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who got away
This article was taken from the
Times Globe Thursday, March 19/98
HOLLYWOOD: A documentary airing on A&E Sunday celebrates men like Louis B.
Mayer, who spent his formative years in Saint John.
By Marni Weisz
Globe staff writer
If you missed CBC's broadcast of Hollywoodism:
Jews, Movies and the American Dream, you have another chance to catch it this
Sunday when it will be, rebroadcast on A&E.
provocative documentary tells the story of the Jews that came from Eastern
Europe in the early 20th century to become Hollywood's movie moguls. Not only
did these immigrants live the American dream, they also created it through the
visions they chose to commit to film.
It is also a
documentary that holds special interest for Saint Johners. That's because Louis
B. Mayer, the Hollywood magnate who was born in Russia but raised in the Port
City, is one of the charismatic figures explored in the film.
the fact that Mayer was so devoted to the United States that he claimed July
4th as his birthday, his grandson says he never forgot his link to Saint
"Oh yes, he
was very much aware of it," says Daniel Selznick, theatre producer, director
and critic. "He used to keep a photo up in his home of a large group of people
from Saint John."
says that photo was taken in 1950 when Mayer came back to Saint John for the
50th anniversary of some event - Selznick can't remember exactly what it was.
The Telegraph Journal's files show that Mayer was involved, in a Saint John
event in 1950, but only from afar. A new memorial chapel at Shaarei Zedek
Cemetery was being dedicated to Mayer's mother, Sarah Mayer. The Telegraph
reported that Louis B. Mayer donated money for the construction of the chapel,
but did not attend the event because of "pressure of business and poor
however, visit Saint John on a couple of other occasions before his death in
being the grandson of Louis B. Mayer, Selznick is also the son of David O.
Selznick, a leader in the next generation of movie moguls and the, director of
Gone With the Wind. Daniel Selznick now lives in New York City, where he
works with The Ensemble Studio Theatre, and writes reviews for the publication
Theater Scope. Until recently, he was the national theatre critic for the
Cristian Science Monitor.
appears briefly in the documentary that was produced by the award-winning
filmmaking team of Simcha Jacobovici and Elliott Halpern. The documentary links
a group of about half a dozen of the men who dominated Hollywood from the 1920s
through the McCarthy years.
All of them
were Jewish, and all were born within 500 miles of each other in Eastern
Europe. Aside from Mayer, the group includes Paramount's Adolph Zukor,
Universal's Carl Laemmle, Columbia's Harry Cohn, and the Warner
dapper as a true creature of the theatre and sporting a bow tie, Selznick
discusses his grandfather's infatuation with America for the camera:
"Patriotism was an important theme in his life, so he selected Independence Day
as his birthday. He wrapped himself in the American flag and said, 'That's me.'
But over the
phone from New York, Selznick explains that, to a degree, his grandfather
included Canada in his concept of the United States.
North America was America."
Mayer was born in Minsk (now Belarus) in
1885. At the age of three he moved, with his parents, to Saint John, where his
father became a scrap metal dealer.
By the age
of 20, he'd moved to Boston and soon after bought a small, rundown movie
theatre in Haverhill, Mass. In 1916 he moved to Los Angeles and formed his own
production company which eventually became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM.
"Once he got
to Boston he thought, 'Now I'm really in America'. It was as if he became more
American in stages," says Selznick.
says Mayer wasn't the type of grandfather to sit his grandson on his knee and
tell stories about the good old days in Saint John. When he did talk about the
place that shaped his youth, it was with warmth, but an overall air of
"He said it
was a very arduous life; it was very difficult to earn a living. His father was
a scrap dealer and he had my grandfather and his brother working for him by the
time they were nine and 11."
already a young adult when his grandfather died. He has vivid memories of Mayer
and describes him as a squat, muscular man with a fabulous sense of humour. "He
used to bite down on my upper arms and say, 'I'm gonna take a piece out of
you,'" Selznick says with a laugh.
that's not how everyone remembers Mayer. He was plagued with the reputation of
being a ruthless, quick-tempered tyrant who rewarded obedience and punished
But in many
people's eyes, Mayer's darkest moment came during the McCarthy hearings of the
early 1950s. That's when he, along with most of the other moguls, cooperated
wholeheartedly with the anti-Communist witch hunt, pointing fingers at many of
the actors and writers who had worked for their studios.
documentary explains that they were terrified of being labeled un-American
after having spent so many years trying to shed their European and Jewish
identities and be embraced by the country they called home.
a student at Harvard at the time of the hearings and says he didn't know about
his grandfather's complicity with Senator Joe McCarthy until after Mayer's
"Had I known,
I would have been horrified," he says. He says he's still disturbed that he
didn't have the chance to talk to him about his views.
never been to Saint John but has always wanted to make the trip, "just to walk
around the town and see if there are any buildings left from the time my
grandfather was there." But, given his knowledge of the region, it may be tough
for him to find us.
why a man as busy as him was taking time out to promote this documentary, he
said, "Well, I've only done two interviews and I was specifically touched by
the idea of speaking to someone from a St. John's newspaper. Nova Scotia played
such a large part in my grandfather's life.
Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream airs this Sunday at 10
p.m. on A&E.
- 1888 His parents, Jacob and Sarah Mayer,
packed up the children and sailed to America. They then moved on to Saint.
John, New Brunswick, Canada, where they settled down.
- 1895 WINTER STREET SCHOOL - NEW BRUNSWICK
Attended elementary school here
- 1899 - 1902 425 MAIN STREET - PORTLAND,
NEW BRUNSWICK (The Northern part of town) The Mayer family moved into this home
for a short time before moving to another house several blocks away.
- 28 ACADIA STREET From 425 Main Street
they moved into this house.
- 705 MAIN STREET Jacob Mayer's scrap iron
- 1902 74 SMYTHE STREET Jacob Mayer moved
his business to this location
- 675 MAIN STREET RUBIN AND RIEDER - LADIES
AND GENTLEMEN'S CLOTHES STORE Owned by Mayer's sister and brother - in - law
- SAINT JOHN HIGH SCHOOL Mayer attened and
graduated from this school
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