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Sam Goldwyn, Hollywood Pioneer

Updated on October 11, 2011

Sam Goldwyn

Sam Goldwyn was one of the most influential of the small group of rich, powerful men who controlled Hollywood during the Golden Age. His astonishing rags-to-riches story is that of a true pioneer, like a movie fantasy that came true.

His career spanned multiple generations of film production and he had an instrumental role in the formation of the two largest Hollywood studios, Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Eventually, however, he opted out of studio executive management, motivated in part by his "lone wolf" nature as well as his inability to deal with partners. He reinvented himself as an independent producer, forming a production company that became the model for the independents who followed.

Early Years

Samuel Goldwyn was born Schmuel Gelbfisz, the oldest of six children in a family of Hasidic Jews in Warsaw, during summer of 1879. At age 15, his father died and the teenager left home on a foot-journey across Europe. He immigrated to Birmingham in England where he lived with relatives and worked as a blacksmith's helper, using the anglicised name, Samuel Goldfish, until he had earned enough money to make the journey to America.

The 19-year-old Samuel Goldfish landed in Canada in 1898, and briefly lived in Manhattan, before settling in Gloversville in Upstate New York. He worked in a glove factory then became a salesman at which he excelled. Within five years, he was a successful New York glove dealer.

He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1902. In the early years of the century, the fledgling film industry, which was expanding rapidly, attracted his interest, and he convinced his brother-in-law Jesse L. Lasky (then a stage producer) to go into business. They formed the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company with the ambitious dream of filming a feature length movie. They hired the then-unknown aspiring playwright Cecil B. DeMille to go out west to direct their first feature The Squaw Man. The new company proved very successful and Goldwyn's partners credited him with being the business mastermind behind the operation with the job of finding buyers for movies before they were completed, while DeMille was in charge of the filmmaking and Lasky served as producer. Sam Goldwyn had arrived.

Sam and Frances Goldwyn
Sam and Frances Goldwyn

Hollywood Success

The success of the company spawned a merger with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players and Goldwyn started to take a greater role in the production of films, and in the administration of the company. He proved a prickly partner, however, and he alienated Zukor, his brother-in-law Lasky, and the studio's biggest star Mary Pickford. Within months of the merger being finalised in 1916 he resigned. His $7,500 initial investment had soared to $900,000 and the the company he left later evolved into Paramount Pictures.

Goldfish's next venture was a partnership with the famous theatrical Selwyn family. They merged their names and formed Goldwyn Pictures in 1917. Then Samuel Goldfish decided that he liked the name so much, that he legally changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn in December 1918.

As Goldwyn Pictures expanded, Sam Goldwyn found difficulties working within the large studio environment, and its tangle of investors and partners. Again, he faced being forced out. He sold his shares with a desire to become a lone wolf in the industry. Meanwhile, his shares in Goldwyn Pictures were acquired by Metro, and in a succession of mergers, the studio known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was born. So, bizarrely, Goldwyn was never part of the final management structure of the company that bears his name. This was to upset him his entire life, but Goldwyn's son said that if he could get free publicity from people thinking he was involved with MGM, he'd always take it.

In 1923, Sam Goldwyn formed his own studio and independent production company. He was in business until 1959, well-known for his frequent malapropisms and for producing many critically-acclaimed films such as "The Best Years of Our Lives", "Wuthering Heights", and "Stella Dallas". Goldwyn retired in 1959, and died in 1974.

Goldwyn was married to Blanche Lasky from 1910 to 1915. 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.


Goldwyn has become as famous for his misquotes, or Goldwynisms, as for his success in the Hollywood movie industry. Some are apochryphal, some are genuine, all are worth hearing again. Sometimes its misuse of language, but he also had a sharp, acerbic wit. Only Goldwyn knew when he was deliberately being funny or when he was hashing the language.

Here is a selection of the best:

"An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."

"Gentlemen, include me out."

"Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."

"They stayed away in droves."

"I don't want yes-men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs."

"I read part of it all the way through."

"I had a great idea this morning, but I didn't like it."

"Tell them to stand closer apart."

"For your information, just answer me one question!"

"In two words, impossible."

"A hospital is no place to be sick."

"I'm willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong."

"Can she sing? She's practically a Florence Nightingale."

"Let's have some new cliches."

"Never make forecasts, especially about the future."

"I don't think anyone should write his autobiography until after he's dead."

"Modern dancing is old fashioned."

"This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up."

"Put it out of your mind. In no time, it will be a forgotten memory."

Goldwyn and Wife Frances,  During Filming of Porgy and Bess, photo by Gjon  Mili
Goldwyn and Wife Frances, During Filming of Porgy and Bess, photo by Gjon Mili | Source


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    • gunsock profile image

      gunsock 9 years ago from South Coast of England

      Thanks for the kind comment MrMarmalade. Goldwyn's an interesting character and must have been formidable to deal with in person.

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

      Great hub on a very famous person