In March 1923, future Hollywood star Norma Shearer and her mother Edith arrived in Los Angeles. Norma had just signed a five-year contract offered by Irving Thalberg, the boy wonder of Hollywood.
In an unpublished memoir, Norma Shearer (1902-1983) vividly recalls her first day at MGM:
We were sitting in the reception room wating to see whomever we were supposed to see when a very polite and modest young offiice boy came through a small swinging gate. He held it open for us, smiled, and said nothing. In we went. He followed us and opened a door down the hall. We found ourselves in Mr. Mayer’s office, which was large and luxurious. To our amazement the young man went around the big desk and sat down behind it. I thought to myself, He’d better get out of that chair before someone comes in! Then he started pressing buttons on that big, shiny desk. Now he’s playing games, I thought. He’d better stop fooling around or Mr. Mayer will come in and fire him. He looked so handsome. I didn’t want that to happen.
Just then Mr. Mayer did come in. The young man stood up calmly and introduced us to him. Then two other gentlemen came in, moving-picture directors named John Stahl and Fred Niblo. They bowed, shook hands with us, and went out. We soon suspected that the young man who had greeted us could not be an office boy. And indeed we soon learned that he was Irving G. Thalberg, Hollywood’s so-called “Boy Wonder.”
Irving Thalberg, just 24 years-old, sickly and frail, yet hauntingly handsome, was already blazing a trail as Hollywood’s most brilliant and visionary producer.
Shearer and her mother are impressed by Thalberg’s confident demeanor. And his Jewishness marks him as an exotic object of desire to Norma, a wide-eyed Catholic from Montreal, Quebec.
And when we left the studio, Mother asked me, “Did you see those eyes?”
“I should say I did. What eyes!”
Later that day it occurred to me that I had seen the most beautiful face on a young man that I would ever see. Mother told me that he was a Jew and perhaps that was why he was so beautiful.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you married that nice young man!” she said.
Shearer had a quickie conversion to Judaism right before the Sept 29, 1927 wedding ceremony performed by rabbi to the stars, Edgar F. Magnin. MGM’s Boy Wonder and the Queen of the MGM lot remained devoted to each other until Thalberg’s early and tragic death in 1936, age 37.