Samuel Goldwyn


Executive, Producer

About

Also Known As
Schmuel Gelbfisz, Samuel Goldfish
Birth Place
Poland
Born
August 27, 1882
Died
January 31, 1974

Biography

A pioneer in the American independent film industry, Samuel Goldwyn emerged from the founding of both Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to establish his own company, Samuel Goldwyn Pictures, which produced such memorable movies as "Wuthering Heights" (1939), "The Little Foxes" (1941), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1946) and the Oscar-winning "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1...

Family & Companions

Blanche Lasky
Wife
Married in 1910; divorced in 1919; sister of Jesse Lasky; mother of Ruth.
Frances Howard
Wife
Actor. Born in 1903; acted on Broadway; married Goldwyn in 1925; died in 1976.

Bibliography

"Goldwyn"
A. Scott Berg, Alfred A. Knopf (1989)
"Samuel Goldwyn: The Producer and His Films"
Richard Griffith, Garland Publishing (1956)

Notes

In his biography, A. Scott Berg makes a case that Goldwyn was born in July 1879 not on August 27, 1882 as the mogul always claimed

Biography

A pioneer in the American independent film industry, Samuel Goldwyn emerged from the founding of both Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to establish his own company, Samuel Goldwyn Pictures, which produced such memorable movies as "Wuthering Heights" (1939), "The Little Foxes" (1941), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1946) and the Oscar-winning "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). A Polish immigrant who pulled himself out of poverty through skilled salesmanship and the occasional use of blunt negotiating force, Goldwyn's emphasis was bringing the best in movie entertainment to audiences, instead of feeding them average material en masse. The result was a dedication to quality and talent that made him a major figure in mid-20th-century Hollywood, and a groundbreaker for a generation of independent producers that followed in his wake.

Named either Shmuel or Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Poland on an unspecified date in July of 1879, he was the first of six children by his parents, a used furniture dealer and his wife. At the age of 16, he left his family and crossed Europe on foot, eventually making his way to Birmingham, England, where relatives gave him an Anglicized name, Samuel Goldfish, in order to help him assimilate into an English-language culture. In 1898, he acquired enough money to make the voyage across the Atlantic to America, arriving first in Nova Scotia before settling in Gloversville, NY in January 1899. There, the 19-year-old found work as a floor sweeper at a glove factory. Goldwyn soon discovered that he had a talent for sales and marketing, and within three years' time, he was the top garment salesman in Gloverville. Eventually, he became a partner in the company and moved its base of operations to Manhattan, where he married Blanche Lasky, sister of vaudeville performer Jesse L. Lasky.

In 1913, he convinced Lasky and a Broadway stage actor and director named Cecil B. DeMille to join forces and start their own motion picture company. The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company's first project was an adaptation of the play "The Squaw Man" (1914), which was notable as both the beginning of DeMille's directorial career and the first feature film shot in Hollywood a small town within Los Angeles. That same year, a film exhibition company called Paramount contracted the Lasky Company to provide feature films for distribution. Another distributor, Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company, was brought into the fold and eventually merged with the Lasky Company to form The Famous Players-Lasky Company in 1916. Zukor became president of both Paramount and Famous Players-Lasky, with Goldwyn taking the vice-presidential seat. Clashes between the two future moguls led to Goldwyn abandoning his role at the company, though he retained stock and his chair on the board of directors. The dissolution of his marriage to Blanche Lasky also distanced him from the Lasky Company, which eventually foundered in 1933.

Goldwyn then established a new company, the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, with Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, and took the company's moniker for his own surname. The company boasted one of the most lavish production facilities in Hollywood, and its logo, Leo the Lion, became one of the most identifiable trademarks in the world, but it proved only moderately successful. By 1922, Goldwyn had been forced out of the company by the Selwyns, who then merged with Marcus Loew's Metro Pictures and Louis B Mayer Productions to form what would become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His only association with the company was the shared name, which the Selwyns retained.

The back-to-back ousters underscored the fundamental reasons why Goldwyn would find greater success as an independent than within the studio system. He had a volatile temper, would pursue legal action against opponents long after it was feasible to do so, and could be astonishingly cheap and petty in his financial dealings with his artists. He was also hampered by his limited English skills and education, which produced a string of curious turns of phrase that became known as "Goldwynisms." Among the more famous was "Gentlemen, include me out;" "Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day" and "An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on." Such idiosyncrasies were better suited for a man in charge of his own company, rather than a team member, and Goldwyn followed that lead shortly after being ousted by the Selwyns.

Goldwyn formed Samuel Goldwyn Productions in 1923, and opened its studio and offices on the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios Lot in West Hollywood. The company's philosophy flew directly in the face of accepted industry wisdom: he would make just one picture at a time, rather than churn them out in assembly-line fashion, and he would devote as much money and energy as possible to the production by bringing in the best talent in front of and behind the camera. A casual list of talent that worked with Goldwyn over the course of his four-decade career as a producer includes some of the most enduring names in film history, including actors Laurence Olivier, Gary Cooper, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers and Danny Kaye; directors like William Wyler, John Ford, King Vidor, Howard Hawks and Otto Preminger; and writers like George S. Kaufman, Ben Hecht, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Thornton Wilder, Nunnally Johnson and Edna Ferber.

Goldwyn Pictures began to blossom with the advent of talking pictures. 1929's "Bulldog Drummond" began the company's string of successes, and by 1931, he had received the first of numerous Best Picture Oscar nominations for Ford's "Arrowsmith" (1931). His emphasis on high-quality entertainment over box office trends allowed him to tackle all genres, from the broad musical comedies of Eddie Cantor like "The Kid from Spain" (1932) and "Roman Scandals" (1933) to dramas like "These Three" (1936), a bowdlerized version of Hellman's "The Children's Hour" with all references to lesbianism removed, or "Dodsworth" (1936), based on the Sinclair Lewis novel. Hard-hitting social dramas like "Dead End" (1937) followed literary adaptations like "Wuthering Heights" (1939) with Olivier and Merle Oberon, and "The Little Foxes" (1941), with Bette Davis, all of which earned Best Picture Oscar nods. But there were also countless musicals on the production slate, and biographical films, like the much loved "Pride of the Yankees" (1941), with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. In the mid-'40s, Goldwyn found great success with a string of comedies featuring Danny Kaye, including "Wonder Man" (1945), "The Kid from Brooklyn" (1946) and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1946).

The apex of Goldwyn's career was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), a moving drama about three veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Frederic March) and Best Supporting Actor, as well as an honorary award for non-professional Harold Russell, a real-life veteran who had lost both hands during training. Goldwyn himself was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the same ceremony, which marked both the highest achievement of his film career, as well as the launch of a slow, inexorable decline that would precede his retirement in just over a decade.

Goldwyn's stellar track record became to tarnish in the late '40s and early 1950s. For every hit, like "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), with Cary Grant and Loretta Young, or his film version of "Guys and Dolls" (1955) with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, there were costly failures, like "The Elusive Pimpernel" (1950). His brand of all-American dramas were also turning passé; audiences who had flocked to melodramas like "The Best Years of Our Lives" in the past were less than enthusiastic about "Our Very Own" (1950) and "I Want You" (1951) with Susan Hayward. The coup de grace for Goldwyn was the film version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" (1959), which suffered from numerous production setbacks, not the least of which was a fire that destroyed its sets. Despite a cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge and Sammy Davis, Jr., the film was a costly flop and a critical failure. To make matters worse, it earned the ire of the Gershwin estate, which withdrew it from circulation in the late 1960s. Soon afterwards, Goldwyn retired from the film business, bringing an end to the most successful independent film career in motion picture history.

In the years that followed, Goldwyn's roster enjoyed numerous and lucrative theatrical and television screenings. His status as one of the industry's most talented producers earned him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1957 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1971. Three years later, Goldwyn died of natural causes at what most sources credited as the age of 94. His son, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., from his second marriage to actress Frances Howard, carried on in his father's tradition by launching The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which distributed and produced independent features and preserved the rights to his father's films, and later became Samuel Goldwyn Films. Goldwyn's grandchildren also took up the trade, including actor-director Tony Goldwyn and John Goldwyn, who brought the family name full circle by becoming President of Motion Pictures at Paramount in 1991.

Filmography

 

Producer (Feature Film)

Porgy and Bess (1959)
Presented By
Porgy and Bess (1959)
Producer
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Producer
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Presented By
The Fighting Pimpernel (1954)
Executive Producer
Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
Producer
Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
Presented By
I Want You (1951)
Presented By
I Want You (1951)
Producer
My Foolish Heart (1950)
Presented By
Edge of Doom (1950)
Presented By
Our Very Own (1950)
Presented By
Our Very Own (1950)
Producer
My Foolish Heart (1950)
Producer
Edge of Doom (1950)
Producer
Enchantment (1949)
Presented By
Roseanna McCoy (1949)
Presented By
Roseanna McCoy (1949)
Producer
Enchantment (1949)
Producer
The Bishop's Wife (1948)
Presented By
A Song Is Born (1948)
Presented By
The Bishop's Wife (1948)
Producer
A Song Is Born (1948)
Producer
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Presented By
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Producer
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Presented By
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Presented By
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Producer
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Producer
Wonder Man (1945)
Producer
Wonder Man (1945)
Presented By
The Princess and the Pirate (1944)
Presented By
Up in Arms (1944)
Presented By
Up in Arms (1944)
Producer
The Princess and the Pirate (1944)
Producer
They Got Me Covered (1943)
Presented By
The North Star (1943)
Producer
The Pride of the Yankees (1943)
Presented By
They Got Me Covered (1943)
Producer
The Pride of the Yankees (1943)
Producer
Ball of Fire (1942)
Presented By
Ball of Fire (1942)
Producer
The Little Foxes (1941)
Producer
The Little Foxes (1941)
Presented By
The Westerner (1940)
Producer
The Westerner (1940)
Presented By
The Real Glory (1939)
Producer
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Presented By
Raffles (1939)
Producer
They Shall Have Music (1939)
Producer
The Real Glory (1939)
Presented By
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Producer
The Goldwyn Follies (1938)
Producer
The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)
Presented By
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)
Presented By
The Goldwyn Follies (1938)
Presented By
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)
Producer
The Hurricane (1937)
Producer
Dead End (1937)
Producer
Stella Dallas (1937)
Presented By
Dead End (1937)
Presented By
The Hurricane (1937)
Presented By
Woman Chases Man (1937)
Producer
Strike Me Pink (1936)
Producer
These Three (1936)
Presented By
These Three (1936)
Producer
Beloved Enemy (1936)
Producer
Dodsworth (1936)
Presented By
Come and Get It (1936)
Producer
Strike Me Pink (1936)
Presented By
The Dark Angel (1935)
Producer
Splendor (1935)
Producer
Barbary Coast (1935)
Presented By
The Dark Angel (1935)
Presented By
The Wedding Night (1935)
Producer
Nana (1934)
Producer
We Live Again (1934)
Producer
Kid Millions (1934)
Producer
We Live Again (1934)
Presented By
Nana (1934)
Presented By
Roman Scandals (1933)
Producer
The Masquerader (1933)
Presented By
The Kid from Spain (1932)
Producer
The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932)
Presented By
Cynara (1932)
Presented By
Cynara (1932)
Producer
The Unholy Garden (1931)
Producer
One Heavenly Night (1931)
Producer
Street Scene (1931)
Producer
Tonight or Never (1931)
Producer
Palmy Days (1931)
Producer
Arrowsmith (1931)
Producer
Tonight or Never (1931)
Presented By
The Unholy Garden (1931)
Presented By
One Heavenly Night (1931)
Presented By
Street Scene (1931)
Presented By
Raffles (1930)
Producer
The Devil to Pay (1930)
Producer
Whoopee! (1930)
Presented By
Whoopee! (1930)
Producer
This Is Heaven (1929)
Presented By
The Rescue (1929)
Presented By
Condemned (1929)
Producer
The Awakening (1928)
Presented By
The Night of Love (1927)
Presented By
The Magic Flame (1927)
Presented By
Partners Again (1926)
Presented By
The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926)
Presented By
The Dark Angel (1925)
Presented By
His Supreme Moment (1925)
Presented By
Stella Dallas (1925)
Presented By
A Thief in Paradise (1925)
Presented By
Ben-Hur (1925)
Producer
Cytherea (1924)
Presented By
In Hollywood With Potash and Perlmutter (1924)
Producer
In Hollywood With Potash and Perlmutter (1924)
Presented By
The Eternal City (1924)
Presented By
Tarnish (1924)
Presented By
Potash and Perlmutter (1923)
Presented By
The Highest Bidder (1921)
Presented By
Milestones (1920)
Presented By
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1920)
Presented By
The Strange Boarder (1920)
Presented By
A Double Dyed Deceiver (1920)
Presented By
The Truth (1920)
Presented By
Pinto (1920)
Presented By
The Paliser Case (1920)
Presented By
The North Wind's Malice (1920)
Presented By
Dangerous Days (1920)
Presented By
The Branding Iron (1920)
Presented By
The Great Accident (1920)
Presented By
Jes' Call Me Jim (1920)
Presented By
Partners of the Night (1920)
Presented By
Stop Thief (1920)
Presented By
The Silver Horde (1920)
Presented By
The Penalty (1920)
Presented By
The Cup of Fury (1920)
Presented By
Out of the Storm (1920)
Presented By
Going Some (1920)
Presented By
A Man and His Money (1919)
Presented By
The Eternal Magdalene (1919)
Presented By
One of the Finest (1919)
Presented By
The Fear Woman (1919)
Presented By
The Loves of Letty (1919)
Presented By
The World and Its Woman (1919)
Presented By
Strictly Confidential (1919)
Presented By
The Woman on the Index (1919)
Presented By
When Doctors Disagree (1919)
Presented By
Day Dreams (1919)
Presented By
One Week of Life (1919)
Presented By
The City of Comrades (1919)
Presented By
Daughter of Mine (1919)
Presented By
Toby's Bow (1919)
Presented By
Spotlight Sadie (1919)
Presented By
Leave It to Susan (1919)
Presented By
The Bondage of Barbara (1919)
Presented By
Jinx (1919)
Presented By
The Stronger Vow (1919)
Presented By
Shadows (1919)
Presented By
Through the Wrong Door (1919)
Presented By
The Pest (1919)
Presented By
The Girl from Outside (1919)
Presented By
Go West, Young Man (1918)
Presented By

Life Events

1898

Sailed to Canada in steerage from Liverpool

1913

Formed Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company (with brother-in-law Jesse L Lasky and Cecile B DeMille)

1916

Made chairman of merged Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company and Adolph Zukor's Famous Players

1916

Formed Goldwyn (with Edgar Selwyn and others)

1918

Changed name legally to Samuel Goldwyn

1923

Formed Samuel Goldwyn Productions

Photo Collections

Wuthering Heights - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Samuel Goldwyn's production of Wuthering Heights (1939), starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Wuthering Heights (1939) - I'm Neither Thief Nor Stranger Returned from America, making an obscured reference to their childhood romance, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) tells Cathy (Merle Oberon), her husband Edgar (David Niven) and his sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) he's home to stay, in Wuthering Heights, 1939, the Samuel Goldwyn production directed by William Wyler, from the Emily Bronte novel.
Ball Of Fire (1942) - Just Another Apple Stripper Sugarpuss (Barbara Stanwyck) surprises grammar Professor Potts (Gary Cooper), ready to begin her interview right away, his colleagues, modeled on the Seven Dwarves, supporting the idea, in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire, 1942.
Ball Of Fire (1942) - Two And Two Are Five Allen Jenkins is the garbage man, seeking trivia help from encyclopedia-writing professors (Oscar Homolka, Aubrey Mather, Richard Haydn, S.Z. Sakall et al), Potts (Gary Cooper) committing to new research, in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire, 1942.
Dodsworth (1936) - You Do Need Soothing Abandoned on the deck by his wife and her handsome new friend, retiring American auto manufacturer Sam (Walter Huston, title character) is giddy about seeing land on his first trip to England, supported by a steward (Wilson Benge) then worldly Edith (Mary Astor), in William Wyler’s Dodsworth, 1936.
Dodsworth (1936) - The Most Amusing Friends Early in her Paris stay, eager American Fran (Ruth Chatterton), wife of the retiring auto executive title character, Walter Huston, whom she forgets to meet, aims to impress French pal Renee (Odette Myrtle) and her cultured associate Iselin (Paul Lukas, his first appearance), in William Wyler’s Dodsworth, 1936.
Princess And The Pirate, The (1944) - Take A Load Off My Eyes Princess Margaret (Virginia Mayo), passenger on a British ship, has complained about the noise being made by Sylvester (Bob Hope), whose rehearsal she interrupts, his first appearance, loaned out from Paramount to Samuel Goldwyn, in the Technicolor hit The Princess And The Pirate, 1944.
Princess And The Pirate, The (1944) - Kiss Me In The Moonlight Actor Sylvester (Bob Hope, on to Samuel Goldwyn from Paramount) still doesn’t believe Margaret (Virginia Mayo) is really a princess but sure needs her to rescue his act before a rowdy pirate crowd, with a song by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson, vocal by Louanne Hogan, her outfit by Mary Grant, the future Mrs. Vincent Price, in The Princess And The Pirate, 1944.
Stella Dallas (1937) - Like The People In The Movie Social climber Barbara Stanwyck (title character) at the movies with blue-blood Stephen (John Boles), who's charmed for now, early in King Vidor's Stella Dallas, 1937.
Stella Dallas (1937) - The Galleries And Museums Some years after her last scene, Barbara Stanwyck (title character), still residing in industrial Central Mass., takes in sewing (Lillian Yarbo her maid/assistant), grumbles that her estranged successful New York husband sends books for the birthday of her daughter, who has grown up to be Anne Shirley, bringing her teacher (Ann Shoemaker) home to visit, in Stella Dallas, 1937.
Hans Christian Andersen (1952) - The King's New Clothes The original tale by the titular hero is in fact the "Emperor's" new clothes, but the tune by Frank Loesser is about a king, delivered by the famous 19th century Danish author as played by Danny Kaye, early in Samuel Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen, 1952.
Hans Christian Andersen (1952) - Ugly Duckling Mocked by his peers because the doctor's shaved his head, young Lars (Peter Votrian) is the lucky recipient of a tale from local (Danish) storyteller Hans (Danny Kaye), another Frank Loesser original written for Samuel Goldwyn's film, Hand Christian Andersen, 1952.
Song Is Born, A (1948) - Daddy-o Head-turning introduction of Virginia Mayo, as Honey (Barbara Stanwyck was “Sugar” in the original Ball Of Fire, 1942, also directed by Howard Hawks), dubbed by Jeri Sullavan, with the Page Cavanaugh trio (Al Viola on guitar, Lloyd Pratt on bass), song by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, Danny Kaye as observing professor Frisbee, in A Song Is Born, 1948.

Trailer

Family

Aaron David Gelbfisz
Father
Hasidic Jew.
Hannah Reban Gelbfisz
Mother
Hasidic Jew.
Ruth Goldwyn
Daughter
Mother, Blanche Lasky.
Samuel Goldwyn Jr
Son
Motion picture executive. Born in 1926; mother, Ruth Howard; founded the Samuel Goldwyn Co. in 1979; company was a leading producer and distributor of art-house product.
Catherine Howard Goldwyn
Granddaughter
Born in 1951.
Francis Sydney Howard
Grandson
Born in 1954.
John Goldwyn
Grandson
Executive. Born in 1958; works at Paramount Pictures; married to actress Colleen Camp.
Tony Goldwyn
Grandson
Actor, director. Born in 1960; married to production designer Jane Musky.
Elizabeth Goldwyn
Granddaughter
Peter Goldwyn
Grandson

Companions

Blanche Lasky
Wife
Married in 1910; divorced in 1919; sister of Jesse Lasky; mother of Ruth.
Frances Howard
Wife
Actor. Born in 1903; acted on Broadway; married Goldwyn in 1925; died in 1976.

Bibliography

"Goldwyn"
A. Scott Berg, Alfred A. Knopf (1989)
"Samuel Goldwyn: The Producer and His Films"
Richard Griffith, Garland Publishing (1956)

Notes

In his biography, A. Scott Berg makes a case that Goldwyn was born in July 1879 not on August 27, 1882 as the mogul always claimed