Paul Bern (December 3, 1889 – September 5, 1932) was a
German-born American film director, screenwriter and producer for MGM.
Bern was born Paul Levy in Wandsbek, which was then a town
in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein (now a district of the city of
Hamburg). He was one of six children of Julius and Henriette (née Hirsch) Levy,
a Jewish couple. Julius worked as a clerk for a shipping company before opening
a candy store. In 1898, Julius decided to move the family to the United States
due to the rise of unemployment and anti-Jewish attitudes in Wandsbek. The
family eventually settled in New York City. Julius Levy died in 1908. In 1920,
Henriette Levy drowned herself.
Bern pursued a career in acting on the stage and studied at
the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He later adopted the stage name
"Paul Bern". Bern soon realized he had little aptitude for acting and
pursued other aspects of theatre production. He worked as a stage manager for a
time before moving to Hollywood in the early 1920s. He was initially a film
editor before he worked his way up to scenario writing and directing for United
Artists and Paramount Pictures. This led to his working full-time as a producer
at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the major studio of the time. Bern eventually became
the production assistant of Irving Thalberg.
The star-studded film Grand Hotel, released six days after
Bern's death, won the Best Picture Academy Award for 1931–32. Bern and Irving
Thalberg produced the film, although neither was listed in the film credits (in
the early 1930s MGM did not list their films' producers in their credits).
However, the award was presented solely to Thalberg, and Bern was excluded.
Bern met actress Jean Harlow shortly before the premiere of
Hell's Angels in 1930. Bern was instrumental in helping Harlow's career as he
was the only person who took her seriously as an actress. The two struck up a
friendship and eventually began dating. They announced their engagement in June
1932 and married on July 2, 1932.
Two months after marrying Jean Harlow, on September 5, Bern
was found dead from a gunshot to the head in their home on Easton Drive in
Beverly Hills, California. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.