Irving Grant Thalberg (May 30, 1899 – September 14, 1936) was an Academy Award-winning American film producer during the early years of motion pictures. He was called "The Boy Wonder" for his youth and his extraordinary ability to select the right scripts, choose the right actors, gather the best production staff, and make very profitable films.
He quickly established his tenacity as he battled with Erich von Stroheim over the length of Foolish Wives (1922), and controlled every aspect of the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). In 1924, he left Universal for Louis B. Mayer Productions, which shortly thereafter linked up with Metro Pictures Corporation to become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The Big Parade (1925), directed by King Vidor, was Thalberg's first major triumph at MGM. Until 1932, when he suffered a major heart attack, he supervised every important MGM studio production, and combined careful pre-production groundwork with prerelease sneak previews which measured audience response.
At the time he joined Metro Pictures, Thalberg was dating actress Norma Shearer whom he married in 1927. She considered early retirement after having her second child with Thalberg, but he was convinced he could continue to find good roles for her and encouraged her to continue acting. She went on to be MGM's biggest star of the 1930s. Their two children were, Irving Jr. (1930 – 1988) and Katherine (1935 – 2006).
Upon Thalberg's illness, Louis B. Mayer, who had come to resent Thalberg's power and success, replaced him with David O. Selznick and Walter Wanger. When he returned to work in 1933, it was as one of the studio's unit producers.
Nonetheless, he helped develop some of MGM's most prestigious ventures, including Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), China Seas (1935), A Night at the Opera (1935) with the Marx Brothers, San Francisco (1936), and Romeo and Juliet (1936).
Thalberg refused to allow his name to appear in any of his films, and was quoted as saying, "Credit you give yourself is not worth having."
Thalberg, a good friend of the Marx Brothers and responsible for saving their careers, once sent this often-repeated quote to Groucho Marx via letter on the latter's birthday: "The world would not be in such a snarl, if Marx had been Groucho instead of Karl."
F. Scott Fitzgerald based the character of Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon on Thalberg. In the 1976 film version he was played by Robert De Niro. Thalberg was portrayed in the movie Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) by Robert Evans, who later was the producer of Chinatown (1974) and The Godfather (1972).
Thalberg is buried in a private marble tomb in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, lying at rest beside his wife Norma Shearer Arrouge (Thalberg's crypt was engraved, "My Sweetheart Forever" by Shearer).
In an episode of Young Indiana Jones, the Universal Pictures of the silent era is depicted, along with characterizations of Irving Thalberg, John Ford, Erich von Stroheim, Carl Laemmle, and Jack Warner.
In a sketch from the British TV comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus, a high-profile, egotistical movie producer named Irving C. Salzberg (played by Graham Chapman) pitches a movie to a team of yesmen writers. Contrary to Thalberg's tendency to not credit himself, the end credits of this episode (which came right after this sketch) credited him for nearly everything, and all the names were slightly changed to look more like Irving C. Salzberg (such as John C. Cleeseburg).