Goldwynisms

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Goldwynisms

American movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn was famous/notorious for his malapropisms. These allegedly included:

- "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."
- "Why did you name your baby Arthur? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is called Arthur."
- "Let's have some new cliches."
- "A bachelor's life is no life for a single man."
- "Anybody who goes to see a psychiatrist should have his head examined."
- "You can include me out."
- "Our comedies are not to be laughed at."
- To a rival producer: "We're in terrible trouble! You've got an actor and I want him!"
- Of a proposed Biblical epic: "Why only twelve disciples? Go out and get thousands."
- On being told filming The Well of Loneliness would be controversial as it was about lesbians: "That's okay, we'll make them Hungarians instead."
- On his deathbed: "I never thought I'd live to see the day."

 

The story

 

Samuel Goldwyn (1879?-1974) was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Poland but left his home on foot as a young man, travelling to England, where he lived for some years in Birmingham as Samuel Goldfish. He then moved to the United States where he worked in a glove factory, and as a salesman, before getting involved in the newfangled motion picture business. When in 1916 he went into partnership with Broadway producers the Selwyn brothers they combined their names to form the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. Goldfish at this point changed his name to Goldwyn.

Several corporate moves and hugely successful films later, Goldwyn had become one of the giants of Hollywood, and would retain a dominant position in the movie business for decades. He developed most of the greatest acting talents, he hired the best writers of his day, including Ben Hecht, Sinclair Lewis and Lillian Hellman.

His commercial success was also rooted in his insistence on the importance of clear, simple storytelling and on happy endings. These might seem obvious things to do nowadays, but they weren't in many other parts of the world back then. Contemporary German cinema, for instance, liked nothing better than a tragic ending. He also kept well clear of political or social comment: “If you want to send a message, go to [telegram company] Western Union," he said.

Goldwyn, almost 40 years after his death, arguably has more influence on the screen entertainment we still consume to this day than any writer, actor or artist who ever lived. Well, arguably...

Actors and scriptwriters built his reputation for philistinism. Perhaps half of the quotes above - maybe less - are actual genuine Goldwyn quotes. The rest were either fabricated, or embellished by others. Charlie Chaplin claimed to have created one of the most famous Goldwynisms: "In two words, im possible."

Many people were happy to take his money but didn't dare stand up to him. Among those who did were Dorothy Parker ("I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.")

Then there was George Bernard Shaw. Goldwyn was anxious to acquire the screen rights to one of Shaw's plays, and was trying to avoid paying too much. "Think of the millions who would otherwise never see your plays. Think of the contribution to art," he said. Shaw's reply: "The trouble is, Mr. Goldwyn, that you think of nothing but art, and I think of nothing but money."

 

Eugene Byrne

Eugene Byrne is a freelance journalist and author, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine. You can read his online blog at http://eugenebyrne.wordpress.com/

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