Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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Samuel Goldwyn

Hollywood Renegade & Founding Member of The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

Samuel Goldwyn - around 1923, when he organized his independent production company Samuel Goldwyn Inc. (Aberdeen collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click here.

Hollywood's Lone Wolf

by J. A. Aberdeen

Samuel Goldwyn was unique among the SIMPP founders, in that he had a hand in busting two major film trusts — the Edison patents monopoly (1915) and the Hollywood studio oligopoly (1948). His career spanned multiple generations of film production. He had an instrumental role in the formation of the two largest Hollywood studios, Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Yet he opted out of studio executive management, motivated in part by his "lone wolf" nature as well as his inability to deal with partners. A one-time Hollywood mogul archetype, he reinvented himself as an independent producer, forming a production company that became the model for the independents who followed.

Samuel Goldwyn was born Schmuel Gelbfisz, the oldest of six children in a family of Hasidic Jews in Warsaw, during summer of 1879. (Previously most published sources including Goldwyn himself, claimed to have been born in 1882.) At age 15, Schmuel’s father died. And the teenager left home on a foot-journey across Europe. He emigrated to England where his name was Anglicized to Goldfish. He lived with relatives until he earned enough money in a blacksmith shop to come to American.

The 19-year-old Samuel Goldfish landed in Canada, and briefly lived in Manhattan, before settling in Gloversville in Upstate New York. He worked in a glove factory then became a sales person. Within five years, he was a successful New York glove dealer.

In 1913, a visit to a nickelodeon began his thinking about a film career. He convinced his brother-in-law Jesse L. Lasky (then a stage producer) to go into business. They formed the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company with the ambitious dream of filming a feature length movie. They hired the then-unknown aspiring playwright Cecil B. DeMille to go out west to direct their first feature The Squaw Man.

Hollywood Renegade: Samuel Goldwyn, early in his film career.

While DeMille was in charge of the filmmaking, and Lasky served as producer — Samuel Goldfish had the job of finding buyers for movies before they were completed. Though he never received screen credit, his partners credited him with being the business mastermind behind the operation. The success of the company spawned a merger with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players.

Once Famous Players-Lasky was created, Goldfish no longer wished to be relegated to the role of salesman, and began to take a greater role in the production of films, and in the administration of the company. He alienated his new partner Zukor, his brother-in-law Lasky, and the studio’s biggest star Mary Pickford, and within months of the merger in 1916, he resigned, selling his $7,500 initial investment for $900,000. Famous Players-Lasky later evolved into Paramount Pictures.

Goldfish left to form a new company in partnership with the famous theatrical Selwyn family. Together they invented the name Goldwyn Pictures for the company formed in 1917. Then Samuel Goldfish decided that he liked the name so much, that he legally changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn in December 1918.

As Goldwyn Pictures expanded, Sam Goldwyn found difficulties working within the large studio environment, and its tangle of investors and partners. Again, he faced being forced out. He sold his shares with a desire to become a lone wolf in the industry. Meanwhile, his shares in Goldwyn Pictures were acquired by Metro, and in a succession of mergers, the studio known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was born.

Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Samuel Goldwyn - in a photo taken before Goldwyn decided to go independent.

In 1923 he became an independent producer and formed Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. He said: "I found that it took a world of time trying to explain my plans to my associates; now I can save all that time and energy, and put it into making better pictures." He became close friends with the other independents, particularly Charlie Chaplin. In August 1925, he began releasing his films through United Artists.

While many independent producers failed to weather the uncertainties of film production, Goldwyn survived over thirty years as an active independent. He closely supervised his films. He was a fanatic when it came to story development, insisting that storytelling was the singular element in a successful movie. Many independents who followed, including David O. Selznick, Walter Wanger, and even Walt Disney, operated their businesses after the Goldwyn model. That meant—small units overseen by a single creative producer, only a few films a year, all of them A-class productions. To a large extent, this has remained the model for most of the top independent production companies in Hollywood today.





"I found that": Johnson, Alva, The Great Goldwyn, p. 82.

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