Samuel Goldwyn was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in July of 1882 in Warsaw, Poland. His parents were both poor Polish Jews and he was raised in poverty. When he was young, he moved alone to Birmingham, England, where he lived with his relatives. There, he also adopted the Anglican name "Samuel Goldfish" to fit in better with the locals.
In 1898, Samuel decided to try to move to the United States, where opportunity greeted many immigrants. However, he decided to leave the boat in Nova Scotia fearing that he would be refused entry. In January of 1899, he finished the journey to New York City, where he was admitted into the United States.
After arriving, Samuel immediately sought work to survive. He moved to Gloversville, New York to work in a glove factory before becoming a glove salesman. His charisma and charm made him an excellent salesman and he was able to ascend the ranks to become vice president of sales. In 1902, he was made a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1903, he decided to move back to New York City to work as a salesman there.
At that time, the silent film industry was just beginning to become popular. Samuel began attending movies whenever possible and was entranced by the acting and other elements of filmmaking. He decided to go into the movie business with Vaudeville entertainer Jesse Lansky, his brother-in-law, and a theater owner named Adolph Zukor. They decided to produce a film, hiring Cecil B. DeMille to direct.
The first film produced by the fledgling company was "The Squaw Man". Samuel's job was to sell the film to theaters, but he quickly grew tired of the job and wanted a closer role in the filmmaking. Unfortunately, the partners had major differences in opinion about how the business should be run and Samuel decided to leave. He sold his share in the company, which he had bought for $7,500, to his partners for $900,000.The company later became Paramount Pictures.
Samuel continued working to form a motion picture company, eventually partnering with Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, who were both Broadway producers. They combined their surnames to name the company Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. An inspired Samuel decided to change his surname to Goldwyn to move past his rather comical "Goldfish" surname. The company proved to be fairly successful in the early motion picture business, employing a roaring lion as their trademark.
In 1917, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation was acquired by Metro Pictures Corporation to become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Samuel was forced out of the company by his partners and established a new company, Samuel Goldwyn Inc. This company became his greatest success, producing films such as 1939's "Wuthering Heights", 1937's "Dead End", 1931's "Arrowsmith", 1936' "Dodsworth", and 1941's "The Little Foxes". Samuel enjoyed working closely with directors, actors, and writers on film production, insisting that storytelling was the most important element of movies.
In 1910, Samuel married a woman named Blanche Lasky, but divorced her in 1915. In 1925, Samuel married an actress named Frances Howard, who remained his partner for the rest of his life. They had a son, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., that followed his father into the film industry.
In 1946, Samuel Goldwyn was honored with The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, an award given at the Academy Awards to creative producers that make quality films. In 1957, he was given The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable contributions to humanitarian organizations. In 1959, he produced his final film, "Porgy and Bess", which starred Sidney Poitier. The film failed financially and also failed to impress critics. Its failure was a major disappointment, but Samuel decided to retire from filmmaking.
Samuel Goldwyn died on January 31, 1974 in Los Angeles, California. His will created a charitable foundation called The Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, which was endowed with several million dollars. Samuel Goldwyn Jr. took steps to preserve his father's films and the distribution rights are currently held by MGM Studios.
"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." - Samuel Goldwyn after starting Samuel Goldwyn Inc.