Former Head of MGM Louis B. Mayer Recalls the Influence of His Mother’s Faith: ‘Prayer was Part of Everyday Life’
By Movieguide® Staff
The former head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, said that he carried his mother’s wisdom with him throughout his entire life.
“Every man in the world is given moments of light and words of truth. They do not always come at expected times. But once seen, once heard, they return again and again. In moments of danger, of temptation, of pain or sorrow or fear, in times of triumph and high endeavor these tokens move as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night,” Mayer wrote in a 1951 article. “They do not forsake us.”
“My mother was a gentle woman of simple faith and love of God. It never entered her heart to doubt that prayer was part of everyday life and that God was a very present help in trouble,” Mayer added.
One such memory came after a young Mayer got into a fight at school.
“When I got home I went about muttering threats of what I was going to do to my opponent when next we met, and it must have been that my vocabulary had been partially, at least, acquired from the older boys at school who thought profanity a sign of manhood,” Mayer recalled at the time. “My mother didn’t seem to be paying any particular attention and went on about her work in her usual serene manner. I was surprised, however, the next day when we were out in the country on a family picnic and she called me aside. ‘Louis, come here a moment. I want to show you something,’ she said.”
“Now that part of the country near New Brunswick, Canada, was in a beautiful valley, with tall, rugged mountains towering on all sides, perfect for echoes. My mother took me over to a little clearing that faced the mountain wall,” he continued. “‘Now, Louis, say what I heard you say yesterday.’ I began to feel embarrassed. ‘But I don’t remember saying anything wrong,’ I protested weakly. My mother was never one to dodge an issue. ‘I do,’ she replied. ‘You said ‘Damn you’!’ I had to nod. I could keep nothing from my mother, and she knew it.
“‘Yes, I remember now.’ She touched my arm gently. ‘Say it now,’ she commanded. I repeated it, as quietly as I could. The words rolled back with startling volume in the echo. My mother smiled patiently. ‘Louder, son. Say it louder. Whatever you say, you must be willing to say as loud as you can, to shout it for all to hear,” he added. “I didn’t want to do this very much. But it did not occur to me to disobey my mother. Gentle as she was, she carried the authority vested in her by God where her children were concerned. So I faced the mountains and shouted at the top of my lungs, ‘Damn you!’ Right back it came, like thunder. Like a voice from heaven it denounced me.”
But Mayer’s mother knew what she was doing, and the lesson that would stick with him for a lifetime soon became apparent.
“‘Now,’ said my mother, ‘try it another way. Say ‘Bless you!’ instead.’ I took a long breath and yelled, ‘Bless you!’ Back came the benediction. ‘Bless you,’ strong, clear, welcome,” Mayer remembered. “‘Which do you prefer, my son?’ my mother said. ‘It’s entirely up to you. That is the way life is. It always returns to us what we say to it. If you shout at it and at your fellow man, ‘damn you,’ life and your fellow man will shout it right back at you. If you say to life, to humanity, ‘bless you,’ then your life will be an echo of those words, ‘bless you.'”
He continued to write down his mother’s words:
“Choose ye whom ye shall serve, Louis. You have that choice. As long as you live you will have your choice. Every day, almost every hour, in some way, a choice will be presented to you. It says in the Bible, that before you this day is the choice, blessing or cursing.
“I tell you now, my son, that life will echo back to you what you say to it as surely as you just heard this echo here, and the choice is yours what you shall say for it to echo.”
Mayer noted that he never forgot the illustration that his mother had taught him that day.
“At that moment, though of course I was impressed by the amazing illustration, (and sometimes later sneaked out to that spot to see if I could change the law and get the echo to come out wrong, though it never did), I don’t suppose I realized that my mother had given me a light, a moment of true inspiration,” Mayer said. “As the years went by, that law was confirmed in my experience. The wonderful hope of the lesson became more and more present in my thoughts. The words came back so often, a guide, a reminder. This situation, this moment, this experience, this decision, this person, will echo back to you what you say to it.”
He continued: “Back to you will come your own words, and beyond that your own thoughts. What you do now to this man will come back to damn you, or bless you. For many years it has refused to leave me, and though I have not always been obedient, it has checked and led me often…. If I put in hatred, meanness, revenge, I would get them back. If I tried to speak love, kindness, forgiveness, they would be returned to me. If I said Death, it would come back; if I said Life, it would echo in my experience.
“A simple rule, but to me it has been a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.”