December 07, 1992 12:00 PM

by Diana Ahman

It’s hard to believe that a book about so colorful a character as movie producer Louis B. Mayer could be so dry and these is like. It’s as if Altman, film historian and daughter of one of Mayer’s New York City-based talent scouts, knows almost too much about her subject and his time. She crams this already long book with so many anecdotes and digressions that it feels more like a list of characters and events than an evocation of an era.

Still, there is the occasional interesting revelation. Consider, for instance, that the famous MGM epigraph ars gratia artis does not mean “art for art’s sake” but is, in fact, Latin gibberish. The filming of National Velvet had to move quickly because “its young star [Elizabeth Taylor] was developing womanly charms…and with each week…looked less and less as if she could ever pass for a boy.” But this kind of tidbit is often buried. And Altman’s self-conscious overwriting is often infuriating. For devoted film historians only. (Birch Lane Press, $19.95)

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