One of the most distinguished of the old Hollywood movie moguls, Samuel Goldwyn probably rose the farthest of them all from the humblest of beginnings. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Poland, in 1879, he grew up in a life of dire poverty. At age 16, he headed west on foot, adopted the name Samuel Goldfish, worked, begged, and perhaps also stole to survive, and then got passage on a ship to Nova Scotia. After arriving in New York without a penny to his name, he began working his way up the corporate ladder at a glove company. In the process of living a middle-class American life, he developed one special cultural love and fixation -- the movies, which were just becoming a vehicle for serious entertainment. In 1913, Goldfish and his brother-in-law, the vaudeville producer Jesse L. Lasky, went into business together, forming the Jesse Lasky Feature Photoplay Company; their debut release, The Squaw Man (1914), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, was an enormous hit. Their company had a good three years before it merged with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players studio, thus forming the nucleus of what became Paramount Pictures. Soon after, Goldfish went into partnership with Edgar Selwyn in a company called the Goldwyn Pictures Corp., which took its name from the first syllable of Goldfish's name and the last one of Selwyn's -- Samuel Goldfish himself soon adopted Goldwyn as his own legal name.
The original Goldwyn company merged with Metro Studios and Louis B. Mayer's production company in the early '20s to form Metro Goldwyn Mayer, but Samuel Goldwyn wasn't long in that partnership. He exited in 1923, leaving the Goldwyn corporate name as part of MGM -- a fact that would cause him some mild distress in later years, owing to the public's confusion -- and formed Samuel Goldwyn Productions, the company that he was to run for the next four decades. Goldwyn 's philosophy, in contrast to that of the other major studios, was to make one picture at a time, but make it very well, sparing no expense in bringing the best actors, directors, designers, composers, and writers together to create only the finest in feature films -- Goldwyn never made B-pictures, and every Samuel Goldwyn production was an important film, getting the full devotion of its producer's resources and attention. In its heyday, at any given moment the company had one film at the pre-production stage, one movie in the process of being completed, and one film in release.