The topic I have chosen is the Jewish Forefathers in Hollywood and the film industry. The reason I selected this area to research is because I love movies and I was very interested in how the movie industry began, especially since I knew there were a lot of Jews involved in both the creation of Hollywood as the film capital of the world, and many are still involved today.
One of the most famous is Samuel Goldwyn. Many of the movies you watch today, whether at home or in the movie theater, started because of him. Have you heard of, or seen the movies “Wuthering Heights”, “The Little Foxes”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “The Best Times of our Lives”, or “Guys and Dolls”? Well, Samuel Goldwyn made those movies. Even if movies weren’t actually made by Samuel Goldwyn, his influence in Hollywood left a permanent impact — affecting the film industry forever. He was one of the giants, a founding father in this business, and part of the birth of the Hollywood we know today.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, he was the eldest in a Hassidic family. Searching for his piece of the “American Dream” in 1895, sixteen-year-old Samuel Goldwyn, who was known then as Schmuel Gelbfisz, crossed Europe on foot from Poland, and made his way to England. There his name was changed to Samuel Goldfish.
Since the US was his goal, he worked hard as a blacksmith in England, living with relatives and saving money for the final leg of his journey. Within three years he had settled in Gloversville, New York. His American career began with him working as a floor sweeper in a glove factory, fun huh? Three years later he was Gloversville’s star glove salesman, and successful in that industry. Influenced by watching films in a local “Nickelodeon”, Sam Goldfish decided he wanted to become a part of this growing field. His opportunity came in 1913 when he convinced his brother in-law, Jesse L. Lasky, a well-known Vaudeville entertainer and stage producer, to join him in the formation of a film production business. They hired as their director, Cecil B. DeMille, who was then unknown, and persuaded him to go out west where they made their first movie, “The Squaw Man”.
Once Famous Players-Lasky was created, the name of their enterprise, Goldfish used his sales skills to raise money for the films being made, and is credited for being the real business brain of the company. He found people to buy their movies before they were even made. Unfortunately, Sam Goldfish didn’t get along well with others, and within a very short time period, he sold his shares of the company. Too bad though, because this company is now called Paramount Pictures. Heard of them?
His next endeavor was the formation of a company called Goldwyn Pictures. He liked the name he made up so much that he changed his own name to match. He had trouble adapting to the large corporate environment when he really wanted to work alone. He sold his shares and due to mergers later, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer giant was born. Later, Goldwyn was also involved in the formation of another Hollywood great: United Artists.
Samuel Goldwyn was a very intelligent man, and gifted in surrounding himself with the best and brightest in the industry at this time. Some of the people he worked with were Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Gary Cooper, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Barbara Stanwyck, Laurence Olivier, Danny Kaye and Douglas Fairbanks. Along with the actors that he encouraged, discovered or cultivated, he also hired some of the most successful writers of his time, and he alternately battled and supported the greatest directors available as well. He knew how to utilize talent, but he still wanted to be his own man, earning the nickname “the Lone Wolf”. His methods though, led the way for many followers, and ultimately formed the framework that the most successful independent production companies still use today.
Sam Goldwyn inspires me because he accomplished so much with his self-motivation, energy and desire to succeed. He didn’t have money or a formal education, yet he has made a permanent mark in the film industry. I now know that I too can achieve anything I put my mind to.
One of the things that I found very interesting were some of the quotes Samuel Goldwyn is famous for having said. Here are some of my favorites:
- I don’t think anyone should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.
- A hospital is no place to be sick.
That one is one of my favorites. It’s really funny.
- Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his or her head examined.
- If I could drop dead right now I’d be the happiest man alive.
I really like that one because it makes you think.
- Spare no expense to save money on this one.
- I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.
- I read part of it all the way through.
And now I want to tell you about another great contributor:
Louis B. Mayer
Louis Burt Mayer was the most powerful producer in Hollywood. He was born on July 4, 1885. His real name was Eliezer Lazar Mayer. He was born in Minsk, which is now in Belarus. Three years later he and his parents moved to Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada. His father was a junk dealer and his mother sold chickens door to door. These days you probably wouldn’t answer the door and see a strange woman trying to sell you chickens.
His father’s business became a successful scrap metal operation, and after graduating from elementary school, Louis Mayer worked for him. When the “family business” expanded to Boston in 1904, Louis B Mayer went to run the operation. Also influenced and fascinated by the new Nickelodeons attracting attention at this time, Mayer began to consider the financial opportunities they might present. In 1907 he bought a small rundown motion picture theater in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Within a few years, he owned the largest theater chain in New England. He realized that there were profits to be made in the film distribution industry, and knew huge success with the film “Birth of a Nation”.
Thus encouraged, Mayer moved to Los Angeles and started a company that would produce full-length quality films. He was then invited to join the merger with Metro-Goldwyn, and added the name Mayer to the name, forming the MGM empire. Because of his experience as a producer, he was able to recognize some of the best stars, producers, writers, and directors. During the 1930s and 1940s, Mayer was the most powerful producer in Hollywood. He was also a master manipulator. The company’s slogan, “More Stars Than There Were in Heaven”, was close to a reality. He worked with all the greats: Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, the Marx Brothers, Ava Gardner, Ann Rutherford, Mickey Rooney, and many more! Some of these names even I know! He worked with an assistant, Irving Thalberg, and together they created some of the best films of the time, now true classics.
Louis Mayer knew how to sell family values before it became a political phrase. He wouldn’t produce movies he didn’t think would have been appropriate for his own kids, and he believed in selling his image of America: Mom, apple pie, romance, and God. This isn’t to say that all of his choices were good ones; for example, he thought “Talkies” were just a passing phase. Overall, he became the most successful and richest man in Hollywood. He is also credited as being the man who came up with the idea of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as in the Academy Awards.
The MGM studios made too many movies to list, but I need to mention a few: The Big Parade, Ben Hur, The Andy Hardy Series, Grand Hotel, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Wizard of Oz.
Of course, the only one of these I’ve seen is The Wizard of Oz, but I’m sure the others were just as good if it made him so powerful in his field. MGM’s logo, the roaring lion is still showing his strength and determination 75 years later.
It’s so strange to me how Mayer goes from helping his father working with scrap metal to a huge famous producer. I have a lot of respect for him for that. At first he had so little and accomplished so much. Sadly, Louis B Mayer died in 1957 from leukemia. He was really smart to have accomplished so much! I don’t think I’d ever be able to do all that, but you never know what you’re capable of until you try. I do expect to be more educated, and hopefully just as smart as these guys! I only hope to leave a mark on the world that is a fraction of what these men accomplished! And since I love the movies, my personal thanks to them as well, for their leadership, insight and example, which affect what I can enjoy today.
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The Reader's Companion to American History. Mayer, Louis B.
Schulberg, Budd. The Most Important People of the Century, The Time 100: Louis B. Mayer.
Terning, John. Louis Burt Mayer (1885-1957).
Things People Said: Samuel Goldwyn Quotes.