Sam Goldwyn 1879-1974
Samuel Goldwyn was a Polish American film producer of Jewish descent. He was most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several of the early motion picture studios in Hollywood. He was also known for malapropisms, paradoxes and other contradictory use of words which became known as ‘Goldwynisms’ and were repeated and celebrated by his acting stars and associates.
Born Szmuel Gelbfisz on August 17, 1879 to Aaron and Hanna Gelbfiszin in Warsaw, Poland . His father was a peddler and at an early age, he left Warsaw pennyless and on foot and made his way to Birmingham, England, where he stayed with relatives for a few years using the name Samuel Goldfish. He was 16 when his father died.
In 1898, he emigrated to the United States and found work in a suburb of New York, in the busy, expanding garment business. Soon his natural sales skills and relentless drive made him a very successful salesman at the Elite Glove Company. After four years, as vice-president of sales, he moved back to New York City and settled at 10 West 61st Street. In 1910, Goldwyn married Blanche Lasky and they had a daughter, Ruth.
In 1913, Goldfish along with his brother-in-law Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille and Arthur Friend formed a partnership, the ‘Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company’, to produce feature-length motion pictures. Film rights for a stage play, ‘The Squaw Man’, were purchased for $4,000 and shooting for the first Hollywood feature film began in December,1913. Paramount, a big movie distributor signed a contract with the Lasky Company in June 1914 to supply 36 films per year. One of Paramount’s other suppliers was Adolph Zukor’s ‘Famous Players Company’ and they merged with Lasky’s company in 1916 forming ‘The Famous Players-Lasky Corporation’. Zukor soon took over Paramount and became president of both Paramount and ‘Famous Players-Lasky’, with Sam Goldfish being named chairman of the board . After a series of conflicts with Zukor, Goldfish resigned, but in 1916, he joined in partnership with Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, using a combination of both names to call their movie-making enterprise ‘Goldwyn Pictures’. He then changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn, which he used for the rest of his life. ‘Goldwyn Pictures’ proved successful, but it is their inimitable “Leo the Lion” title trademark for which the organization is most famous.
In 1924, ‘Goldwyn Pictures’ was merged into ‘Metro Pictures Corporation’ and renamed ‘Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’, though Sam Goldwyn had no role in the management or productions.
Before the sale and merger of ‘Goldwyn Pictures’ in April 1924, Goldwyn had established ‘Samuel Goldwyn Productions’ in 1923 as a production-only operation and over the next 35 years, Goldwyn built a reputation in filmmaking and developing film making talent such as Directors William Wyler and John Ford and writers Ben Hecht, Sidney Howard, Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman.
Goldwyn soon became the most successful independent producer in America. In 1925, he married actress Frances Howard to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. Their son, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., would eventually join his father in the business.
Throughout the 1930s, Goldwyn released all his films through United Artists, but beginning in 1941, and continuing almost through the end of his career, he released his films through RKO Radio Pictures.
Goldwyn’s drama, ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1946. In the 1950’s Samuel Goldwyn made a number of musicals including the 1952 hit ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ and the 1955 hit ‘Guys and Dolls’ starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine, which was based on the equally successful Broadway musical. This was the only independent film that Goldwyn ever released through MGM.
In his final film, made in 1959, Samuel Goldwyn brought together African-American actors Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Pearl Bailey in a film rendition of the George Gershwin opera, ‘Porgy and Bess’. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film was nominated for three Oscars, but won only one. It was also a critical and financial failure, and the Gershwin family reportedly disliked the film and eventually pulled it from distribution.
Goldwyn died at his home in Los Angeles in 1974. In the 1980s, ‘Samuel Goldwyn Studios’ was sold to Warner Bros. There is a theatre named after him in Beverly Hills and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1631 Vine Street for his contributions to motion pictures in 1960.