Unforgettable Teachers: Arthur Mayer
Film Lore, One Quarter at a Time
Arthur Mayer's calendar resembled that of a farm worker who follows the crops: he taught History of Film at Dartmouth in the autumn and at Stanford in the spring; and he taught Economics of the Film Industry at USC in the winter. He and his wife, Lillie, spent their summers in Manhattan. "They make much more fuss over you if you're there only three months," he old me. "If you're there all the time, you're just another guy."
Arthur - no one called him Professor Mayer - was never just another guy. He didn't merely teach the history of film, he'd lived it. Born in Demopolis, Alabama, in 1886, he started his film career as an auditor for producer Samuel Goldwyn. (Arthur wasn't related, so far as he knew, to movie mogul Louis B. Mayer.) By the time he turned to teaching, in 1964, he had run the Paramount Pictures publicity department; distributed the postwar films of Jean Renoir, Vittorio de Sica and Federico Fellini; managed New York's Rialto Theatre; and produced some B movies. He had written two books, Merely Colossal: The Story of the Movies from the Long Chase to the Chaise Longue, and with co-author Richard Griffith, The Movies. In 1975, he and his wife were the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, Arthur and Lillie, produced by three professors in Stanford's department of communication. Hearing Arthur lecture was like taking an industrial engineering class from Henry Ford.
He loved flower speech and alliteration. For a movie to succeed, he explained, it required at least one supreme S: sex, sadism, suspense, sentimentality or slapstick. His anecdotes from Hollywood always left us laughing. He quit the publicity department, he told us, after he had arranged to have 50 parrots trained to repeat the title of a Mae West movie, It Ain't No Sin. The problem was, the Legion of Decency quashed the title. Small chance the birds could have learned promptly to say Belle of the Nineties.
Arthur celebrated his 91st birthday in the quarter he was my professor. He once assured me that he didn't want to live forever, but that he "would like to come back every few years just to see what's happening." I would like that , too, so that we could make a fuss over him.
-Howard Baldwin, '77
Mike Randall ran across this article and thought it would be of interest - we did too.