Samuel Goldwyn

Polish-born American film producer Samuel Goldwyn (born 1882) was notable among Holly wood executives for his belief that artistic aspirations need not conflict with commercial success.

Samuel Goldwyn (original surname, Goldfish) was born in Warsaw on Aug. 17, 1882, ran away from home at the age of 9, and arrived in the United States 4 years later. He learned English in night school, supporting himself as a glove salesman.

In 1913 Goldwyn joined vaudeville producer Jesse L. Lasky and theatrical director Cecil B. DeMille in forming the first feature motion picture company on the West Coast. Their initial production, The Squaw Man (1913), was an instant success, as was Carmen (1915). When Lasky and DeMille merged with another film producer in 1916, Goldwyn became an independent producer and distributor. In 1919 he was instrumental in importing the European masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which, despite its box office failure, helped establish Goldwyn's reputation.

Among Goldwyn's early films were Jubilo (1919), a drama about farm life; The Penalty (1922), a story of drug addiction; Stella Dallas (1925), a mature domestic drama; and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1927), the western that introduced Gary Cooper. Goldwyn was credited with making Cooper—and later Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye— a movie star.

Goldwyn met the challenge of talking pictures by seeking writers who could furnish literate dialogue. Such literary figures as Lillian Hellman, Ben Hecht, Robert E. Sherwood, and Sidney Howard wrote scripts worthy of the talented directors Goldwyn chose. Goldwyn's first talking picture, Bulldog Drummond (1929), was a witty satire by Howard. Arrowsmith (1931), adapted from Sinclair Lewis's novel, was directed by John Ford. The Wedding Night (1935), about a strife-torn New England family, was powerfully directed by King Vidor.

With the highly acclaimed film of Lewis's Dodsworth (1936), Goldwyn began his long association with director William Wyler, collaborating on such excellent films as These Three (1936); Lillian Hellman's adaptation of her controversial play The Children's Hour; Wuthering Heights (1939), brilliantly acted by Laurence Olivier; The Little Foxes (1941), also written by Hellman; and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which won nine Academy Awards.

Other important Goldwyn productions included The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), and Guys and Dolls. His last film was Porgy and Bess (1959). His impact and influence on the movie industry was significant.

Goldwyn was also known for his quick wit and humor. He was reported to have commented, "Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union." When asked about his autobiography, Goldwyn reportedly replied, "I don't think anybody should write his autobiography until after he's dead."


Further Reading on Samuel Goldwyn

Goldwyn's Behind the Screen (1923) gives historical and autobiographical information. A well-written and entertaining biography is Alva Johnston, The Great Goldwyn (1937). Background information is in Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer, The Movies: The Sixty-year Story of the World of Hollywood and Its Effect on America (1957), and Richard Schickel, Movies: The History of an Art and an Institution (1964). Arthur Marx chronicles the life of the famed film producer in Goldwyn: the Man Behind the Myth (1976).