actor, standing quietly on the landing dressed as a Spanish grandee in a huge sombrero, with silver ornaments and a mustache glued to his upper lip.



The first photo of Ramon Novarro taken by George Hurrell



Hurrell found that Novarro, whom he nicknamed Pete, had photographically perfect features and was very relaxed. The photographer played classical music, which made Novarro more responsive. “He could face my camera with a blank expression,” Hurrell recalled. “Not at all like some of the men-about-town whom I had been photographing. I had to trick them into losing their solemn expression in order to get an interesting shot, but Ramon was relaxed.”


Two days later when the Latin saw the proofs, he told Hurrell, “You have caught my moods exactly. You have revealed what I am inside.” Hurrell photographed Novarro many times over the next few months. When Pancho saw a photo taken on her estate in San Marino (below) of a tunic-clad Novarro standing under a tree next to a white horse, the aviatrix noted, “My God George, even the horse looks glamorous!”





One day while visiting the set of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, Norma Shearer invited Novarro into her dressing room for a visit. She complained that she was very unhappy about the recent film roles she was receiving. During the conversation, Ramon spread out a stack of portraits he just received from Hurrell. Norma looked from one to the other with obvious interest. “Why Ramon, no one has ever photographed you like this before,” she said.


Ramon told her about Hurrell and his tiny Lafayette Park studio. Smiling, she said, “He may come in handy. I have an idea.” She explained that the studio was preparing a script she wanted called The Divorcee (1930). Her husband and mentor, Irving Thalberg, did not think she was beguiling enough for the part. She hoped that if Hurrell could photograph her like a “sex pot,” Irving would give her the role. So Ramon set up a meeting between the actress and Hurrell. The photographs were stunning and convinced Thalberg to give his wife the part. As a result, she won the Academy Award for best actress, and Hurrell was given a contract as a portrait photographer at MGM.


The preceeding exerpt is from Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol (1999) by Allan R. Ellenberger.


Irving Thalberg Films at Egyptian

Saturday, November 21st, 2009


 A day of Irving Thalberg at the Egyptian




In collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibit “Irving Thalberg: Creating the Hollywood Studio System, 1920 – 1936


Co-Presented with the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles



Grauman’s Egyptian Theater

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2 pm



Author and Thalberg expert Mark Vieira will present a 40 minute illustrated lecture on Irving G. Thalberg prior to the double feature of pre-code features. 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 few 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 (whom he married), Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, and Greta Garbo; gave Hollywood careers to stage legends from Helen Hayes to the Barrymores; and elevated 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.


That Thalberg was a cinematic genius is undisputed. It was he who pioneered many of today’s filmmaking practices, including story conferences, sneak previews, and the resulting retakes. Indeed, it is not every year that the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is presented by the Academy, but only when the Academy’s Board of Directors wishes to honor a special producer, one whose work reflects “a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”


Thalberg Pre-Code Double Feature – Not on DVD:


SKYSCRAPER SOULS, 1932, Warner Bros., 99 min. Dir. Edgar Selwyn. This pre-code gem is a surprisingly modern treatise on sex and money: Warren William plays a married skyscraper magnate who sleeps with his secretary (Maureen O’Sullivan), while another suitor (Norman Foster) tries to win her heart. Look for future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as William’s wife! With Art Deco sets by Art Director Cedric Gibbons.


FAITHLESS, 1932, Warner Bros., 88 min. Dir. Harry Beaumont. Tallulah Bankhead plays Carol Morgan, a spoiled young woman whose father’s fortune is wiped out by the depression. She refuses to accept reality, however, and refuses to accept the love of middle-class suitor Robert Montgomery, who’s baffled by the way she prioritizes money over romance.


Hosted by Mark A. Vieira, author of Hollywood Dreams Made Real and Irving Thalberg. Book signing with both Vieira’s Thalberg books at 4:30 PM in the lobby (between films). Reception before the program from 12:30 – 1:30 PM at Larry Edmund’s Book Store just east of the Egyptian at 6644 Hollywood Boulevard.


The major gallery exhibit at the Academy features photographs, documents, poster art, props and costumes from many of the famed motion pictures overseen by Hollywood’s original “Boy Wonder.” Exhibit curated by Mark Vieira is open through December 13th. Free admission.



Ramon Novarro Tribute…

Thursday, October 30th, 2008


Ramon Novarro



“I wonder sometimes when people congratulate me upon my performance in Ben-Hur how much that performance would have mattered had I had a fat stomach.”

 — Ramon Novarro



Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of silent film actor, Ramon Novarro. In remembrance of him, the following is a brief account of how he received the role of Ben-Hur.


 By Allan R. Ellenberger


When actor George Walsh was cast to play the title role in the Goldwyn production of Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro was devastated. He wanted to play the part so much he could taste it. But when the studios of Metro, Goldwyn, and Mayer merged and Ben-Hur’s director, screenwriter, and Walsh himself were sent packing, Ramon didn’t allow himself the luxury of thinking he had a second chance.


That all changed one Sunday afternoon in June when MGM production chief Irving Thalberg called Novarro at his home. He told the actor he had something important to discuss with him and asked that he report to the studio immediately. Novarro drove to Culver City and went to Thalberg’s office, where the “Boy Wonder” got right to the point, asking the 25-year-old actor if he would like to play Ben-Hur.


Ramon was, of course, both shocked and delighted and replied that he would. But Thalberg had one request – that Novarro make a screen test. Putting his entire future on the line, Ramon refused the youthful mogul. “Why not?” Thalberg demanded.


Ramon reasoned that Thalberg was concerned about his physique and explained that his body was in good shape. If he had any doubts, all he had to do was screen his recent film, Where the Pavement Ends, throughout which Ramon is half-naked.


Thalberg smiled and agreed, respecting Ramon’s bluntness and honesty. He then instructed him to keep his casting a secret for now. He would be leaving for New York the next day, and no one must know. Novarro was on top of the world. His dream was at last coming true; the role of a lifetime belong to him.


The following morning a studio limo picked up Novarro at his home and whisked him to the Pasadena train station. Waiting there were MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, writers Carey Wilson and Bess Meredyth, attorney J. Robert Rubin and his wife Reba, director Fred Niblo and his wife, actress Enid Bennett, and Photoplay correspondent Herb Howe.


In New York, the group was greeted by Marcus Loew, head of MGM. Loew told Ramon to answer all reporter inquiries with the explanation that he was going on vacation. Just as Loew had predicted, reporters were at the dock, questioning everyone. They were naturally suspicious as to why so many MGM employees were traveling to Europe. Fred Niblo fibbed a little, saying he was going to shoot some French exteriors for his recent film with Novarro called The Red Lily and then go on to Monte Carlo to begin his next picture with Norma Talmadge.


The night before, director Marshall Neilan and wife, actress Blanche Sweet, sailed for France on the Olympic to make The Sporting Venus. The reporters knew the problems that the studio was having in Italy on the set of Ben-Hur, and that only fueled more rumors that either Neilan or Niblo was going to take over director’s duties from Charles Brabin.


As they were waiting to leave on the steamship the Leviathan, frequent Novarro costar Alice Terry arrived to see their departure. Ramon and Alice did an embrace for the cameras which rivaled anything they had done on the screen. At the last minute, Mayer, who was staying behind, gave some words of instruction to Niblo – “Be sure to have a lot of camels in the picture.”


After Ramon received farewell telegrams from Thalberg and actress and close friend Barbara La Marr, the ship pulled up anchor and made its way to Europe. As the ship passed the Statue of Liberty, Novarro may have stared at the beautiful lady in the harbor and pondered his future, and the events which led to this, the crossroads of his life.




Click HERE to watch the chariot scene from Ben-Hur (1925)


Comments by friends and co-workers:


“Ramon was apparently everything I had been told, but my informants, sleuths and guides who led me to the stage where he was working, had neglected to tabulate his greatest attribute, his sense of humor.”

 Elsie Janis, vaudeville performer and friend


“Ramon Novarro was a real Latin heartbreaker. Everywhere he went the women trailed him like a bunch of dogs chasing a bitch in heat. Funny how much of an animal we really are and we try so damned hard to always deny and hide that relationship.”

 Florence “Pancho” Barnes, aviatrix and friend


“I loved Ramon; he was one of my dearest friends. Whenever he came to London, we would walk arm in arm in Regents Park, perhaps have a cup of coffee together. I am very proud to think that I made a film with him. Both Frank [her husband] and I loved Ramon. What more can I say?”

 Evelyn Laye, costar in The Night is Young


“Ramon aged gracefully. He never considered himself a ‘has-been’ because he had enough money to choose his roles. He worked when he wanted and enjoyed his garden the rest of the time. He enjoyed a beautiful life.”

 Leonard Shannon, agent


“I never heard him say an unkind word about any of his contemporaries – nor of the stars of more recent years. And through the years, that sincere boyish enthusiasm the screen knew so well was ever present in his off screen life. The loss of Ramon Novarro leaves a tremendous gap in the ranks of the show business world that can never be filled.”

 Alan Brock, agent