The most surprising thing about movie producer Samuel Goldwyn is that he had nothing at all to do with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio and its pictures. In 1917, while he was still Samuel Goldfish, he joined with brothers Edgar and Archibald Selwyn to form Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. He liked the combination name so much that he renamed himself Samuel Goldwyn. Funnily enough, had he opted to combine the opposite halves of the names he would have become, appropriately some say, Sam Selfish.
Sam, who never could get along with partners, was forced out of the company in 1922. The Goldwyn Pictures Corporation then merged with Metro Pictures in 1924, then with Louis B. Mayer Productions, to finally form MGM. Sam tried to prevent the new company using his name, but was unsuccessful, so he became an independent producer for the rest of his career. He ultimately produced 139 pictures, many of them quite poor, but including several classics such as: The Best Years of our Lives (1946), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Wuthering Heights (1939).
Sam Goldwyn will always be remembered for his problems with the English language (he was born in Warsaw), and his subsequent mangling of phrases. Just how many were really his, and how many were the product of his writers’ imagination and wit, is anyone’s guess, but they are certainly numerous. Below are some of the best:
‘Flashbacks are a thing of the past’.
‘When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you’.
‘A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on’.
‘I don’t care if my pictures never make a dime, as long as everyone keeps coming to see them’.
‘In two words: ‘im-possible’.
‘Our comedies are not to be laughed at’.
‘I’ll give you a definite maybe’.
‘Include me out’.
‘Anything that man says, you’ve got to take with a dose of salts’.
‘I had a great idea this morning, but I didn’t like it’.
‘This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up’.
‘The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying’.
‘Don’t talk to me while I’m interrupting’.
‘I may not be always right, but I’m never wrong’.
‘Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined’.
‘Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg’.
‘I read part of it all the way through’.
‘Too caustic? To hell with the costs, we’ll make the picture anyway’.
‘If Roosevelt were alive, he’d turn in his grave’.
‘The next time I send a damn fool, I’ll go myself’.
‘We have all passed a lot of water since then’.
‘I’ve gone where the hand of man has never set foot’.
‘In this business its dog eat dog and nobody’s going to eat me’.
‘You just don’t realize what life is all about until you have found yourself lying on the brink of a great abscess’.
‘We’ve got Indians fresh from the reservoir’.
‘A producer shouldn’t get ulcers, he should give them’.
‘I would be sticking my head in a moose’.
‘First you have a good story, then a good treatment, and next a first-rate director. After that, you hire a competent cast and even then, you have only the mucus of a good picture’.
‘And don’t try coming back to me on bended elbow’.
‘I’m over-paying him, but he’s worth it’.
‘Let’s bring it up to date with some snappy nineteenth century dialogue’.
‘We are dealing in facts, not realities’.
‘It will create an excitement that will sweep the country like wild flowers’.
‘Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day’.
‘I don’t think anyone should write his autobiography until after he’s dead’.
‘Now, why did you name your baby ‘John’? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named John!’
And my personal favourites:
‘This new atom bomb is dynamite!’
‘I’ve just returned from 10 Drowning Street, so I know what I’m talking about’.
My favourite Goldwyn anecdote involves the writer James Thurber when he expressed concern over the amount of violence in Sam’s 1947 production of his novel The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In typical Goldwyn style Sam tried to console him. ‘I’m sorry you feel it was too bloody and thirsty’, he said. ‘Not only did I think so’, wrote Thurber later, ‘but I was horror and struck!’
On another occasion director Billy Wilder tried to sell Sam on making a biopic on the life of legendary ballet dancer Nijinsky. Billy told him of how Nijinsky had left his male lover for a woman, and how the great dancer eventually became so deranged in a mental institution he believed he was a horse. Goldwyn, who specialised in making ‘family’ pictures, was aghast. ‘How dare you even suggest I make a picture like that! Where’s the happy ending?’ he ranted. Wilder fired one last shot. ‘Well, if you really want a happy ending, we could have him win the Kentucky Derby’.
Sam Goldwyn, formerly Sam Goldfish, formerly Schmuel Gelbfisz, passed away at the ripe old age of 94 in Los Angeles in 1974.