Some Jew of the Week highlights in honour of our recent 5th Birthday!
The Man Who Defined Hollywood
Louis Burt Mayer (1884-1957) was born Lazar Meir in Minsk, Belarus, to a Jewish family that immigrated to the US when he was just three years old. Unable to find prosperity in the States, the family moved to Canada and settled in New Brunswick, where Mayer grew up. At age 12, he dropped out of school to help in his father’s scrap metal business. Meanwhile, he spent most of his free time at the local theatre and opera house. At 19, Mayer set out on his own, moving to Boston and starting his own scrap metal business. After several years of struggling to make a living, he purchased an old, forgotten auditorium and turned it into a modern movie theatre. Business boomed, and several years later, Mayer partnered up with another company to form the biggest chain of theatres in the region. He soon started a film distribution agency and a talent booking agency, too. In 1918, Mayer made his way to Hollywood, founding his own film production studio. In 1924, he joined forces with Metro Pictures and Goldwyn Pictures to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, aka. MGM, which went on to become the most successful film production studio in history. Mayer himself became America’s highest-paid man, with a salary of over $1 million (which also made him the first person in American history to officially earn a 7-figure income). Under his direction, MGM made some of the greatest films of all time, including Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. In 1927, Mayer co-founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which inaugurated the Academy Awards, better known as “the Oscars”, two years later. Mayer is also credited with giving rise to the modern “movie star”, and personally handpicked and developed some of the greatest actors of his day, many of which saw him as a father figure. After World War II, MGM’s business slumped, and by 1951, Mayer resigned from the company. He continued to work in film until his passing from leukemia in 1957. Mayer was also a noted philanthropist, devoted much of his time to the Jewish Home for the Aged, and to LA’s Wilshire Temple. Variety magazine considered him “the greatest single force in the development of the motion picture industry” while his biographer would go on to write: “Mayer defined MGM, just as MGM defined Hollywood, and Hollywood defined America.”
Words of the Week
There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.
– George Orwell
Boris Claudio Schifrin (b. 1932) was born in Argentina. His father was a professional violinist and concertmaster, and introduced his son to music at a very young age. Schifrin grew up studying under the tutelage of several great composers and conductors. He composed his first piece, inspired by a passage in the Torah, at the age of 15 for his local synagogue. Although he briefly studied law, Schifrin pursued his passion in music and went on to study at the Paris Conservatory. He returned home to start his own jazz orchestra that was soon featured weekly on TV in Buenos Aires. In 1958, Schifrin was offered a job in New York and made the big move. Several years later, MGM offered him the chance to work on a film score. He won his first Emmy Award for Best TV Theme soon after. Schifrin went on to write theme songs and scores for over 160 films and television series, including Dirty Harry, the Rush Hour trilogy, and Planet of the Apes. His score for The Exorcist was so frightening that the director had to scrap it from the film. Undoubtedly, the most famous of his songs is the theme from Mission: Impossible, now considered among the greatest theme songs of all time, and the most widely recognized around the world. It has been popular for nearly 5 decades since Schifrin first composed it in 1966. A U2 remake in 1996 sold 500,000 copies and reached #7 on the Billboard 100. Besides TV and film, Schifrin produced more than 50 musical albums, and composed over 60 orchestral works. For his work, he has been nominated for 6 Oscars and 21 Grammys, of which he has won 4. Despite being an octogenarian, he is still working on film scores and runs his own label, Aleph Records. Schifrin also has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Words of the Week
… the reason imagination is more important than knowledge is because imagination turns out to be the vehicle by which we increase knowledge. And so, if you don’t have imagination, you’re not going to get more knowledgeable.
– Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.