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Samuel Goldwyn

Samuel Goldwyn (August 17, 1882, Warsaw, Poland – January 31, 1974, Los Angeles, California, United States) was a major producer of motion pictures. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz at age 16 he left his native Warsaw penniless and on foot. He made his way to England where he remained with relatives for a few years using the English sounding name, Samuel Goldfish. In 1898, he emigrated to Nova Scotia but, unsuccessful at accumulating money and wanting to try his luck in the United States, he began walking again. Eventually arriving in New York City, he soon got work in the bustling garment business where his innate marketing skills made him a very successful salesman. At the time, the fledgling film industry was expanding rapidly and in his spare time, an enraptured Samuel Goldfish went to see as many movies as possible. Before long, he went into the business with Vaudeville performer Jesse L. Lasky and Louis B. Mayer, a theater owner formerly from Saint John, New Brunswick. Together, the three produced their first film, using an ambitious young director named Cecil B. DeMille. Disputes arose between the partners and Goldfish left after a few years but their company evolved to later become Paramount Pictures.

In 1916 Samuel Goldfish partnered with Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, using a combination of both names to call their movie-making enterprise the Goldwyn Picture Corporation. Seeing an opportunity, Samuel Goldfish then had his name legally changed to Samuel Goldwyn. The Goldwyn Company proved moderately successful but it is their Leo the Lion trademark for which the organization is most famous. Eventually the company merged with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company, adopting the Leo the Lion trademark but Samuel Goldfish was forced out by his partners and was never a part of the new studio that became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After his departure, Goldwyn established Samuel Goldwyn Inc., eventually opening Samuel Goldwyn Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. For 35 years, Goldwyn built a reputation for excellence in filmmaking and an eye for finding the talent for making films. He discovered actor Gary Cooper, used director Billy Wilder for many of his productions and hired writers such as Ben Hecht and Sidney Howard and James Roosevelt. For more than three decades, Goldwyn made numerous successful films and received Best Picture Oscar nominations for Arrowsmith (1931), Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), and The Little Foxes (1941). The hallmark of his films was excellence.

In 1946, the year he was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, Goldwyn's drama The Best Years of Our Lives, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In the 1950s Samuel Goldwyn turned to making a number of musicals including the 1955 hit Guys and Dolls starring Marlon Brando. Two years later, in 1957, he was awarded The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes.

In his final film made in 1959, Samuel Goldwyn brought together African-American actors Sidney Poitier Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr. and singer Pearl Bailey in a film rendition of the George Gershwin Opera, Porgy and Bess. The film won three Oscars.

Samuel Goldwyn passed away at his home in Los Angeles in 1974. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. In the 1980s, Samuel Goldwyn Studios was sold to Warner Bros.. There is a theater named for him in Beverly Hills and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1631 Vine Street.

Goldwyn is remembered as a ruthless businessman who lacked formal education and his sometimes crude manners added to an explosive temper that left him with few close friends. He nevertheless was a film genius who believed in quality and who not only survived, but prospered in an extremely competitive business. On the passing of former partner and arch rival Louis B. Mayer, he is quoted as saying: "The reason so many people turned up at his funeral is that they wanted to make sure he was dead."

Samuel Goldwyn's lack of English language skills led to many of his malapropisms being frequently quoted such as:

  • "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.
  • Include me out.
  • What we need now is some new, fresh clichés.
  • Anyone who would go to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined!
  • Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg.
  • Flashbacks are a thing of the past.
  • A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad."

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Samuel Goldwyn Facts

Birth NameSchmuel Gelbfisz
BirthdayAugust 17, 1882
BirthplaceWarsaw, Poland
Date of deathJanuary 31, 1974 (age 91)
Awards1973 Golden Globe Awards: Cecil B. DeMille Award

Selected Filmography

Samuel Goldwyn Collection
Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, Volume 1
Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, Volume 2
Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, Volume 3
The Celestine Prophecy
He Loves Me He Loves Me Not
Japanese Story
Waiting for Lightning
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