Sunday, October 4, 2009
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
I bought a copy of the 2002 David Thomson's The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, which I found sitting on a shelf in a used bookstore somewhere in Cambridge, Boston, or Ann Arbor (I can't remember which), and it answered a question I had pondered once in a while. There was a man named Samuel Goldwyn (left), there was a production company called The Samuel Goldwyn Company (whose films included Wuthering Heights, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bishop's Wife, Guys and Dolls, and Porgy and Bess, among others) and a company called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose legendarily evil boss was Louis B. Mayer. How did that all come to be?
A man named Schmuel Gelbfisz emigrated from Poland, arriving in the United States in 1899. He anglicized his name to Samuel Goldfish and got involved in the motion picture business with his brother-in-law, Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille. That business merged with Adolph Zukor's company but Goldfish and Zukor didn't get along. Goldfish left and in joined in 1916 to form a new company with the Selwyn brothers. (Thomson notes they had the good sense to name the company "Goldwyn" and not "Selfish.") Goldfish changed his name (again) to Goldwyn to match the company.
Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, Louis B. Mayer formed a production company called Alco, which became Metro. Mayer broke away from Metro in 1917 to form The Mayer Company, which had a studio in Brooklyn and then in L.A.
Meanwhile, back on the West Coast, Goldwyn (nee Goldfish) didn't get along with the Selwyns, so he broke away in and formed The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which produced independently through United Artists and later RKO.
Metro, now owned by Loew's, but originally formed by Mayer, reconsolidated all of the businesses by acquiring The Mayer Company as well as the original Goldwyn business, in which Samuel was now merely a shareholder, and so we had Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The year before the Metro acquisition, Mayer had hired Irving Thalberg away from Universal, and after the acquisition, Loew's sent Mayer out to manage the West Coast operations, and the rest was history.
Many years later (around the time MGM was producing Ben-Hur in the late 1950s), Loew's Incorporated itself became involved in proxy litigation that became a staple in Delaware corporate case law. Got it?