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4.4 out of 5 stars
Goldwyn: A Biography
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
What a story! A remarkably easy to read account of Sam Goldwyn's rags-to-riches life. Did you know "Goldwyn" was not his real name? Did you know he was thrown out of the MGM company after a few years?! Goldwyn worked at some stage or other with just about every famous name in the business, and also fell out with just about everybody he ever met. A cantankerous and perverse character who loved contradicting people. When people quit because he made their lives intolerable, he sometimes felt personally attacked and betrayed. The book is full of colourful characters, and Scott Berg has done a wonderful job of using quotations and dialogues to really bring these people alive: Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Lillian Hellman, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, and the remarkable Hilda Berl. It reads like a movie! By tracing Goldwyn's history, the book also covers the story of many of the other famous movie companies that are still famous today: United Artists, Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO and of course MGM. Goldwyn also came across many young actors and actresses before they were stars: Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, etc. And of course the famous Goldwyn malapropisms are here, though limited to the ones actually traceable (as far as possible) to Goldwyn himself: "Anyone who sees a psychiatrist should have their head examined! Include me out! A verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on," to pick just a few.
A remarkably well-written and well-researched biography that brings this vigorous, infuriating, yet oddly attractive ugly duckling to vibrant life. This must rank amongst the best biographies, up there with Ron Chernow's book about the Morgans. Anyone at all interested in movies and movie history will enjoy this.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
A most compelling, intricate, mesmerizing, passionate, heartfelt and respectful account of Goldwyn's life! A. Scott Berg has created a profound work as equal an opus to any of Goldwyn's best stuff. The neat thing is that you feel as if you were there - the birth, growing pains and maturity of Hollywood - brutally recreated for our pleasure. Bravo!!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Great book! I enjoyed reading about a man who literally came from poverty to be on of Hollywood's pioneer filmmakers. He was a rough man to work with no doubt, but knew what worked and lasted in an industry that is hard to last in! A. Scott Berg did a wonderful job of writing a respectful book about this man!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up at the library not knowing what to expect and was amazed! Although it is indeed a biography of Sam Goldwyn, it is also a very well told piece about the studio system and Hollywood in the first half of the century (with an emphasis on the 20's) Not only insightful but entertaining; it makes for a read more gossipy than the trashiest celeb autobiography while maintaining class and style.

I recommend this book to anyone the least bit interested in the classic hollywood days. It is the best book I've read thus far on the era, and it will get you down to the video store hunting down old movies just to see the actors and actresses you've read about.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Scott hit home runs with Lindgergh and Hepburn but Goldwyn can only be classified as an unsuccessful bunt. Why Scott chose to bore rhe reader with endless summaries of the movies he was involved with is beyond me. I think it only detracts from the central purpose of any bio ... The LIFE of the subject. I still hope to read his next undertaking.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A. Scott Berg does an excellent job in capturing the life of one of the American cinema's first industry moguls. From his tough beginning as an immigrant to his phenomenal success as an independent producer, this entertaining and fascinating biography delves deeply into the man with the "Goldwyn touch." Berg also effectively captures the spirit of early cinema and its rapid rise in American culture. Along the way, we also learn about many of Hollywood's colorful personalites, including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. This book is a must for any fan of early American motion pictures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a very readable biography about a colorful and enigmatic character who had a great influence on American culture, although, given the mediocrity of most of the films Sam Goldwyn produced, not an entirely positive influence. Still, the story of Goldwyn's courage and resourcefulness in escaping Czarist poverty and repression to make himself into the greatest independent movie producer America has had-- or is likely to have-- is an admirable one. He got rich, but he got rich making movies, not by exploiting San Fernando Valley real estate or other Hollywood millionaire ploys, and he always risked his money in support of what he considered artistic quality.
For all those pluses, this book has a certain element of the "authorized biography." It spends a lot of space on trivia, sometimes presenting it in tiresomely breezy ad-writer's style, but it is reticent or silent about other aspects of Goldwyn's life and personality. It says he routinely cheated at cards and other forms of gambling, presenting this an amusing minor character flaw. Is that how his card partners saw it? It presents his two marriages as without much sexual or emotional gratification. Was Goldwyn satisfied with that, and if not, what did he do about it?
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
This author had the terrible habit of editing stories the wrong way. Example:

Page 308 : "Shortly after Kanin's film, A Man to Remember, had opened, to respectable notices, he ran into Goldwyn at a party honoring William Wyler and his new bride, a beauty from Dallas named Margaret Tallichet. Goldwyn approached Kanin and said, "You dirty little b*st*rd. You dirty, double-crossing son of a b***...Why didn't you tell me you wanted to be a director?"

Then Berg ends that part of the story there. Kanin, in his book entitled, Hollywood, gives his version this way (page 21): "At the reception, I was standing at the bar with a glass of champagne in my hand when I saw Samuel Goldwyn coming toward me.

I had neither seen him nor spoken to him for almost a year. He seemed to be smiling, although with him, it was not always easy to tell. He stopped and stood looking at me.

'Hello, Mr. Goldwyn,' I said. 'How are you?'
'You dirty little b*st*rd,' he replied. 'You dirty double-crossing son of a b****.'
He smiled. I did not.
'Why do you say that, Mr. Goldwyn?'
He laughed. 'Because that's what you are. A little double-crossing b*st*rd.' He put his hand on my shoulder in the most avuncular way and said gently, 'Why didn't you tell me you wanted to be a director?'
He clapped me on the back, too hard, spilling some of my champagne and said, 'Call me up. Come over to lunch. I want to talk to you.'
He was gone."

By the way, avuncular means: "of or relating to an uncle" or "suggestive of an uncle especially in kindliness or geniality". Due to Berg's editing, his version would make you think that Goldwyn was angry and offended. But with the full version from Kanin, you'd see he was actually proud of Kanin and in no way offended.

That's why I took off two stars. Many of the stories are edited to make the stories seem quite different than the way they really happened. I don't know why he felt the need to do that but it was highly unnecessary and a disgraceful way to present a biography. I recommend Kanin's book "Hollywood" because it is a treasure trove of anecdotes of Hollywood's establishment during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Goldwyn was Kanin's mentor and the relationship at times was sort of uncle and nephew like. Here's another funny moment from Kanin's book that Berg unfortunately left out (page 341):

Groucho Marx claims that for many years every time he ran into Samuel Goldwyn anywhere, Goldwyn would look at him, sometimes shake his hand, and invariably inquire with great solicitude, "How's Harpo?"
"Fine," Groucho would say, and go on to other things. A few weeks later (or a month, or a year) they would meet again somewhere; in New York, Chicago, London, or Paris.
Again Goldwyn would ask, "How's Harpo?"
This went on for years. Groucho got fed up.
The next time they met and Goldwyn asked, "How's Harpo?" Groucho said, "Listen, Sam, every time we meet--every time for years--you always ask, 'How's Harpo?' You never ask me anything else, and to tell you the truth, I'm getting godd*** sick and tired of it. Why don't you ever ask me how I am?"
"How are you?" asked Goldwyn.
"I'm fine," said Groucho.
"And how's Harpo?" asked Goldwyn.

Good Goldwyn stories are either left out or edited for some strange reason on the author. Honestly, the book reads like a dry, tedious, chronological retelling of his life. There are a lot of tediously retold stories about Hollywood that have little or nothing to do with Goldwyn. If the author had focused on Goldwyn and left the stories unedited this would have been a much better bio. The books on Hollywood moguls I recommend are Lion of Hollywood, the Life of Louis B. Mayer, once considered to be the most powerful man in Hollywood and a guy who hated Sam Goldwyn with a passion, "I love everybody. Except John Gilbert, Sam Goldwyn, and Charlie Chaplin," Mayer once said; King Cohn, the bio of Harry Cohn, once said to be the most vulgar studio boss in Hollywood: his office led to the dressing room of for all the female actresses and he used to abruptly walked in while they were changing; and the Clown Prince of Hollywood, the life of Jack L. Warner, a mogul who was said to derive sadistic pleasure from humiliating and firing his employees.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I had to do a project based on a biography of a person who influenced American history in some way or another. I didn't want anyone else to have the same person as me, so I picked Goldwyn, because he changed history in a more subtle way than the obvious figures (I'm pretty sure I watched 6 presentations on Abraham Lincoln by the time this thing was over).

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was pretty entertaining and described his life well. I was expecting it to be horribly boring because I never read biographies, but this was actually very interesting. I learned a lot about Goldwyn including lesser known things about him, and I was able to create a pretty great project and presentation using this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Parts of this book are fascinating, like Goldwyn's life as a young man and his emigration to the USA, and start in the motion picture inductry The book suffers from the frequent litanies about so-called movie stars. The most interesting ones were the group who were able to convert from silent to sound movies, and more could have been said about this epoch. Also disappointing was the section on the McCarthy witchunt in the early 1950s. If Maxwell Perkins had edited this book it could have become an outstanding one!

Douglas Stuart, PhD, DSc (hc)
University of Arizona
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