Hollywood Renegade & Founding Member of The Society of Independent Motion
Goldwyn - around 1923, when he organized his independent
production company Samuel Goldwyn Inc. (Aberdeen
collection). To purchase Aberdeen photos for reprint purposes click
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
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
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.
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.
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
"I found that": Johnson, Alva, The Great Goldwyn, p.