On this day in 1974, the pioneering movie producer Samuel Goldwyn dies in his sleep at the age of 91, at his home in Los Angeles.
Born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Goldwyn left Poland when he was 11 for England and later New York, where he took a menial job in a glove factory; he would rise to become a partner in the company by the time he was in his mid-20s. Upon his arrival in the United States, he took the name Samuel Goldfish, the easiest approximation of his Polish name. After marrying Blanche Lasky in 1910, he went into business several years later with her brother, the vaudeville producer Jesse Lasky, and they co-founded the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company. The company’s first production, The Squaw Man (1914) was the first feature-length motion picture to be produced in Hollywood (as opposed to the general Los Angeles area).
Goldwyn left the company shortly after it merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Company in 1917, selling out his shares for nearly half a million dollars. With the Broadway producers Edgar and Arch Selwyn, he then established a new production venture, called Goldwyn Pictures Corporation as a combination of “Goldfish” and “Selwyn.” He liked the name so much he had his surname legally changed to Goldwyn. The company subsequently merged with Metro Pictures, forming the basis for what would later become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Goldwyn subsequently left the company to become an independent film producer. Having divorced Blanche Lasky in 1915 (the couple had one daughter, Ruth), Goldwyn married the actress Frances Howard in 1925. In 1926, he joined United Artists, a cooperative production company formed by Charlie Chaplin, among others, but left after a falling out with co-founder Mary Pickford in 1939.
Because of Goldwyn’s demanding nature and his unwillingness to work with anyone other than the most respected screenwriters, directors, actors and other creative artists, his films earned a reputation as some of the finest in the business. His constant drive for perfection led him to dominate the production of his films to a degree that sometimes annoyed his employees, but almost invariably produced a better finished product; this effect was known in the business as “the Goldwyn touch.” He was also known for making numerous colorful (if completely illogical) statements, which were dubbed “Goldwynisms.” Two of the more famous examples repeated over the years were “Include me out” and “I’ll tell you in two words: im-possible!”
Standout films over Goldwyn’s long career included Dodsworth (1936), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Little Foxes (1941) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which won Goldwyn his first Oscar for Best Picture. Also in 1947, he received the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for his contributions to the film industry. In 1959, at the age of 78, Goldwyn came out of retirement to make his last movie, Porgy and Bess. Ten years later, he suffered a severe stroke that left him partly paralyzed. Upon his death in 1974, his obituary in the New York Times called Goldwyn “a Hollywood legend, a motion picture producer whose films, always created on a grand scale, were notable for those most elusive of traits–taste and quality.”