MGM's Founder's Powerful Punch That Nearly Knocked Out Charlie Chaplin

Movie executive and businessman Louis B. Mayer was the co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood during his time. Mayer began his career in the entertainment industry as a film distributor in 1914, and he established Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation in Hollywood just four years later (via Famous Entrepreneurs); the company eventually merged with Metro Pictures Corp. and Goldwyn Pictures to form MGM in 1924. Mayer was known for having an eye for talent, and he discovered actors such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Fred Astaire among others.

According to Entrepreneur, Mayer took good care of his talents, but he was also a ruthless businessman. In one instance, he reportedly threatened Clark Gable about telling his wife about the actor's affair with Joan Crawford after he asked for a talent fee raise. In 1920, Mayer was involved in an altercation with actor Charlie Chaplin after the latter accused the film executive of taking advantage of his name.

Charlie Chaplin and Mildred Harris' marriage

Mildred Harris was a film and vaudeville actress. She was Charlie Chaplin's first wife, and the two wed in 1918 when Harris was just 16 years old after thinking she was pregnant. It turned out to be a false alarm, and the couple stayed together for a couple of years before divorcing in 1920, as reported by Hollywood Forever. During their marriage, Harris went by the name Mildred Harris Chaplin, which boosted her career. At that time, Chaplin was already an established actor, and Harris became popular by association.

Harris and Chaplin were estranged months before their union officially came to an end. Per What a Culture, Chaplin felt there was no intellectual connection between him and his bride, who was 12 years younger than her. Admittedly, the actor said he wasn't in love with the young woman when he married her, but he wanted the union to work (via World History Project). Harris, on the other hand, alleged that Chaplin was mentally cruel to her, and she stated that it was difficult to be "the wife of a genius," per Chaplin: A Life. Their divorce was finalized in November 1920, and Harris received $200,000 (about $2.89 million in today's money) in the settlement.

Louis B. Mayer and Charlie Chaplin's altercation

Around the time of Charlie Chaplin and Mildred Harris' relationship, Louis B. Mayer saw an opportunity to capitalize on the increasing popularity of the young actress after she took Chaplin's last name. He offered her a contract to star in six films and agreed to pay her $50,000 per movie and additional fees, as noted in the book Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Chaplin saw this as the businessman taking advantage of his name, which angered him, and he confronted Mayer during a chance meeting.

In April 1920, both Mayer and Chaplin were at Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles. As reported in an article published on the April 8, 1920, issue of the Riverside Daily Press, Chaplin saw Mayer in the lobby of the hotel and approached him, demanded him to take off his eyeglasses, and proceeded to punch him in the face. However, the actor missed his target, and Mayer retaliated with his own punch. The two exchanged blows, and at one point, Chaplin was punched so hard that he flew to a potted plant and fell to the floor. The article noted that Chaplin had scratches to his nose, and when asked what the altercation was about, he answered, "Ask Mayer and my wife; they can tell you." It's safe to say Mayer won the scuffle, and Chaplin came out with scratches on his nose. Seven months later, Harris and Chaplin divorced.