Of Sam Goldwyn and The Goldwyn Girls

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In July 1879 was born one Szmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Poland. Later to become Samuel Goldfish, finally to become Samuel Goldwyn. Around the turn of the century he came to upstate New York and made a pile of money in the garment business.

In 1913 he threw in his lot with his brother-in-law Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille to make the hit feature The Squaw ManThe company would merge would Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players which would later become Paramount Pictures. But by then, Goldwyn was long since out.

In 1916 he formed Goldwyn Pictures with Edgar and Archibald Selwyn. (The name “Goldwyn” was made by smashing up his name, Goldfish, with the Selwyns’) In 1924, Marcus Loew would acquire Goldwyn Pictures and fold it into MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), but by then Goldwyn was out of that one, too.

He was thus in at the founding of TWO major Hollywood studios. But he was a very independent character. What he would be best known for (besides his famous malapropisms) was for being the most successful independent Hollywood producer of his day. Samuel Goldwyn Productions made pictures from 1923 through 1959. And while there were many prestige pictures to his name, I thought I would focus today instead of a very unique contribution of his — The Goldwyn Girls.

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This innovation couldn’t have been more timely. The Depression had pretty much killed the Broadway Revue (and its foremost exponent Flo Ziegfeld). But before he passed on, Ziegfeld had dabbled a little in bringing his pulchritudinous brand of showmanship to the screen with Glorifying the American Girl (1929) and Whoopee! (1930). The latter was a transfer of his popular Broadway hit starring Eddie Cantor and it was produced at Goldwyn’s studio. Ziegfeld was to pass away in 1932, but Goldwyn would continue producing Cantor’s pictures, and adorning them with the Goldwyn Girls, his very own chorus line, often directed by Busby Berkley. (Palmy Days, The Kid from Spain, Roman Scandals, Kid Millions, Strike Me Pink). Among the ladies to have toiled as Goldwyn Girls were Lucille Ball, Paulette Goddard, Betty Grable, Virginia Mayo, Ann Sothern and Toby Wing.

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And when Ziegfeld’s grave had sufficiently cooled Goldwyn experimented with The Goldwyn Follies (1938), his first Technicolor picture, with a flimsy plot about film producer Adolphe Menjou seeking “Miss Humanity” (Andrea Leeds), and all star cast including The Ritz Brothers, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Bobby Clark, Kenny Baker, Phil Baker and the American Ballet of the Metropolitan Opera. And of course the Goldwyn Girls. The picture was directed by George Marshall, and is the last film George Gershwin worked on before he died. It’s far from a work of art, but holds up to repeated viewings because of all the swell vaudeville turns. The Goldwyn Girls were trotted out regularly as late as the mid 1940s, but after that chorus lines were way out of fashion. Too bad! I like ’em!

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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