Cora Sue Collins remembers L.B. Mayer, Norma Shearer and the MGM days

Cora Sue Collins is one of the last surviving child stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She had a small role as Felice in Naughty Marietta (Cora Sue: “I love puppies!” Jeanette: “Oh, you do?” And gets her the puppy. Cora Sue: “Thank you, Princess!”) Ironically, Cora Sue also played the young Moonyean in the 1932 Norma Shearer version of  Smilin’ Through. In 2015 she gave a very informative interview for the website about her MGM days, the entire interview is fascinating to read (at the link) but perhaps of most interest to us is an incident involving a confrontation between Norma Shearer and Louie B. Mayer which is quoted below:

Q: Did you have much to do with studio head Louis B. Mayer?

A: Well, I used to go to his house every Sunday to have brunch with his three granddaughters and go horseback riding with them. They were perfectly nice, but it was a command performance so it felt like a job. I did it because I was told to. Oh, and there’s one story about Mr. Mayer that I don’t know if I dare tell you.

Q: Well now you have to!

A: Okay. I was about six or seven and my mother and I were sitting in Mr. Mayer’s huge outer office in the Thalberg Building with his secretary, Ida Koverman. We were waiting to go into to talk to Mr. Mayer about something. Suddenly this woman I knew quite well opened the door and starting backing out of Mr. Mayer’s office screaming, “Don’t tell me that, L.B., I f**ked all those bastards on my way up!” And with that she slammed the door, and spun around. When she saw me she literally gasped and said, “Oh, hello, Cora Sue, how are you?” She was so embarrassed. We had worked together in the film Smilin’ Through with Leslie Howard where I played her as a child. And, of course, she had been married to Irving Thalberg.

Q: Oh my God, Norma Shearer?

A: Yes! So after she ran off, I asked my mother, “What does ‘f**k’ mean?” My mother got all flustered and wouldn’t say anything. So I went over to Mrs. Koverman and asked her and she got just as flustered. I looked at both of them and said, “It’s okay. She said it to Mr. Mayer so I’ll just ask him what that word means!” As much as they begged me not to, they couldn’t shut me up and I did ask him!

Q: Egads! What did he say?

A: He got very addled and said, “Cora Sue, some day someone will explain that word to you!”


Thanks to Katie for the screenshots!