Samuel Goldwyn: Remembering the Movie Mogul on the Anniversary of His Death

samuel goldwyn - H 2015
AP Images

samuel goldwyn - H 2015

The film pioneer died 41 years ago today.

Saturday marks the 41st anniversary of Samuel Goldwyn’s passing. The film pioneer was 94 years old when he died on Jan. 31, 1974 due to natural causes.

Goldwyn’s contributions to the film industry were instrumental in shaping early Hollywood. Before the independent film producer established his own production company, he was involved in the starting up of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. There, Goldwyn and partners Jesse L. Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille and Arthur Friend created an outlet to produce their own films, and in 1914, Hollywood’s first feature-length motion picture, The Squaw Man, made its premiere.

When Paramount acquired the Lasky Company and merged it with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Company in 1916, joint-company The Famous Players-Lasky Corporation was born. Though Goldwyn held a post as chairman of the board, conflicts between him and Zukor, who had been named president, caused the producer to resign later that year. Famous Players-Lasky went on to become one of Hollywood’s most influential studios today, Paramount Pictures Corporation, and Goldwyn went on to set up his own film company.

Goldwyn’s second business venture, Goldwyn Productions, was short-lived. Though it met brief success, the company was again acquired and merged into a joint establishment. Marcus Leow bought the business, along with Louis B. Mayer Pictures, and merged the two with Metro Pictures (which Leow had already owned) to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

With no other business prospects left to invest in, Goldwyn turned to his production-only studio Samuel Goldwyn Productions. Through his body of film work, Goldwyn became one of the industry’s most valued independent film producers. His films starred a number of Hollywood’s biggest names and raked in multiple Academy Awards each year.

The Best Years of Our Lives, produced by Goldwyn and starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo, was both a critical and commercial success. In a 1946 review, THR wrote, “From beginning to end, and the feature runs only ten minute under three hours, the screen is filled with emotional dynamite. Audiences’ feelings are never spared when truths need be told … The art direction shines, as do all of Goldwyn’s production values.” The Samuel Goldwyn Productions film went on to win seven Academy Awards, including best picture.

Goldwyn’s other box office hit, 1955’s Guys and Dolls, starred Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine and was nominated for four Oscars in 1956.

The movie mogul was honored twice by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during his lifetime. He received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1946 for his film productions (previously won by Darryl F. Zanuck and Walt Disney) and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1957 for his social contributions. Goldwyn was also awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 1973 Golden Globe Awards.

When Goldwyn passed in 1974, attendance at his funeral was limited to family and close friends. THR reported that year that his son, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. had expressed that “big funerals weren’t his father’s style.” Goldwyn left the fate of Samuel Goldwyn Productions to his widowed wife Frances Howard (specifically requesting that the studio live on) and a $1 million trust fund to his son.

Samuel Goldwyn Jr. continued his father’s legacy and also entered the industry as a film producer, founding the independent film company Samuel Goldwyn Films in 1990. He died on Jan. 9, 2015 of congestive heart failure.

Several of Goldwyn’s grandchildren made their way to Hollywood over a decade later. Tony Goldwyn currently stars in ABC’s Scandal, John Goldwyn was behind the production of TV series Dexter and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and Peter Goldwyn serves as vice-president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.