This is not, I’m happy to say, a “revisionist” biography of the fabled movie executive, nor is it a goldmine of new information. Yet Mark Vieira has accomplished something quite extraordinary: he amplifies, clarifies, underscores, and illuminates what we already know about Irving Thalberg, to create the most thorough…
and empathetic biography ever written about this legendary figure.
To achieve this, Vieira has done exhaustive research over many years’ time; he even produced a handsome picture-and-text volume last year as a warmup to this chef d’oeuvre. Crucial to telling his story was acquiring the unpublished manuscript of Norma Shearer’s autobiography—which she supposedly burned—and gaining access to all the interviews conducted several decades ago by Bob Thomas for his groundbreaking biography of Thalberg. The result is a fascinating portrait of a man who justly became a Hollywood legend, with insights into his youth, his relationship with his mother, his ambition, and his way of doing business, especially during his decade at MGM. The chapter about his final days is remarkably detailed and particularly poignant.
As with Scott Eyman’s recent biography of Louis B. Mayer, some film buffs may feel they already know the story and don’t have to read “another” book about the subject. I hope I can persuade those holdouts to change their minds. This is the definitive volume about a towering figure in the history of Hollywood.(University of California Press)