Samuel Goldwyn (born Szmuel Gelbfisz; Yiddish: שמואל געלבפֿיש; August 17, 1879 – January 31, 1974), also known as Samuel Goldfish, was a Polish American film producer of Jewish descent. He was most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood. His awards include the 1973 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1947, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1958.
Goldwyn was born Szmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland, Russian Empire, to a Hasidic, Polish Jewish family. His parents were Aaron Dawid Gelbfisz (1852-1895), a peddler, and his wife, Hanna Reban (née Jarecka; 1855-1924). At an early age, he left Warsaw on foot and penniless. He made his way to Birmingham, England, where he remained 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, but fearing refusal of entry, he got off the boat in Nova Scotia, Canada, before moving on to New York in January 1899. He found work in upstate Gloversville, New York, in the bustling garment business. Soon his innate marketing skills 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 1913, Goldfish along with his brother-in-law Jesse L. 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 Dustin Farnum was hired for the leading role. Shooting for the first feature film made in Hollywood began on December 29, 1913.
In 1914, Paramount was a film exchange and exhibition corporation headed by W. W. Hodkinson. Looking for more movies to distribute, Paramount signed a contract with the Lasky Company on June 1, 1914 to supply 36 films per year. One of Paramount's other suppliers was Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Company. The two companies merged on June 28, 1916 forming The Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Zukor had been quietly buying Paramount stock, and two weeks prior to the merger, became president of Paramount Pictures Corporation and had Hodkinson replaced with Hiram Abrams, a Zukor associate.
With the merger, Zukor became president of both Paramount and Famous Players-Lasky, with Goldfish being named chairman of the board of Famous Players-Lasky, and Jesse Lasky first vice-president. After a series of conflicts with Zukor, Goldfish resigned as chairman of the board, and as member of the executive committee of the corporation on September 14, 1916. Goldfish was out as an active member of management, although he still owned stock and was a member of the board of directors. Famous Players-Lasky would later become part of Paramount Pictures Corporation, and Paramount would become one of Hollywood's major studios.
In 1916, Goldwyn partnered with Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, using a combination of both names to call their movie-making enterprise Goldwyn Pictures. Seeing an opportunity, he then had his name legally changed to Samuel Goldwyn, which he used for the rest of his life. Goldwyn Pictures proved successful but it is their "Leo the Lion" trademark for which the organization is most famous.
On April 10, 1924, Goldwyn Pictures was acquired by Marcus Loew and merged into his Metro Pictures Corporation. Despite the inclusion of his name, Goldwyn had no role in the management or production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Before the sale and merger of Goldwyn Pictures in April 1924, Goldwyn had established Samuel Goldwyn Productions in 1923 as a production-only operation (with no distribution arm). Their first feature was Potash and Perlmutter, released in September 1923 through First National Pictures. Some of the early productions bear the name "Howard Productions", named for Goldwyn's wife Frances Howard.
For 35 years, Goldwyn built a reputation in filmmaking and developed an eye for finding the talent for making films. William Wyler directed many of his most celebrated productions, and he hired writers such as Ben Hecht, Sidney Howard, Dorothy Parker, and Lillian Hellman. (According to legend, at a heated story conference Goldwyn scolded someone—in most accounts Mrs. Parker, who recalled he had once been a glove maker—with the retort: "Don't you point that finger at me. I knew it when it had a thimble on it!")
During that time, Goldwyn made numerous films and reigned as the most successful independent producer in the US. Many of his films were forgettable; his collaboration with John Ford, however, resulted in Best Picture Oscar nomination for Arrowsmith (1931). William Wyler was responsible for most of Goldwyn's highly lauded films, with Best Picture Oscar nominations for Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Little Foxes (1941) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). The leading actors in several of Goldwyn films, especially those directed by William Wyler, were also Oscar-nominated for their performances.
Throughout the 1930s, Goldwyn released all his films through United Artists, but beginning in 1941, and continuing almost through the end of his career, Goldwyn released his films through RKO Radio Pictures.
In 1946, the year he was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, Goldwyn's drama, The Best Years of Our Lives, starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In the 1950s Samuel Goldwyn turned to making a number of musicals including the 1952 hit Hans Christian Andersen (his last with Danny Kaye, with whom he had made many others), 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. The film turned the opera into an operetta with spoken dialogue in between the musical numbers. Its reception was a huge disappointment to Goldwyn, who, according to biographer Arthur Marx, saw it as his crowning glory and had wanted to film Porgy and Bess since he first saw it onstage in 1935.
Goldwyn died at his home in Los Angeles in 1974. In the 1980s, Samuel Goldwyn Studio was sold to Warner Bros. There is a theater 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 on February 8, 1960.
From 1910 to 1915, Goldwyn was married to Blanche Lasky, a sister of Jesse L. Lasky. The marriage produced a daughter, Ruth. 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.
Samuel Goldwyn's grandchildren include:
Goldwyn's relatives include Fred Lebensold, an award-winning architect (best known as the designer of multiple concert halls in Canada and the United States). Fred was the son of Sam's younger sister, Manya (who, despite the best efforts of Sam and his brother Ben in 1939 and 1940, could not be extricated from the Warsaw Ghetto and perished in the Holocaust).
Samuel Goldwyn's will created a multimillion-dollar charitable foundation in his name. Among other endeavors, the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation funds the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards, provided construction funds for the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Library, and provides ongoing funding for the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.
Several years after the Sr. Goldwyn's death, his son, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., initiated an independent film and television distribution company dedicated to preserving the integrity of Goldwyn's ambitions and work. The company's assets were later acquired by Orion Pictures, and in 1997, passed on to Orion's current parent company, MGM. Several years later, the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust and Warner Bros. acquired the rights to all the Goldwyn-produced films except The Hurricane, which was returned to MGM division United Artists.
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Samuel Goldwyn was also known for malapropisms, paradoxes, and other speech errors called 'Goldwynisms' ("A humorous statement or phrase resulting from the use of incongruous or contradictory words, situations, idioms, etc.") being frequently quoted. For example, he was reported to have said, "I don't think anybody should write his autobiography until after he's dead." and "Include me out." Some famous Goldwyn quotations are misattributions. For example, the statement attributed to Goldwyn that "a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on" is actually a well-documented misreporting of an actual quote praising the trustworthiness of a colleague: "His verbal contract is worth more than the paper it's written on". The identity of the colleague is variously reported as Joseph M. Schenk or Joseph L. Mankiewicz Goldwyn himself was reportedly aware of—and pleased by—the misattribution.
Upon being told that a book he had purchased for filming, The Well of Loneliness, couldn't be filmed because it was about lesbians, he reportedly replied: "That's all right, we'll make them Hungarians." The same story was told about the 1934 rights to The Children's Hour with the response "That's okay; we'll turn them into Armenians." Upon being told that a dictionary had included the word "Goldwynism" as synonym for malapropism, he raged: "Goldwynisms! They should talk to Jesse Lasky!"
Having many writers in his employ, Goldwyn may not have come up with all of these on his own. In fact Charlie Chaplin took credit for penning the line, "In two words: im-possible"; and the quote, "the next time I send a damn fool for something, I go myself," has also been attributed to Michael Curtiz.
In the Grateful Dead's Scarlet Begonias, the line "I ain't often right but I've never been wrong" appears in the bridge—this is very similar to Goldwyn's "I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong."
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