US film producer. He founded the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in 1917, which merged into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1924, although he was not part of the deal. He remained an independent producer for many years, making classics such as Wuthering Heights (1939), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Guys and Dolls (1955).
Goldwyn was born in Warsaw, which was then part of Russia, the eldest of six children of a struggling furniture maker. He emigrated first to England in 1895, where his relatives anglicised his name to Goldfish, and reached the USA a year later. Attending evening classes to further his education, he also worked in a glove factory, becoming a top salesman and a partner in the business. He became a naturalized citizen in 1902.
After his marriage in 1913, Goldwyn entered the film business in partnership with his brother-in-law, US vaudeville producer Joseph L Lasky, and US film producer Cecil B De Mille, to form the Jesse L Lasky Feature Play Company. Goldwyn negotiated the selling of its first production The Squaw Man in 1914, which was one of Hollywood's earliest feature films. His marketing skills also led to a distribution contract with Paramount Pictures. After three successful years, the company merged with another Paramount producer, the Famous Players Film Company, run by US producer Adolph Zukor; Goldwyn then became chair. After a disagreement with his partners, he formed Goldwyn Pictures Corporation with new partners, US producers Edgar Selwyn and Archibald Selwyn. The company name was a combination of ‘Gold’ from Goldfish and ‘wyn’ from Selwyn, and Goldwyn adopted it as his own name in 1918. In 1919 he formed Eminent Authors Pictures, attracting many good writers.
Goldwyn was forced out of the company in 1922 after quarrelling with his partners. When it later merged with Metro Pictures and Louis B Mayer Productions to form Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, Goldwyn's only legacy was its Leo the Lion trademark, although he did remain a shareholder.
In 1923 he formed his own company, Samuel Goldwyn Productions, and from that time was an independent producer, distributing his films through United Artists until 1940 and then through RKO. Producing two or three films a year, his policy was to make only one expensive, quality film at a time; it was said that Goldwyn never made ‘B’ films. Goldwyn was one of the first producers to hire authors to write screenplays, bringing together the best literary talents such as US playwright Lillian Hellman and French-born US director William Wyler (producing The Best Years of Our Lives), and numerous stars, including US actor Gary Cooper and English celebrity David Niven. In some cases Goldwyn received large fees from ‘lending’ his stars to other producers.
After World War II popular tastes began to change; the musical Guys and Dolls was successful, but his production of Porgy and Bess in 1959 was a failure. He retired in the same year. Goldwyn was awarded the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1946 and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1957.
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