cover image Merchant of Dreams

Merchant of Dreams

Charles Higham, Author, Louis B. Mayer, Author Dutton Books $25 (488p) ISBN 978-1-55611-345-1

Movie mogul Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957) is often depicted as a lecherous ogre, but film biographer Higham ( Errol Flynn ) humanizes the M.G.M. titan in this revelatory, wonderfully vivid biography based on archival files and interviews with the Mayer family and surviving M.G.M. executives. The multifaceted Mayer is portrayed as a hypochondriac haunted by his mother's painful death, an absentee husband whose extramarital romances pushed his mentally disturbed wife to multiple suicide attempts, and a stern yet loving despot who protected his homosexual stars and covered up alleged acts of manslaughter by John Huston and by Clark Gable. Higham reveals how director Victor Saville, a British intelligence agent in WW II, swayed Mayer to make anti-Hitler movies. He offers new details about Mayer's close ties with Herbert Hoover, his betrayals of and by Irving Thalberg and his detestation of Greta Garbo, for whom he provided a cover when she worked as a British agent fighting Hitler. This star-studded, gossipy bio is packed with indelible anecdotes and on-set lore. Photos. (Feb.)