HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A COMEDIAN – BUT HE DID OK
In the first of an occasional series of blogs about people who have made me laugh down the years, today we turn the spotlight on Shmuel Gelbfitz. Who? I hear you cry beneath arched eyebrows. OK OK – if I said he changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn it would sound more familiar, at least to the older among you.
For the uninitiated, Goldwyn was a film producer who became famous for being the founding contributor executive of several film studios in Hollywood. In partnership with Jesse L Lasky, Cecil B DeMille and Arthur Field. He produced some epic movies – the Oscar-winning The Best Years of our Lives, Hans Christian Anderson and Guys and Dolls among them, although he had his fair share of failures too.
He was also notorious for what seemed an endless supply of Malapropisms, paradoxes and vocal peculiarities which over time became known as Goldwynisms. Many of them have passed into Hollywood legend and it’s those I want to write about today.
The heading on this blog is a fair example of one of his typical utterances and here are a few more I hope will raise a smile.
“A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.”
“Give me a couple of years and I’ll make that actress an overnight success.”
“Anyone who sees a psychiatrist should have his head examined.”
“Colour TV – bah. I won’t believe it until I see it in black and white.”
“Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg.”
“Go see it and see for yourself why you shouldn’t see it.”
“God makes stars. I just produce them.”
“I can give you a definite perhaps.”
“I don’t think anyone should write his autobiography until after his death.”
“I don’t want yes men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth – even if it costs them their job.”
“I had a monumental idea this morning – but I didn’t like it.”
“I read part of it all the way through.”
“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right – but I am never wrong.”
“Let’s have some new clichés.”
“Spare no expense to save money on this one.”
Not too bad are they? I can’t believe they were all happy accidents either. You can’t tell me he didn’t put a little preparation into some of them at least. If he hadn’t already made a massive fortune from his movies he could have taken a place right up there with other masters of stand-up comedy like George Burns, Bob Hope, Dave Allen and Jack Benny.
Not too dusty for a guy born to poor Jewish parents in a Warsaw ghetto in 1879. Not too shabby for a young man who made his way shoeless and penniless all the way across Europe to Birmingham, England, before taking ship to the United States, the land of freedom and opportunity.
Even then he jumped ship in Nova Scotia for fear of being denied entry to the US. He did make it to New York a year later and took a lowly-paid job as a shoe salesman. Within a few years he was the firm’s top sales rep and went on to become vice-president of the company. But the lure of Hollywood and the movies proved too strong and the rest – as they say – is history.