Irene Mayer Selznick's Album of Hollywood
07/04/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT
You have everything. I have nothing. I envy you," Greta Garbo told her friend Irene Mayer Selznick when the beautiful Swede was still in her heyday. The woman even Garbo could envy was a striking, strong-willed Hollywood hostess, daughter of one legend in the movie business and wife to another. Irene's father, L.B. Mayer, was a volatile, sometimes tyrannical Russian immigrant who started out as a New England theater operator and later founded Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her husband was David O. Selznick, chronic gambler, extravagant spender, obsessive worker (driven by ambition and Benzedrine) and brilliant Hollywood producer. David, who died at age 63 in 1965, was the genius behind cinema classics like Dinner at Eight, A Star Is Born, David Copperfield, Rebecca and Gone With the Wind.
Life with father and, later, spouse was both heady and trying for the sensible, stuttering Irene. Her measured view of Hollywood's early days is recounted in her star-strewn memoir, A Private View (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.95). Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard lived across the street from the Selznicks, a young ingenue named Jean Harlow once tried to drag David off into the bushes at his own party, and Howard Hughes made advances toward Irene and sent her roses every Christmas for 10 years. Janet Gaynor, Katharine Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman became Irene's close friends and remained so long after she had left David and embarked on her own career as a Broadway producer. Her proudest credit: A Streetcar Named Desire.
Selznick, now 76 and recovering from an illness, lives in Manhattan, where she has spent recent years writing her book. Her personal photographs provide a closeup of an era starring Louis Mayer, David Selznick and a cast of thousands—a brief gilded age lavish enough to have done MGM proud.