Samuel Goldwyn was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in July 1882, in Warsaw, Poland. At a young age, Goldwyn left Warsaw and eventually made his way to Birmingham, England, living under the name of Samuel Goldfish. In 1898, he immigrated to the United States and settled in New York. For four years, he worked in Gloversville, New York as vice-president of a garment business. In 1902, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and moved back to New York City.
In a short time, Goldwyn decided to join into the growing film industry. He first partnered up with Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor. Together, the three produced their first film, using a young director named Cecil B. DeMille. However, disputes arose amongst the three men and after a few years Goldwyn left the company (which later became known as Paramount Pictures).
In 1916, he decided to partner up with Broadway producers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, using a combination of both names to call their movie-making enterprise, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. It was at this time that Samuel “Goldfish” had his surname legally changed to Goldwyn. It was the company’s “Leo the Lion” trademark which made the organization famous. Samuel Goldwyn was eventually forced out of the company by his partners, prior to the company being acquired by Marcus Loew and his Metro Pictures Corporation. With the merger of the two film enterprises, the new studio became known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
Following his departure from Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, he established the Samuel Goldwyn Inc., eventually opening Samuel Goldwyn Studio in West Hollywood. For more than thirty years, Goldwyn made numerous successful films and received Academy Award nominations for Best Picuture for Arrowsmith (1931), Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), and The Little Foxes (1941).
In 1946, Goldwyn was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. During that Academy Award show, Goldwyn’s drama The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 1955, Goldwyn turned to musicals with the smash hit Guys and Dolls starring Marlon Brando. Goldwyn’s final film in 1959 was a rendition of the George Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess. The film was nominated for three Academy Award, but only won one
Goldwyn died on January 31, 1974, at the age of 94, in Los Angeles, California.
Sources: “Samuel Goldwyn (1882 - 1974).” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 446.
Samuel Goldwyn: Wikipedia.
American Masters on PBS: Samuel Goldwyn.
Photo: Underwood & Underwood, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.