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Goldwynisms

Recounted by filmmaker Garson Kanin in the book Hollywood


Samuel Goldwyn pictures around 1923.  (Aberdeen collection). 

To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

Did Goldwyn make Goldwynisms famous or was it the other way about?

A rich and famous and powerful executive who speaks convoluted, accented English is certainly an entertaining character. Credit (or blame) for the creation of this character has been variously attributed.

Without doubt Sam Goldwyn often expressed himself colorfully, oddly. The more comical remarks were repeated and it soon became apparent to someone — some say it was Pete Smith, then Goldwyn's press agent — that there was mileage in this. He collected the funniest of the cracks and began planting them with columnists. He considered that it was his job to publicize the name of Samuel Goldwyn.

When he ran out of reported remarks, he began to invent them. Why not? Malapropisms are easy.

Goldwyn was, at first, happy to be getting all this attention. In the early part of a career it is pleasing to see one's name in print or hear it mentioned. The greatest publicist of them all, Phineas T. Barnum, once said, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right."

Later on, when some of the more idiotic cracks began to be pinned on him, Goldwyn became troubled. He told his publicity people to cut it out. It was too late. The idea had boomeranged.

In the way of joke telling and repeated wit, for a time every such crack was tagged with Goldwyn's name. It generally got a better laugh.

 There have been thousands, far too many for Goldwyn to have created personally. Some of us who knew him have become expert in detecting the genuine, the phony, and the professionally created.

"Goldwynisms!" Goldwyn said to me one day in a temper. "Don't talk to me about Goldwynisms, f’Chrissake. You want to hear some Goldwynisms go talk to Jesse Lasky!" There it was. A pure Goldwynism, created as he was attempting to deny the existence of such a thing. 

There are some I can vouch for:


One evening, after dinner at his house, I admired a new painting on his wall.

"Where did you get this beautiful new Picasso?" I asked.

Goldwyn peered at it and said, "I don't remember. In Paris. Somewhere over there on the Left Wing."


Arthur Hornblow, Jr., came to work for Goldwyn. Goldwyn persisted in calling him "Hornbloom." Homblow corrected him several times throughout the first few months of their association.

When Goldwyn called him "Hombloom" again, Arthur said, "Not Hombloom. Hornblow. Not Bloom. Blow. Here, look." He picked up a sheet of paper, printed his name in large letters and handed it to Goldwyn.

"Show me later," said Goldwyn, waving it away.


Names were apparently always difficult for Goldwyn. Danny Kaye swears that for the first three years of his Goldwyn contract, Goldwyn called him "Eddie." It may have been that Goldwyn associated him with Eddie Cantor who had previously been Goldwyn's male musical star.


When Goldwyn was trying to get Louis Bromfield to do a picture for him, he said, "You should work in pictures, Louis. Sure, you're a great novelist but how many people have heard of you? If you write two or three successful pictures, the name of Bloomfield will be known all over the world!"


It was once reported that Goldwyn said to Anita Loos, "Anita, you've got to cohabit with the director more." (Obviously a phony.)

Compare that with an authentic one:


Playing bridge, he chides his partner, Constance Bennett, for overbidding.

"But how did I know you had nothing?" she protests.

"Didn't you hear me keeping still?" asks Goldwyn.


Harpo Marx told of playing golf with Goldwyn.

Just before he putted, Harpo kicked a stone out of the ball's path.

Goldwyn (shouting) : "You can't do that! It's not allowed."

Harpo: "But you just did. I saw you."

Goldwyn: "But didn't you hear my caddy say I shouldn't?"


I suspect that Goldwyn's most widely repeated remark — "Gentlemen, include me out" — is an invention, as is, "We can get all the Indians we need at the reservoir."

Also: "He worked his way up from nothing, that kid. In fact, he was born in an orphan asylum." (This sounds more like Pete Smith than Goldwyn.)

Or: "I had this terrible thing happen at the track. My horse was winning and then his caddy fell off."

Or: "I've been laid up with intentional flu."

Or: "He treats me like the dirt under my feet."

Or: "I would be sticking my head in a moose."

Or: "Somebody should do a picture about the Russian Secret Police. You know, the GOP."

Or: A director tells Goldwyn that a story he is considering is too caustic. Goldwyn: "The hell with the cost. If it's a good picture we'll make it."

Don't believe a word of these.


Goldwyn himself categorically denied ever having said, "I can answer you in two words. Im possible." I was later to learn from Charlie Chaplin that Goldwyn's denial was justified.

"It was an old gag from a sketch they used to do in the halls," he said, "and I thought it would be fun to pin it on Sam."


At M-G-M one morning, Arthur Freed said to me about a screenplay, " I read part of it all the way through." Two days later, someone told it to me as a Goldwynism.


Goldwyn walking in a garden.

"What's that?" The gardener: "A sundial." Goldwyn: "What's it for?" The gardener: "It tells time by the sun." Goldwyn: "My God, what'll they think of next?" Does anyone believe that?


It is time for a real one. During a conference on The Goldwyn Follies, we were discussing possible choreographers. Martha Graham is suggested.

"I think I've heard of her," he says, "but just what kind of dancing does she do?"

"Well, you know. Modern dancing."

"No, no," said Goldwyn. "I don't want it."

"Why not?"

Goldwyn: "Because. Modern dancing is so old-fashioned!" At the time, he was dead right.


There is at least one I know is false because I invented it myself at the request of Goldwyn's press agent.

"Anything that man says you've got to take with a dose of salts."


I would like to think that Goldwyn said, " A verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on." I doubt that he did.


Lillian Henman invented: "Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."


He did say, one bright morning at the beach, "What a wonderful day to spend Sunday!"


Goldwyn, ever the seductive wooer, was working on Preston Sturges. "Will you give me your word of honor," he asked, "that you will come over here to me when you finish your Paramount picture?"

"No," said Sturges. "I won't."

"All right," said Goldwyn. "If you won't give me your word of honor, will you give me your promise?"


After a game of golf, he and Danny Kaye are dressing in the locker room.

Goldwyn notices Danny's drawers, moves to them, examines them, admires them.

"They're beautiful" he says. "Where did you get them?"

"At Jerry Rothschild's."

"I'm going to get some," said Goldwyn. "Can me up tomorrow morning and remind me."


No matter how oddly he expressed himself, his intention was always clear, although it sometimes took an awkward minute to get the full meaning.

Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer invited the Goldwyns to a preview of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. A party of ten drove to Glendale, had dinner, and went on to the theatre.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street was one of M-G-M's most ambitious productions that year. It co-starred Miss Shearer, Charles Laughton, and Fredric March. It had been personally produced by Thalberg and directed by Sidney Franklin.

The Goldwyns sat directly behind the Thalbergs during the screening. When it ended, there was a great rush toward the spot. Everyone connected with Metro was anxious to express acclaim. Miss Shearer was, after all, the boss's wife. She was praised and extolled until the whole party was knee-deep in compliments.

At this point, Goldwyn leaned over, touched her shoulder, and topped them all.

"Norma," he said. "I swear to God, the way you play that part — f'Chrissake — you should never make another picture!" Whereupon he kissed her and left.


Billy Wilder has an account of a Goldwyn adventure:

"It was when Charlie and I were doing Ball of Fire for him. Gary Cooper, Stanwyck — wasn't she a dream? We came into his office one morning for a meeting. He'd sent for us but when we got there he was sitting around with that great cutter Danny Mandel, and a few other guys, and they were working on the picture Sam had previewed the night before. He looked up when we walked in and kind of scowled the way he did as if to say, 'What the hell do you want?' But we'd gotten used to his cuckoo ways by then so we just walked in and sat down. All of a sudden he seemed to remember we were connected with a different picture and he smiled and he said, 'Gentlemen, I must tell you this. I know how happy you'll be. This preview I had last night? You know about it. I told you. I was going to take the picture out? Well, this preview was the greatest — I've been in this business forty years — and this preview last night — I've made over a hundred pictures — and this preview last night — let me tell you I've seen plenty of previews, not only my own but other people's previews. Thousands. But this preview last night — I want to tell you — was the greatest, the greatest preview I was ever at. I want to tell you when that picture was over last night — that whole audience stood up-' With this," Billy continued, "he stood up himself to make it more clear, and he said, 'That whole audience stood up and they cheered — listen to me — for thirty minutes!' Charlie and I looked at each other. I mean the whole idea was so ridiculous. If an audience cheers for a minute, it makes history. Goldwyn must've suspected that we didn't believe him so he came out from behind his desk and he went on. 'Did you hear what I said? They cheered for thirty minutes. Without stopping.' Then he turned to Danny Mandel and he said, 'Isn't that something?' And Danny said, 'I was there, Mr. Goldwyn.' " 'We can fix it!' Goldwyn yelled."


I was surprised when I found that Goldwyn possessed the rare and valuable gift of laughing at himself.

"You know what I did last week?" he once asked me. "In Chicago? I did something funny. It'll make you laugh. F'Chrissake, it made me laugh. Let me tell you what I did. I went into my room in my hotel. The Ambassador East. I was in a hurry and I picked up the phone and I said to the operator, 'Get me my office.' And she said, 'What?' And I said, 'What do you mean, what? Get me my office, God damn it!' And she said, 'Who is this?' So I said, 'Who is this? This is Samuel Goldwyn.' So she said, 'I never heard of you. Where's your office?' 'In California,' I said. 'In Hollywood. You never heard of me? Samuel Goldwyn?' 'No,' she said. 'What's your number out there?' And I said, 'I don't know. Look it up!' And she said to me, 'You must be crazy,' and she hung up."

He laughed until his pink face turned red.

 


SOURCES:

Kanin, Garson. Hollywood. Viking Press, New York, 1967, p. 342-348.

See Bibliography.

 

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