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  • Carrie Specht

100 Years Ago Today Samuel Goldwyn Established His Production Company


In 1916 Samuel Goldwyn established Goldwyn Pictures. The company would later became one of the most successful independent filmmakers in the history of the film industry. Famed for his relentless ambition, bad temper and genius for publicity, Samuel Goldwyn became Hollywood's leading "Independent" producer largely because none of his partners could tolerate him for very long.

Goldwyn was born Schmuel Gelbfisz, August 17, 1879 in Warsaw, Poland, in what was then a part of the Russian Empire (it is now Warsaw, Mazowieckie, Poland). Upon arriving in England just before the turn of the century, relatives Anglicized his name to Samuel Goldfish. There he gathered enough money to pay for a steerage ticket across the Atlantic. After marrying the sister of Jesse L. Lasky, who was then a theatrical producer, Goldfish convinced Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille to go into film production.

The new company's first film, The Squaw Man (1914), was one of the first features made in Hollywood. The company later became the nucleus of what would become Paramount Pictures. As his marriage fell apart, Goldfish dissolved his partnership with Lasky. His next enterprise was The Goldwyn Co., founded in 1916 and named for himself and his partners, brothers Edgar Selwyn and Archibald Selwyn. Goldfish liked the name so much he took it for his own. The Goldwyn Co.'s stars included Mabel Normand (The Venus Model) and Will Rogers, but its most famous legacy was its "Leo the Lion" trademark, which was adopted by its successor company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Goldwyn was ousted from his own company before the merger, which was why his name became part of MGM even though he had nothing to do with the company. At this point Goldwyn would have nothing to do with partners and went into independent production, and for 35 years was the boss and sole proprietor of his own production company, a mini-studio specializing in expensive "quality" films, distributed initially by United Artists and later by RKO. His contract actors included Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, David Niven and Danny Kaye.

Touted for his "Goldwyn touch" and loathed by many of his underlings for his habit of ordering films recast, rewritten and recut, Goldwyn is best remembered for his films that teamed director William Wyler and cinematographer Gregg Toland, including Wuthering Heights, The Westerner, The Little Foxes, and the Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives. And that's only a fraction of the films for which Goldwyn is responsible. Difficult, maybe. But there's no denying the man was a remarkable filmmaker.

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