Sam Goldwyn (1879 - 1974)

Sam Goldwyn
Sam Goldwyn

Sam Goldwyn was one of the original creators and controllers of the early Hollywood movie industry. He rose from a poverty-stricken childhood in a Warsaw ghetto to achieve a position of immense power and wealth, in a career which spanned the entire early history of motion pictures. He produced the first feature length film ever made in Hollywood and as well as helping to form Paramount Pictures, he lent his name, albeit reluctantly, to the mighty Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.

He chose to opt out of major studio management and formed his own production company, becoming a one man success story, an independent colossus whose talent and drive helped to form the Hollywood we know today. In 1946 he was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and in 1973 he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.


He was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, around 17th August,1879 (although Goldwyn himself was never certain of his actual birth date.). He was the eldest of six children in a family of Hasdic Jews. His father, Aaron, was a used furniture salesman and the family were poor. His father died when Schmuel was 15 and the boy, determined to make a better life for himself, undertook a remarkable five hundred mile walk, alone, westwards to Hamburg where he stayed with friends and raised enough money to pay for a sea journey to London.

In England he made another epic walk, this time to Birmingham where his mother's sister lived, and began working first as a blacksmith's assistant and then as a sponge salesman. He spent three years in England during which time he anglicised his name to Samuel Goldfish and he scraped together enough money to make his next move, across the Atlantic.

He reached New Brunswick in Canada, aged 19 in 1898 and then took to the road again, walking south across the US border and on to New York. The journey took him several months through one of the hardest winters ever seen in New England, and he arrived in Manhattan in January 1899.

Needing work, Samuel moved to Gloversville, in Fulton County, New York, which was then the hub of the US leather glove industry, and got a job as a floor sweeper in a glove factory for $3 a week. He saw that the biggest earners in the business were the gloves salesmen and he talked his way into becoming a salesman for the Elite Glove Company by agreeing to take on their toughest territory. The determination and tenacity he had shown in his marathon journey walking from eastern Europe stood him in good stead and within 5 years he had become one of the most successful glove salesmen in the country, earning $15,000 a year. He was able to send money home for two of his younger brothers to join him in America and he started them up selling gloves also with some of his smaller accounts.

In 1902 Samuel became a naturalised American citizen and when he was made sales manager for Elite he moved to offices in New York City. It was here that he first saw "flickers", as the early movies were called, and it was here that he met his first wife Blanche Lasky, the sister of Jesse L. Lasky, who, at the time was a vaudevillian and theatrical producer.

Early Movie Industry

The newly formed film industry was of great interest to the now wealthy Goldfish, and he went into business with his brother-in-law, Jesse Lasky, to create a new sort of film, longer than the existing short "flickers", by combining several reels of film into one movie. Goldwyn pursued his new idea with the same fierce determination he brought to everything. He and Lasky formed the "Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company" and hired the young Cecil B DeMille, then an unknown playwright, to direct their first film. DeMille based himself in the then unknown Los Angeles suburb of Hollywood and the new company brought out 'The Squaw Man' in 1916.

The picture was a great success and the new company went from strength to strength with Goldfish using his selling expertise to find buyers for the company's movies, often before they were completed. Goldfish was not an easy man to be in business with and he alienated his partners by demanding a greater role in the company's affairs. He had already divorced Blanche in 1915 and he resigned from the company the following year when it merged with the Famous Players Company of Adolph Zukor. It went on eventually to become Paramount Pictures.

A New Name 1918

Goldfish now went into another partnership, this time with the highly respected Broadway producers, brothers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn. They combined the movie production facilities which Goldfish still owned and the playlist of the Selwyn's and they also amalgamated their surnames to form Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in November, 1916. Goldfish liked the name so much that in December 1918 he changed his own, unusual name to Goldwyn.

The new company produced and distributed hundreds of silent movies with big stars such as Lon Chaney and Mabel Normand. The lyricist, Howard Dietz designed a logo with a reclining lion, and the words "Ars Gratia Artis" ("Art for Art's Sake"), which first appeared on the film 'Polly of the Circus' in 1917. The company was successful but, as it expanded, Goldwyn again found himself at odds with his partners. In 1922, after six years of growth and success he sold his shares in Goldwyn Pictures. In a bizarre twist they were eventually acquired by Louis B. Mayer who, in a succession of mergers, formed the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Mayer also took over the Leo the Lion trademark. So amazingly, Sam Goldwyn was never actually part of the famous company to which he lent his name.

Independent Producer

Goldwyn made the sensible decision never to go into partnership again and in 1923 he formed his own company Samuel Goldwyn Productions which he would lead for the next 36 years until his retirement in 1959. He became one of a small group of moguls who dominated the movie industry from the 1930's to the 1950's during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

He became well known for his commitment to the highest quality in everything and he always tried to use the best talents available in performers, writers, composers, designers and cinematographers. His early years in the glove business and in Hollywood had given him a thorough understanding of marketing and finance and made him a formidable player in the tough movie business. From 1925 until 1941 he released all his films through United Artists,and from 1941, through RKO Radio Pictures.

He began his independent career by producing many successful Silent Movies such as 'The Winning of Barbara Worth' in 1926 with Vilma Bánky, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper. After the advent of Talkies he employed some of Hollywood's biggest names in hit movies such as 'Cynara' in 1932, 'Dodsworth' in 1936 and 'Stella Dallas' in 1937 and he continued in the 1940's, particularly in collaboration with the brilliant director William Wyler. Wyler directed many outstanding movies for Goldwyn, including 'Wuthering Heights' in 1939, 'The Little Foxes' in 1941, and 'The Best Years of our Lives' in 1946 which won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Goldwyn reduced his company's output in the 1950's but not his commitment to top quality projects and personnel. The last years of his Hollywood career finished on a high with three outstanding musicals: 'Hans Christian Andersen' in 1952, starring Danny Kaye, 'Guys and Dolls' in 1955, starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, and 'Porgy and Bess' in 1959, with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge


Goldwyn was a tough, uneducated man with a quick temper but he was also a determined man with a clear vision of how his movies should look. He demanded quality in everything - in his staff, his actors and actresses, his scripts and his movie technicians and it showed in the superb movies that his company produced.

Goldwyn as a young man developed something of a reputation for chasing beautiful young actresses. He was married twice, first to Blanche Lasky whom he married in 1910 and with whom he had a daughter, Ruth. Then in 1925 he married actress, Frances Howard. They had a son, Sam Junior, who followed his father into the business.

The term "Goldwynism" has entered the language, referring to misquotes and mistakes in the language, supposedly made by Sam Goldwyn such as "Gentlemen, include me out" and "In two words, im-possible." Many of them are almost certainly made up by the ever-inventive Goldwyn publicity department. After 'Porgy and Bess' Goldwyn finally retired in 1959, aged 82. He had become, in common with many of his contemporaries, increasingly disillusioned with the erosion of film censorship after the Second World War. After 10 years of retirement he suffered a serious stroke and remained wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.

Sam Goldwyn died on January 31, 1974, aged 95. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

Sam Goldwyn Academy Awards

No Nominations:

Honorary Awards:
Nominated for the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1939)
Won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1947)
Won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1958)

Sam Goldwyn Filmography
As producer unless otherwise specified

Polly of the Circus (executive producer)
Fighting Odds
Sunshine Alley (executive producer)
The Cinderella Man (executive producer)
The Beloved Traitor
The Floor Below
All Woman (executive producer)
The Turn of the Wheel
Peck's Bad Girl
Laughing Bill Hyde
Thirty a Week
A Perfect 36
The Hell Cat (executive producer)
A Perfect Lady
The Racing Strain (executive producer)
Sis Hopkins
The Stronger Vow (executive producer)
Lord and Lady Algy
Almost a Husband (executive producer)
Water, Water, Everywhere (executive producer)
The Paliser Case (executive producer)
Partners of the Night
The Adventures and Emotions of Edgar Pomeroy (short) (executive producer)
Jes' Call Me Jim
Cupid the Cowpuncher (executive producer)
The Slim Princess
The Truth
The Penalty (uncredited)
Honest Hutch
Officer 666 (executive producer)
The Great Lover
Guile of Women
What Happened to Rosa
What Ho, the Cook
Boys Will Be Boys
A Tale of Two Worlds (executive producer)
Don't Neglect Your Wife (
Oh Mary Be Careful
The Ace of Hearts (uncredited)
Doubling for Romeo
Watch Your Step (executive producer)
Moriarty (executive producer)
Head Over Heels (executive producer)
His Back Against the Wall
Mr. Barnes of New York
Hungry Hearts
A Blind Bargain
The Christian (executive producer)
Lost and Found on a South Sea Island
Dr. Sunshine
The Eternal Three
Unseeing Eyes
The Day of Faith
The Eternal City
Name the Man (executive producer)
The Romance of a Queen (executive producer)
Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model (executive producer - uncredited)
True As Steel (executive producer)
So This Is Hollywood
A Thief in Paradise
Stella Dallas
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (uncredited)
Partners Again
The Winning of Barbara Worth
The Night of Love
The Magic Flame
The Devil Dancer (uncredited)
Two Lovers
The Awakening
The Rescue (executive producer)
Bulldog Drummond
This Is Heaven
The Devil to Pay!
One Heavenly Night
Street Scene
Palmy Days
The Unholy Garden
Tonight or Never
The Greeks Had a Word for Them
Arsène Lupin (uncredited)
The Kid from Spain
The Masquerader
Roman Scandals
Lady of the Boulevards
We Live Again
Kid Millions