GOLDWYN: A Biography by A. Scott Berg
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GOLDWYN: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The life of movie empire-builder Samuel Goldwyn, retold expertly by Berg, American Book Award-winner for Max Perkins (1978). Essentially unauthorized, this is nonetheless the authorized version in that Berg was asked by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., to write the book and had access to all the family's papers; the family, however, exercised no control over Berg's writing or opinions. In some ways this hardly matters: Goldwyn's was not a sleazy life, like Zanuck's or Cohn's, and Berg is very spare in his opinions and as clear in style as a windowpane. Goldwyn's worst faults were his tries at cheating people out of money--such as deceiving director William Wyler out of his just profits from The Best Years of Our Lives--and being a scourge as producer. His love life was not impressive, aside from chasing Mabel Normand and a few other stars between his two rather loveless marriages; he was a humanitarian but sparked little romance in the ladies. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Goldwyn left his widowed mother and large family behind when he embarked for London in 1875 at 17 years of age. In America, he entered the glove business as Samuel Goldfish, was a great success, but was bowled over by a Broncho Billy movie he saw and instantly decided to go into movies. He teamed up briefly with his first wife's brother, Jesse Lasky, to get their own production company underway, then through a process of mergers and departures (leaving only his name behind as part of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer corporation) set himself up as a loner-independent whose guiding motto was quality over quantity. Berg follows the production difficulties behind Goldwyn's more famous films--Wuthering Heights, Best Years of Our Lives, The Little Foxes (which Goldwyn called The Three Little Foxes to Lillian Hellman's face) and, at some length, Porgy and Bess. Given to crying jags, the producer could always pull himself out of one by saying to himself, "I've still got Goldwyn." Fabulous subject, hypnotic momentum. Berg's clear style works wonders at brushing away jumble and keeping the flow, where other recent accounts of empire builders have sunk under corporate and financial detail.

Pub Date: April 10th, 1989
ISBN: 394-51059-3
Publisher: Knopf
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