Louis B. Mayer
As head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Louis B. Mayer was one of the most influential and powerful men in Hollywood during the '30s and '40s. The studio was recognized as one of the grandest Hollywood studios, and claimed to have "more stars than there are in the heavens."
Born Eliezer Mayer in Minsk, Russia, Mayer emigrated with his family to New York, before settling in Saint John, New Brunswick. There, he helped out in his father's successful junk and scrap metal operation. As a young man, he moved to Boston and set up his own junk business.
In 1904, he bought and renovated a ramshackle movie theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Vowing only to show the best films, Mayer continued buying theaters until he owned New England's largest theater chain. He began working in film distribution during 1914, making a fortune on The Birth of a Nation. In 1917, he founded a production company and moved to Los Angeles. His company was later purchased by Marcus Loew, who also bought up controlling interests in the Goldwyn company and in Louis B. Mayer Pictures. The result was MGM, and Mayer was appointed vice-president.
Though not universally loved, Mayer set the tone of the studio. He was respected for being able to understand the public's wants, and his knack for picking personnel and stars. He hired only the best of the best, including the great Irving Thalberg.
At the peak of his career, Mayer was the highest paid person in the United States, making well over a million dollars a year. It was Mayer who formed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the source of the Oscars) in 1927. He remained at MGM until 1951, and then became acting advisor to the Cinerama Corporation.