At a glance:
- Author: A. Scott Berg
- First Published: 1989
- Type of Work: Biography
- Genres: Nonfiction, Biography
- Subjects: Acting or actors, 1930's, Jews or Jewish life, Liberalism, Fame, Films, movies, or motion pictures, Hollywood, Filmmaking or filmmakers
- Locales: New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, London, England, Poland
Sixteen-year-old Schmuel Gelbfisz left his native Poland in 1895, crossed Europe on foot, and--via Hamburg, London, transatlantic steerage, and Canada--made his way to New York. At nineteen, calling himself Goldfish, the immigrant worked as a floor-sweep in a glove factory, but within three years he was Gloversville’s top salesman. In 1913, then thirty-four, he combined forces with well-known vaudevillian Jesse Lasky and unknown Cecil B. DeMille to create THE SQUAW MAN, the first feature-length film made in a “place called Hollywood.” Goldfish then became Goldwyn, a complex man as determined to become a success in the new world as he was secretive about his impoverished origins in the old world. He was, indeed, no less wildly paradoxical than the Hollywood kingdom he played a major role in creating.
In and out of explosive partnerships, forming and then abandoning companies that became Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and United Artists, Goldwyn became the movie industry’s “great independent.” He befriended--and frequently betrayed--such movie greats as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ingrid Bergman; and he launched the film careers of such actors as Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky, Gary Cooper, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Barbara Stanwyck, Laurence Olivier, and Danny Kaye. Ultimately, however, Goldwyn became a lonely tyrant whom the most talented people in Hollywood wanted but hated to work for. After directing a Goldwyn movie in 1937, for example, King Vidor wrote a note to himself: “No more Goldwyn pictures.” Vidor kept that note in his desk drawer for thirty years while continuing to work for Goldwyn.
Goldwyn is an amazing feat of biographical artistry, and it is essential reading for anyone interested in America’s movie industry.
Sources for Further Study
Chicago Tribune. April 2, 1989, XIV, p.3.
Commentary. LXXXVII, June, 1989, p.63.
Film Comment. XXV, March, 1989, p.76.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 26, 1989, p.2.
The New Republic. CC, May 8, 1989, p.34.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIV, March 26, 1989, p.1.
Newsweek. CXIII, May 15, 1989, p.80.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXV, February 3, 1989, p.90.
Time. CXXXIII, May 15, 1989, p.81.
The Times Literary Supplement. December 15, 1989, p.1387.
The Washington Post Book World. XIX, April 9, 1989, p.1.
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