Interview with A. Scott Berg
BROADCAST: Apr. 3, 1989 | DURATION: 00:52:17
Discussing "Goldwyn: A Biography," (published by Knopf) with the author A. Scott Berg.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Garson Kanin "Mr. Samuel Goldwyn and I sat alone in his throne room looking at each other. We'd met for the first time some five minutes earlier and he'd insisted testily that our interview be private. Abe Lasfogel of the William Morris Agency had brought me in, made the introduction and now was gone. It was a crucial moment for me; a nod of this formidable man's head could signal the beginning of my career in films. Was there anything I should be doing, could be saying, to elicit that movement? The pause stretched out. Mr. Goldwyn, his right forefinger clamped firmly to the side of his nose, continued to study me through his small gray eyes. It was as though I were a mysterious unopened box that had been delivered to him, and he was trying to guess the contents. In the inflating silence, I was taking him in: a large man, why had I expected him to be small? Beautifully dressed and groomed and shod, a smooth pink face under a finely shaped bald dome, an impressive presence. At last his finger came down from the side of his nose. He clasped his hands under his chin and said in a high, penetrating voice: 'Sidney Howard tells me you're a very clever genius.' Could it be? Had I heard correctly? Did I own so soon a personal Goldwynism?"
Studs Terkel And so that's Garson Kanin, who worked for Samuel Goldwyn, recalling his moment first meeting him, and he goes on to say in Samuel Goldwyn is what the whole history of movies is all about, more than is what about the American dream may be all -- and then he went on to say, "Someday someone's going to write the definitive biography of Samuel Goldwyn," and thus in a way of the American dream, and that someone turns out to be Scott Berg. You remember, he was a guest on my program before. You know, A. Scott Berg wrote the biography of one of the great editors in American literature, Maxwell Perkins, and now you're cover Goldwyn that Knopf published, and it's a colossal study. It's remar-- not of this man, it's funny, it's powerful but more than that, it's very revealing of what it's all about: films and fantasy. And so this is -- you tackle pretty formidable themes,
A. Scott Berg I think all the big themes are here in the life of Sam Goldwyn, no doubt about that. Certainly the big American themes.
Studs Terkel So how does it begin? Oh, we choose, you chose him for a certain reason. You know, there are other -- there are Warner Brothers and there's a Lasky and Zucker, all these names that are familiar to us because of the logos we see. Why did you choose Sam Goldwyn?
A. Scott Berg There are two great reasons for choosing Sam Goldwyn. First of all, I think he was the quintessential mogul. Indeed, he was very much like the others, but a little bit more. And also, Sam Goldwyn made the first feature film produced in Hollywood. He goes back in the movies as far as 1913 when he hired a young kid named Cecil DeMille to do his first picture, and he remained the one great independent producer over the next 50, 60 years. So I realized that through Sam Goldwyn's life, as Mr. Kanin suggested, I could tell the entire life of Hollywood.
Studs Terkel From "The Squaw Man".
A. Scott Berg From "The Squaw Man", the first film.
Studs Terkel All the way to, say, "The Best Years of our Lives"
A. Scott Berg And then, and then beyond to "Hans Christian Andersen", "Guys and Dolls", "Porgy and Bess". The others, the second and more practical reason why I picked Goldwyn is, he left an incredible archives. All of his memos, contracts, scripts, every letter he ever received and a copy of every letter he ever sent, were all kept. When he died, his son took all those papers and locked them up and nobody had ever seen them. And I was given complete access to these papers.
Studs Terkel So this deals with banking, with money, with conglomerates before the word was used, with skullduggery of all sorts, and with the use of these fantasy names, I'll -- "You can have him if I give you her." And but we're also talking about he was about 92, this lifespan. That's right.
A. Scott Berg That's
Studs Terkel We're talking about the America -- begins what, it has this, there's a 16-year-old Jewish kid leaving the Warsaw ghetto
A. Scott Berg Correct.
Studs Terkel Walking. Taking a long walk.
A. Scott Berg A long walk across Europe and then to some relatives in England, and then walking across England to get up to Birmingham where the, where the relatives were, and then the long boat ride in steerage and then he got, he got off the ship in, in Canada. And actually Sam Goldwyn liked to tell people that he came in through Ellis Island and when he saw the Statue of Liberty he burst into tears, but this too was part of the self-invention of Goldwyn. He made that whole story up. He was an illegal alien.
Studs Terkel Now we're talking about something else. He invented himself.
Studs Terkel He invented. And also but he -- the other aspect is, deals with survival. There one, one barrier after another, faced, almost lost, overcame.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. I think survival is the main theme that runs throughout the life of Sam Goldwyn and my book and self-invention as you've just pointed out is his primary tool for survival.
Studs Terkel And so he winds up somewhere, still this kid about 1920
A. Scott Berg Right.
Studs Terkel In Gloversville, he's a glove maker. Well, first he sweeps out the place, glove maker, and may come as a certain kind of salesman which gives us a cue to what happens later.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. I mean, Sam -- well, first of all I'm told that if you could sell gloves, you can sell anything. And Sam Goldwyn then he was Sam Goldfish, asked the Elite Glove Company where he worked as a glove maker if he could sell them, and they said, "No, you haven't had any experience," and he said in this old-fashioned American way, "Give me your hardest territory. Let me go there for two weeks."
Studs Terkel We're talking -- for a guy with difficulty with the language, no doubt a thick Yiddish accent
A. Scott Berg Yes.
Studs Terkel And selling anybody.
A. Scott Berg Anything.
Studs Terkel Anything, but now something's popping. In technology. There's a big migration, right? This is, we're talking about now turn of the century, a tremendous migration. Eastern Europe, Italians, Irish migrated slightly before, the tremendous number of immigrants to the country and something called "nickelodeons" movie, something had been invented.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. And while this is going on, the very clever Sam Goldfish is realizing, "Here's the glove business in Gloversville, New York. It's already run by six moguls. Who, you know, families, Jewish families who have gotten here first. The glove business, it's -- I've gone as far as I can go in this business. I've got to find something new. I'll never be a mogul."
Studs Terkel And so he, so he he he becomes, the word "independent" now figures in this. He's known throughout. His years as a mogul as an independent. Now, you tell, you go ins and outs and it's gripping stuff, particularly those who like the way high finance works. Even I understood it. And it's -- he is dealing with some of the -- through his career, the biggest of bigshots, Giannini, Bank of America, Skank. Those guys. He holds his own.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. And he -- again, it was survival instincts and what so interested me in putting the Goldwyn biography together is watching the growth of the motion picture business for example, which did begin with literally nickels and dimes, and then watch it become a multi-million ultimately billion-dollar empire. Fascinating story. And you said you understood it, well even I understood it. And I, who never had a real head for business, I figured if I could make this understandable to me, I think I can make it understandable to any reader.
Studs Terkel But throughout there's a story of this one guy; he -- there was something that distinguished him even from the very beginning, from all the other producers of films. There were some -- he would do one film at a time. In short, he believed in good craftsmanship.
A. Scott Berg I think he did. I think he picked that up at the Elite Glove Company, and he was lucky that that's the company he went to work for in Gloversville, because they had a motto there, which was "Make fewer better." And they weren't one of the biggest glove companies in Gloversville, but they were the one that made quality gloves.
Studs Terkel Wait a minute. Oh, so that's it. They said "Make fewer better." Quality. And he also came to understand every aspect of glove making, too.
A. Scott Berg Abso-- let's not forget, this is the man who swept the floor first, and then he stretched the leather before he learned how to sew it.
Studs Terkel And so now here you got this bald-headed guy who is known reputedly and really for, for malapropisms of which no doubt we'll hear a lot during this hour and throughout the book and they're quite hilarious, too. Some I'm sure, some simply attributable to him, some actually so.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel But the guy -- but what? He unders-- now, he didn't read much, did he?
A. Scott Berg No, I wouldn't go that far. He was barely literate.
Studs Terkel But he, he wanted the best writers, though. Yo- eminent authors, capital "E," capital "A."
A. Scott Berg Yes, he literally started a company called Eminent Authors. From the, from the very beginning I think Sam Goldwyn was attracted to, well, let's use the word "class." I think that was it, in every sense of the word. And he realized early on that what made movies work really were not stars so much as stories, and he knew the people who gave you those stories were the writers.
Studs Terkel He knew that, and that
A. Scott Berg Instinctively.
Studs Terkel And so he, he called. He even tried to get Bernard Shaw,
A. Scott Berg He did, he tried for 30 years to get Shaw out to Hollywood, and Shaw kept turning him down because Shaw really had a funny feeling about Hollywood. He thought they ruined everything, but he always said "Sam Goldwyn was different from all the other lunatics in the asylum."
Studs Terkel See, Shaw knew it, he said "If there's anyone I would do it for, it'd be Goldwyn."
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel And that's that great crack, whether true or not, it's great about Shaw made about, remember they talked about art and money?
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel "Goldwyn talked about art. I talked about money."
Studs Terkel Yeah. Shaw and then he sought out Heming-- then he used, of course, writers he called on Hecht and MacArthur a good deal, and Thornton Wilder and Robert Sherwood.
A. Scott Berg Yes, and Sidney Howard and Lillian Hellman.
Studs Terkel Of course, the Hellmann story's here. We'll come to that. But also -- he, the other thing was, in my in my reading of your book, power, that is control. He wanted to own a whole ball of wax.
A. Scott Berg I
Studs Terkel [Mine?]. Isn't that true? No matter what, he -- it was his baby no matter what.
A. Scott Berg Yes, and I'll tell you, Goldwyn used to say that he always wanted to be captain of the ship. He didn't care how small the ship was, but he wanted to be the captain of it. And as a result, he kept his own production company relatively small. He was not as big as Paramount Studios or MGM Studios or United Artists Studios. But he, he made the world believe he was, and he -- this way he could keep quality and control.
Studs Terkel But fewer and better as the gloves. And so he'd make one film at a time.
A. Scott Berg One glove at a time.
Studs Terkel And he knew that some would fail. What was that -- there was a -- classy. Classy is -- but it's this eye, it's, what is that enabled him to see something that turned out to be phony enabled him to spot it? That's the thing is, someone speaks of it. I think that one of his editors, the film editor speaks of that thing somewhere in your book. He used the phrase, that he drove us crazy with the thing. He drove us -- if I could find
A. Scott Berg Well, because you know very often, Sam Goldwyn couldn't tell you exactly what he wanted, but he knew it when he saw it, and because he had trouble with the English language, he often couldn't express it as well.
Studs Terkel "He had an uncanny sense," this guy named Mandell.
A. Scott Berg That was the film editor on most of the Goldwyn pictures.
Studs Terkel "He had an uncanny sense of knowing when something was wrong with the picture. Then he'd drive everybody crazy until someone came up with what it was. And he talked about the movie called "These Three". This was when he called on Lillian, he had Lillian Hellman come, she wrote "The Children's Hour".
Studs Terkel That powerful first that dealt with the two women accused of lesbianism. But what happened? They couldn't do that in the film.
A. Scott Berg No, you couldn't talk about lesbianism back in the 1930's because of the Hays Office. So they changed it to a more conventional love story, and it became a movie called "These Three" with Joel McCrea, Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon.
Studs Terkel And still! It had class to it, even though it was bowdlerized and [terribly?], it had a cer-- and the various critics, I mean the very serious ones, so there's something, but even there he saw something was not quite right. So let's, let's continue, we're talking with a quite remarkable book, you would think a movie about Hollywood where you think it's gossip and what, this is something else. It's the story of an American dream and a remarkable figure, Sam Goldwyn. A. Scott Berg is my guest and Knopf the publishers and we'll resume. [pause in recording] You remember that earlier book of yours, dealt with Maxwell Perkins, the great editor who, of Thomas Wolfe and Faulkner. Not Faulkner, of
A. Scott Berg Scott Fitzgerald.
Studs Terkel But certainly Fitzgerald and of Hemingway and that was a
A. Scott Berg Ring
Studs Terkel story of American literature. Ring Lardner. And this is a story of another big aspect of the big one, the fantasy factory. On this subject, why Gold-- where your book is so important, how -- he knew. He, the immigrant kid now older guy knew the importance of movies in the lives of people. So this kid who came to Cuba about 10 years ago, I call him Miguel Cortez says, "All my life, I am thinking to come to this country for what I read in the magazines and the movies. Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable. Yeah. I would have a beautiful castle in the United States. I will have a thousand servant. I will have five Rolls-Royces in my door. These kind of movies. Beautiful house, beautiful dresses, money, car, a special car. We think everybody has this kind of life, had money, very friendly people, beautiful people. I have this kind of dream."
A. Scott Berg Well, that quotation fascinates me, because that could have been young Shmuel Geldfisz as Samuel Goldwyn was born in Warsaw, the only difference is there were no movies yet. But he grew up in Europe hearing the same sort of stories about America. I mean, he knew there was somewhere in this country a street paved in gold.
Studs Terkel Yeah and that, it's so, and now there's that invention, and now these guys, he and his colleagues who came from these little shtetls
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel Little Jewish villages and he'd invent a new para-- not only a fantasy, but a new paradise: Hollywood.
A. Scott Berg In which they made up their own rules and they could live the way they wanted. And indeed they made the dream come true, and then they manufactured that dream in these films that Mr. Cortez saw, and then they went out there and peddled it. And who is to deny them? Because they were right. Look at look at the journey Sam Goldwyn made. Look where he started and look where he ended up, and who can deny that he was right? I mean, it worked for him. He
Studs Terkel Now, in his he says, "God gives people gifts," he says, or talents. But the producer has to find, so it's the writer, some of whom were known, mostly known, but as far as the actors, he had to make discovery and of course one of his great ones, and here come humorous tales and cockeyed tales, of Vilma Banky. I remember that one, there's some Hungarian beauty came, and she and Ronald Coleman were two of the big -- I was about to, in his stable. Isn't that funny? That's the phrase used anyway,
A. Scott Berg Well, absolutely right. And they were they were Goldwyn's two biggest silent screen stars: 1925, 1926, and 1927. I mean, they were receiving thousands of fan letters a week. Their movies were hugely successful.
A. Scott Berg And then along came the jazz era.
Studs Terkel What's funny about this is, Goldwyn since control is what it's about: control power. She's gonna get married to a guy who's not a star. Rob Lo Rocque, as I remember Rob La Rocque. And they can't do that without his permission. I mean, so he arranges the whole wedding.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel So he invented that,
A. Scott Berg Another production. Another Goldwyn production.
Studs Terkel So, so the wedding of Vilma Banky to Rob La Rocque was a Goldwyn production.
A. Scott Berg Entirely.
Studs Terkel Now, his wife; this is interesting. That is his second wife. Francis Howard
A. Scott Berg That's right. A starlet.
Studs Terkel Was like he was. I mean, they were two
Studs Terkel -- Calculating
A. Scott Berg Yes.
Studs Terkel Survivors.
A. Scott Berg They were both survivors. No doubt about it. She had come from an alcoholic home, upstate New York, and lived in constant fear that her house was going to be taken away from her, as it had, as her childhood house had been. And so she married Sam Goldwyn three weeks after she met him.
Studs Terkel But she invented herself, too, as he invented himself. She became the social lioness.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. She was she was hostess number one in Hollywood, and now what interests me, Studs, is take that and multiply it by a thousand and call it Hollywood. I mean, here you have a whole community of people who have invented themselves, a whole community of actors, producers, writers, writing under pseudonyms who last year had been hat models and gardeners, and this year are stars. Now, psychologically what does that mean, how does that play itself out when everybody in the whole town is like this? It's "Alice in Wonderland".
Studs Terkel It's self-invented.
A. Scott Berg Totally.
Studs Terkel Well, that's the fantasy. See, we talked about -- there's the, well -- Jill Robinson, you know, the daughter of Dore Schare, wrote a memoir, and she's [not of what we invented?], we actually believed it after a while.
A. Scott Berg How could you not?
Studs Terkel Yeah, she says when, when President Kennedy was assassinated, "We waited, we waited for it to be rerun again." She knew this was not so, that in the next rerun he would not be, "of course we were children of fantasy, of the movies." And she said later on when they lost money, and she was in a, selling at a department store, and she's, and she says to someone, she said, "I thought I was going to say, 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.'" And she's all these phrases, she remembered. And so this is what you're talking
A. Scott Berg Absolutely right. And what I've tried to do in the in the book here is trace the origins of all this mythology, since I was given access to all these papers and I had access to hundreds of people who were there on the scene at the time at the birth, I had this opportunity to take all of these myths, all of these icons and really trace where they came from.
Studs Terkel So all these, all these -- what all these, what happened, all these fantasies and realities way past 50, 60 years come alive. You've got those papers in these files. I think you described them on some other program that you felt as though you were discovering King Tut's tomb.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. Because there was that story where Howard Carter the Egyptologist walked in and Caernarvon yelled out, "Can you see anything?" and he said, "Yes, wonderful things!" And that's what I had access to, wonderful things.
Studs Terkel And so there was also we were talking about when you talk about big-timers, he had dealings with the big three, you know, the three fabled figures of the movies: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford. Now, they formed their own, their own company. Isn't it?
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel How was he part of that?
A. Scott Berg They
Studs Terkel Very simply, he was part of that.
A. Scott Berg Yes, and it's a very simple story and it's a very simple theme that runs throughout Goldwyn's professional life. Here are Pickford, Fairbanks and Chaplin forming United Artists, which they do. Well, wherever there was something that looked successful, Sam Goldwyn trotted toward it and elbowed his way in. And the next thing you know, there's Sam Goldwyn, now a partner of United Artists.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
A. Scott Berg And in fact, during the late '20s and early '30s, when those three silent screen stars began to fade from the screen, Goldwyn really kept that company going by manufacturing his movies.
Studs Terkel That's interesting, because the same thing happened with when he did musicals later on, one that flopped we'll hear a, we'll hear a story connected with it, "Goldwyn Follies". But they, he called upon the great producer of musicals, Florenz Ziegfeld.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel But Ziegfeld was on his way
A. Scott Berg On his way down. Down.
Studs Terkel Down.
A. Scott Berg But, but Goldwyn capitalized on the Ziegfeld name on the lessons he learned from Ziegfeld. He learned a lot about showmanship from Ziegfeld. The biggest lesson he learned, I think it's very interesting, too, is Ziegfeld told him women like to see the glamorization of other women. That was one of the secrets of "The Goldwyn Follies". And so Goldwyn tried to do that in his pictures, and the next thing you know, suddenly there were Goldwyn girls in the movies. I mean, an idea he clearly ripped off from Ziegfeld.
Studs Terkel Yeah, so he does that, see? He rips off at the same time adds another touch, too.
A. Scott Berg Exactly.
Studs Terkel There is always that. And now we come to, we haven't talked about his gaffes yet, have we? That was throughout. By the, about his gaffes, which is now a part of legend.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely. You'll find it in the "Random House Dictionary" now even. Goldwynism.
Studs Terkel When he had trouble with someone, one of the actors, "You're, more trouble with you than Mussolini has with Utopia." That's
Studs Terkel What's another one? "Laid up with intentional flu." Sour with the bitter, "Take the sour with
A. Scott Berg Yes, he told that to Billy Wilder.
Studs Terkel Or walking with, since he was with big shots of course throughout there was Paley, head of CBS. What were they doing, walking along the beach? And Paley saw
A. Scott Berg Saw some birds flying overhead and he said, "Look Sam, look at the gulls." And Goldwyn said, "How do you know they're not boys?"
Studs Terkel But the fact I think Kanin pointed out, he would say something like that, but get aspect of something. When Kanin suggested when he did "Goldwyn Follies", "Have you thought of the choreographer Martha Graham?" And he, "Who is she?" Said, "Well, she's the mother of, the queen of modern dance." Says, "Modern dancing is so old-fashioned." And yet
A. Scott Berg Makes perfect truth.
Studs Terkel Because there's a certain peak moment when it -- something else was happening, fusion and dance, see. So that's interesting.
A. Scott Berg The real Goldwynisms in fact do have a kernel of truth, and are only just a half-inch off. The spurious Goldwynisms are those very extended ones.
Studs Terkel You know, I think we could -- let's wait'll take another break, 'cause you've got to hear that story of Goldwyn meeting, since he loved talent, admired talent. For that, for "The Goldwyn Follies" he had the -- George and Ira Gershwin and Balanchine.
A. Scott Berg Right.
Studs Terkel Among others and the couple
A. Scott Berg He had Ben Hecht doing the screenplay, Lillian Hellman doing a draft.
Studs Terkel Really? For all that for "The Goldwyn Follies"?
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel By that, that flop?
A. Scott Berg It was a total flop, and it featured Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in their first movie. It had Vera Zorina, the great ballerina in it, it was an incredible
Studs Terkel Eddie Cantor in that?
A. Scott Berg No, it had the Ritz Brothers.
Studs Terkel The Ritz brothers were in that. Let's take our second break now, 'cause now we have to come to the story, the meeting of, of two geniuses, Sam Goldwyn and George Balanchine in connection with that film. We're talking to Scott Berg and the book is simply called "Goldwyn". Oh, the name! Of course Goldfish changed to Goldwyn when he met two colleagues of earlier days.
A. Scott Berg Exactly. The Selwyn brothers, and they took the more euphonious syllable of each name.
Studs Terkel And so Knopf are the publishers of this pretty big book. I mean big book in the sense that it's kind of a, it's a pretty powerful theme. And it's funny, oh, by the way, it's great reading. [pause in recording] We're talking earlier about this book earlier now, and we were talking about this being really a way of your revealing an aspect of the American Dream, as in this case, but also Goldwyn and geniuses, and you mentioned the Goldwyn Follies. And so we had, there'd be a conference, right? Well, as Garson Kanin, who just came to work for him tells it, he had set up a special studio and he wondered, so he didn't know a thing about that, so suppose we pick up with Kanin telling it.
Garson Kanin Well, in any case he was having some misgivings about what was happening in that studio that he had built for Balanchine, because it was declared off limits, it was absolutely security. No one could get near it. I used to try to sneak in once in a while, but it was always caught, and Mr. Goldwyn wasn't allowed, and all sorts of rumors were flying about what was going on in that studio, and he kept trying to get some word and finally he sent for George Balanchine, whose English was also a bit indifferent at the time, and he sent for him, and "Mr. Balanchine," said Goldwyn, "I think the time has come when we should have a nice talk and give each other our views." He loved that word "views," he loved it, he used to say that all the time. Balanchine looked puzzled, ashamed for his English perhaps. Goldwyn leaned forward, raised his voice and slowed the rate of his speech. "What I mean is," he said, "I want you to give me your views, and I want to give you my views," and Balanchine turned to his assistant in confusion and asked, "Views?" The assistant shrugged. "Never mind," said Goldwyn. "Mr. Balanchine. George." "Yes, George," said Balanchine, glad to be on a friendlier footing. "George," said Goldwyn, "You came here. I brought you, your whole company. Everybody you wanted. Everything." "Yes," said Balanchine. "Everything." "I built you a studio." "Good," said Balanchine. "I left you alone to work." "Yes," said Balanchine. "Merci. All is good." "Yes," said Goldwyn, "But what is all?" "What?" asked Balanchine. "Mr. Balanchine." "George?" asked Balanchine. "Mr. Balanchine," said Goldwyn, sticking to his guns. "What the hell are you doing in there over there?" "Baliet," said Balanchine, giving the word the French/Russian pronunciation that made it all but incomprehensible. "Baliet." "What did he say?" Goldwyn asked the assistant. "Baliet," the assistant replied. "What the hell is that?" When no one volunteered for a few seconds, I jumped in. "Ballet," I said. "You speak Russian, for Chrissake?" "No, Mr. Goldwyn, but that's what they said." "Jesus Christ," said Goldwyn. "Mr. Balanchine, this ballet you're doing for the Goldwyn Follies I know is great, George." Balanchine shrugged modestly. Goldman went on, "But what's it about, Mr. Balanchine?" "About," said Balanchine. His assistant sprang to his side and whispered something into his ear, Balanchine nodded gravely. "About," said Balanchine frowning, "is difficult." "Never mind," said Goldwyn sternly, "we're all friends here." Balanchine appeared to retire into himself for a long troubled time. We all waited with varying degrees of impatience. My own instinct was that an interior earthquake was about to hit. Balanchine rose, moved purposefully to Goldwyn's desk and cleared it. Now would Goldwyn stand for that, I wondered. He did. We all gathered around the desk, it seemed the thing to do. Balanchine looked about for necessary props, found them: Goldwyn's silver carafe and a large onyx paperweight. "Difficult," he said, "because abstract, yes? Two group: 16 both. Eighth of boy, eighth of girl. First group: Positive. He held up the carafe. "Other group: negative." He held up the paperweight. "So, is four movements of classical form. Suite or sonata, Gershwin knows. We have discussed. So. First movement, positive!" He slammed the carafe down onto the middle of the desk, denting it. Goldwyn concentrated on the demonstration, took no heed of the damage. Balanchine, a wild look in his eyes, began to move the carafe about, intoning "Positive, positive, positive, positive!" He slid the carafe off the desk and replaced it gently with the paperweight as he cried, "Second movement, negative!" He moved the paperweight about in a hypnotic pattern, the carafe again. "There! Positive! Positive! Positive!" The paperweight: "Negative! Negative! Negative!" Fred Kohlmar whispered to me, "Sort of like the old shell game, huh?" I prayed that Goldwyn had not overheard. Balanchine went on, his face glistening, the carafe and paperweight had become living things. The patterns were fascinating and imaginative and surprising. "Fourth Movement!" The action on the desktop went mad. The movements became wilder and wilder. "Positive! Negative! Positive! Positive! Negative! Negative! Negative! Positive! Positive! Negative! Negative! Positive! Positive! Positive! Negative! Positive! Positive! Positive! Pos-i-tive!" He sat still holding the paperweight, but leaving the carafe in the middle of Goldwyn's desk. Goldwyn stared at it. The silence was profound. We all stood stock-still waiting. Time stood still. Goldwyn looked up; what did the unreadable expression on his face signify? Pain? Confusion? "I like it!" he said, and completed the beaming smile. He came around, slapped Balanchine on the back, Balanchine walked, danced, out followed by his assistant who had turned haughty. [fades out].
Studs Terkel That's it. So that's the way
A. Scott Berg That's the way movies are made. At least that's the way "The Goldwyn Follies" was made, which proved to live up to its name,
Studs Terkel It, that turned out to be a flop. So, that's how he -- of course, that, you see, I think that story is true! You know, Kanin's a great storyteller
A. Scott Berg Absolutely!
Studs Terkel At the same time it's also metaphorical. This is the way the guy works. And, so he worked with that and that flopped. Then came other films. Oh, talkies we forgot to mention the advent of talkies and what they did.
A. Scott Berg Yes. In fact, I mean we mentioned Vilma Banky and Ronald Coleman with the advent of talkies, well suddenly Ronald Colman sends a letter to Sam Goldwyn which I found in the archives saying, "Dear Mr. Goldwyn, please don't put me in any of these talking pictures. Not, not with my voice," he said. And then Goldwyn was left with Vilma Banky, who spoke only Hungarian. Perfectly fine voice, but she just couldn't speak English, so that was the end of her career. Colman, fortunately, did make some talking pictures for Goldwyn and proved to be a great success.
Studs Terkel He was good, but then he later on
A. Scott Berg And then he left Goldwyn in fact and really went on to make, make the movies that he's most famous for.
Studs Terkel "Double Life" and
A. Scott Berg Exactly.
Studs Terkel Those films. But there he also had some boners. He chose -- he looked and he found I guess Garbo would come and Dietrich had come, he looked for one of Garbo and he found Anna Sten.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely, who unfortunately later became known as the Edsel of actresses, and he, well as, as Rouben Mamoulian the director said, "Goldwyn tried to make a star out of her in the worst way, and that's just what he ended up doing."
Studs Terkel But he was one doing -- he's gonna insisting on inventing, and he was creating a whole -- here was a fantasy figure didn't quite pan out.
A. Scott Berg You know, Goldwyn, for all the movies he made and all the stars he worked with and discovered never really successfully discovered a major female star. And in the case of Anna Sten, he pumped literally millions of dollars into three films for her, three huge vehicles, and every one of them failed, even one that co-starred Gary Cooper, called "The Wedding Night". It's just terrible.
Studs Terkel Then they didn't even want
A. Scott Berg -- Then you never saw her again.
Studs Terkel [Like?] "Brothers Karamazov". He had big things in mind. "Nana", "Brothers Karamazov".
A. Scott Berg He had only the biggest things in mind. Yes. No doubt about it, but they just didn't pan out.
Studs Terkel We come back to the idea of, even though he flopped, they -- some of the stars would be and the films, he'd always hit the target on one or the other, because it was still the craftsman strangely enough, the glove maker way up there. "Fewer, better."
A. Scott Berg No doubt about it, and I tell you even in the films that flopped, there are always some fascinating things going on in them. Well, I mean take "Goldwyn Follies" for example. I mean, there's a movie that doesn't work as a whole, but somehow Goldwyn got George Gershwin out to Hollywood, and Gershwin wrote his last two songs, "Love Walked In" and "Our Love Is Here To Stay" for "The Goldwyn Follies". Vera Zorina was introduced to American audiences and became one of the great ballet
Studs Terkel Of course he was telling George Gershwin [you wrote?] in one spot there, "Why can't you do a song like Irving Berlin?"
M4 Exactly. This is [where Gershwin died?] too.
Studs Terkel You have it in there as Gershwin's last day saying, "To think I had to live"
Studs Terkel "Why can't I write like Irving Berlin?" Now we come to Wuthering-- and so we come to -- well, Hecht and MacArthur of course he used and
A. Scott Berg He adored Hecht and MacArthur. In fact, Ben Hecht, whenever Sam Goldwyn was in trouble, he always went to Ben Hecht, because he knew Hecht would deliver the goods and he would deliver them fast. But in 1939 or late '38, actually, some good fortune happened. Hecht and MacArthur had written a screenplay on speculation of "Wuthering Heights", and it kicked around town and finally ended up in Sam Goldwyn's hands. It was an unlikely subject for a movie. Most people found it too dark, too depressing
Studs Terkel But what is it, he did something at the end, toward the end of that film, didn't he, or suggested something.
A. Scott Berg Well, he did indeed. I mean, they previewed the film and it didn't work. And Goldwyn said, "Just the way I told you all, it doesn't work, it's -- it doesn't have a happy ending and people don't want to look at a corpse at the end of the movie." That was no problem for Sam Goldwyn. He simply came up with a solution, which was to film Cathy and Heathcliff walking hand-in-hand to heaven together.
Studs Terkel Is that in, is that the way it
A. Scott Berg And that is the way the movie now ends. He went to William Wyler and said, "I want you to film this ending." Wyler said, "I won't do it. I refuse. It ruins the whole picture." Olivier and Merle Oberon had both left town. Still not a problem for the ultimate survivor Sam Goldwyn. He said, "I'll simply hire another director. I'll get Olivier's double, I'll get Merle Oberon's double, and I'll film them from the back." And that's the last 20 seconds of "Wuthering Heights". The two doubles walking
Studs Terkel Is that what saved it at the box office?
A. Scott Berg Well, it it it suddenly fared well, although ironically "Wuthering Heights" wasn't a big hit when it first came out. It wasn't until its re-release that it really caught on.
Studs Terkel So you mentioned William Wyler. Now we come to a key figure, now we come to Goldwyn's ego and [craft?] taking. Wyler was a brilliant, remarkable director.
Studs Terkel And he became the guy who offered what is now called "The Goldwyn Touch" in a way.
A. Scott Berg Well, it's much argued about, and it was argued about with William Wyler and me when I interviewed him many a time, and he finally said to me one day, "Tell me which pictures have the Goldwyn touch that I didn't direct," and it's a valid point to a degree. Now, there are several pictures that he didn't direct that had the Goldwyn touch. I think Sam Goldwyn's "Ball of Fire" is a wonderful picture. "The Pride of the Yankees", about Lou Gehrig is a great picture. "Stella Dallas", none of which were Wyler pictures. More important, though I think
Studs Terkel Well, Wyler had -- I'm sorry.
A. Scott Berg No, I was about to say is, there were a lot of Wyler pictures that he made without Goldwyn that were not as good as his Goldwyn pictures.
Studs Terkel Maybe it was a combination of the two.
A. Scott Berg I think it was a great artistic team. They were wonderful together. Wyler needed a tough producer to beat him down.
Studs Terkel See, we hadn't talked about the Depression, too, that came in at this period. There were the Depression films that he had, "Street Scene" and "Dead End".
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel Came out of two successful and serious plays, and a certain kind of heroine came into being at that time: the Depression heroine!
A. Scott Berg The Queen of the Depression.
Studs Terkel She was the Depression heroine.
A. Scott Berg She was as she as she described herself, she said, "I was the highest-paid laundress in the Depression, because in every movie I would stand there ironing shirts saying, 'Oh my God, what will Papa say when he comes home?"
Studs Terkel But [unintelligible]. We'll take our last break. Of course then we have to come to another period, the plague period. This is the political, the witch hunt period, and what role did Goldwyn as a producer play? That's an interesting -- we're talking about something called the American Dream really, and the hero, anti-hero, call him whatever you want to is Sam, the survivor, that's Samuel Goldwyn, but it's a story of the movies. I bet, you could -- I guess you couldn't have chosen anyone more appropriate than he, could you? Aside from his lifespan, it's just all aspects of it.
A. Scott Berg Yeah, and aside from the fact that he had a really interesting personal life.
Studs Terkel Yeah. That we haven't touched, as [unintelligible] mentioning of his wife. Even the women he sought had talent.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel Zorina.
A. Scott Berg Whom he had a mad crush on, and she never knew it. And it almost broke up his [marriage?]. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel And the last lap of the Goldwyn book, so there he was, the word independent again is the word to describe Goldwyn as a producer. Now
A. Scott Berg And as a human being.
Studs Terkel Huh?
Studs Terkel As a person too, but when he's an independent producer, in very simple [terms?] to me, meaning what? He wasn't part of a -- he was connected with the other outfits one way or another, made deals.
A. Scott Berg Yeah. Well, what it means is, you know, Sam Goldwyn really helped start Paramount Studios, MGM Studios, United Artists Studios, and he got kicked out of all of them. He was simply not meant to be a partner. He always wanted to run the show. Again getting back to that theme of control, he had to have it. So he set up his own shop: Samuel Goldwyn Productions, and began producing his own movies. Now, what made him unique in Hollywood was, here was a man functioning as a studio. He had his own lot that he made his movies on, but he had no partners. He had no stockholders. When Sam Goldwyn wanted to make a movie, he went to the Bank of America, borrowed the money, put up either his studio or his house or his last movie as collateral, and made his film. That's an independent
Studs Terkel And so it's all his.
A. Scott Berg All
Studs Terkel The blame and that.
Studs Terkel And the glory. And so he did another Lillian Hellman, "The Little Foxes".
A. Scott Berg Which he called "The Three Little Foxes", by the
Studs Terkel The Three Little Foxes? [laughing] And there was Wyler's genius in doing ordinary things in a -- "Three Little Foxes". And, but also did Sinclair Lewis's
A. Scott Berg "Arrowsmith" and "Dodsworth".
Studs Terkel "Dodsworth".
A. Scott Berg Two very important films in their day.
Studs Terkel And finally we come to the big one, "Best Years of Our Lives". This came about how? His wife saw an article about returning soldiers of World War Two?
A. Scott Berg She was reading "Time" magazine and saw there, there a feature article in "The Nation" section and said to Sam, "Isn't this an interesting idea for a movie? I mean, we've had all these war movies for the last few years. What happens when these soldiers come home and have to readjust to civilian life?" And Goldwyn immediately saw it as a wonderful idea for a film, and put McKinley Cantor on it, who went off and wrote a story. What Goldwyn hadn't reckoned is that McCann-- McKinley Cantor wrote the whole thing in poetry. It was all in blank verse. So Goldwyn really took the book and put it on the shelf for a while, and then Wyler came home from the war, having lost most of his hearing actually, and he was very concerned about the plight of the veterans, being one himself, and he saw this book and thought there'd be a wonderful movie in it. And at that point Goldwyn was already talking to Robert Sherwood, hoping he might write the screenplay for it, which he did, and then they went about making what really proves to be Goldwyn's masterpiece with Fredric March and Myrna Loy, that unforgettable homecoming sequence.
Studs Terkel But now we come to something. This is one of the remarkable films of that time. "Best Years of Our Lives". It was also subject to attack. "Best Years of Our" -- I know that Ayn Rand called it socialistic because the banker was lending dough without collateral. And she was saying, "Well, what about the poor banker? Isn't that kind of -- poor people invest in that bank, see." And so now we come to something else. Now we come to a certain shameful moment when the country's history -- well, it's certainly in Hollywood history.
A. Scott Berg Absolutely.
Studs Terkel And that's the witch hunt. The Red Scare.
A. Scott Berg No doubt about it. And well, it affected Hollywood and the country greatly. And I think this is where Sam Goldwyn really showed his true colors. Again, the great independent. There was a great meeting at the Waldorf Astoria of all the important producers and moguls from Hollywood to discuss how to deal with "The Hollywood Ten," and they were all voting to draw up a blacklist, and a kind of loyalty oath, and Sam Goldwyn was really the only important man in the room who stood up and said he would not be party to this. We could not go along with this, and he thought it was absolutely a disastrous idea. Now Lillian Hellman later said to me she thought Goldwyn took that position simply because again he was the independent. And if 99 people in the room want to do one thing, Sam Goldwyn wanted to do the other. But the fact of the matter is there's evidence that he felt otherwise. He really did talk out against the blacklist to newspapers. He was subpoenaed to appear at the hearings, but they never called him. I think they were afraid of the sympathy he might draw to his side. And so the committee never called him.
Studs Terkel I didn't know that, haven't seen anywhere Goldwyn's stand on this thing. That he was the on-- of the big ones, he was the only The only
A. Scott Berg one The only two other producers were Dore Schary and Walter Wanger, who certainly didn't have the importance that Sam Goldwyn did. It was a real statement when he when he stood up.
Studs Terkel Well did he then, there was a time when none of them, certainly Hellmann wasn't, but then did he hire some of them later? How did that work?
A. Scott Berg Well, as it happens Goldwyn was then entering his 70s, and wasn't making that many movies in fact. In fact he really made three pictures over the next ten years. He was really on the way out. So he wasn't really in a chan-- in a seat in which he could which he could test his beliefs.
Studs Terkel By this time the old studio idea was, it was just about
A. Scott Berg Studios were crumbling, in fact.
Studs Terkel You know, it's funny as you talk about this, it's almost like he completed the whole
A. Scott Berg He's the entire cycle, Studs.
Studs Terkel Cycle.
A. Scott Berg And right up to today when the industry is really run almost entirely by independent producers. Those are the people who are manufacturing films today. Well, they got that entire pattern
Studs Terkel That came from him.
A. Scott Berg From Sam Goldwyn. So there it is, really from the beginning of feature films to the end.
Studs Terkel So funny thing, you talk about a cycle, he this kid, this young guy, this immigrant in New York, seeing doing "The Squaw Man" way back the first, there was also the great first remarkable director of films who revolutionized the beginning, with the close-up, D.W. Griffith and "Birth of a Nation", of course, and D.W. Griffith, he disappeared sort of, and then one day, again Goldwyn, he and his wife are -- he's now a big shot in Hollywood, one of the big ones
A. Scott Berg -- This is the late '40s
Studs Terkel At one of those fancy restaurants. And what happened there?
A. Scott Berg Yes, the Goldwyns were having dinner with the Billy Wilders, they were at Romanoff's, and they were waiting in the bar for their table. And suddenly this very tall, gaunt figure comes up to them and starts screaming at Goldwyn, "You damn son of a bitch, I should be making movies right now!" Now, Frances Goldwyn, who was very protective, shooed him away. And he, said "Get away, you silly man," and the man walked away. And Frances said, "Sam, who was that?" And Goldwyn looked like he had seen a ghost, said "That was D.W. Griffith." Absolutely shocking moment. And what's also interesting to me is the very next year, Billy Wilder starts his next film, which is "Sunset Boulevard". His elegy, really, to the D.W. Griffith age in film.
Studs Terkel That so, this and now Goldwyn is now getting older and infirm.
A. Scott Berg Yes. Yes, and he made a series of bad pictures after "Best Years of Our Lives" and then he went out in really a blaze of glory but slightly overproduced films, the three big musicals "Hans Christian Andersen", "Porgy and Bess", and "Guys and Dolls". And then he was reaching 80 years old, he was into his 80s at that point, began to suffer a series of strokes and really spent the last few years upstairs in his bedroom. But lucid as ever. Lucid as ever.
Studs Terkel But you know I'm thinking about this, somehow you think you think the guy who cannot be wrong. He cannot be wrong, so Garson Kanin, I haven't got the tape here, but in your book, Scott Berg my guest, in his book he has this Kanin, Kanin the young director now, well, he wasn't a director then,
A. Scott Berg He wanted to be one.
Studs Terkel He wanted to go for, he's "You want to be a director, for chrissake, you're just a punk kid, what are you talking about?" So he goes elsewhere, and he makes this quite remarkable film, I remember that, "A Man to Remember".
A. Scott Berg Exactly.
Studs Terkel And then "Tom, Dick and Harry", and so then he runs into Goldwyn, 308, we gotta find this, it's a sort of a winder-upper, and now Kanin now recognized as a serious director, he runs into him, and he, Goldwyn [approaches?] and says, "You dirty little bastard, you dirty double-crossing little son of a, why didn't you tell me you wanted to be a director?" We're talking about a larger than life figure, aren't we? In a way.
A. Scott Berg He really was. That was part of the invention, was somebody larger than life.
Studs Terkel So as, as you're -- look back now upon this book that, I think of the two books, the two biographies you've done, both dealing with large figures, Maxwell Perkins certainly known as the pre-eminent editor of our time, and Goldwyn the independent producer. You've captured two aspects of the century in the one, literature, and the other in movies.
A. Scott Berg Well that's what I've tried to do certainly, and in each case, well Sam Goldwyn and Max Perkins could not be more unalike. They were both great cultural figures in their way. I mean, it's hard to imagine Sam Goldman was, but indeed he was. He was the hub of this great artistic wheel. And now I'm fishing about for a third subject, I think. But I think I'd like someone outside of Hollywood and someone outside of literature.
Studs Terkel You and I before we went on the air Scott and I would probably get through, even with a couple, one theater and what would the other one be?
A. Scott Berg Perhaps
Studs Terkel Music!
A. Scott Berg Music.
Studs Terkel Music. Or you gotta think of someone like Virgil Thomson to be that kind. Jimmy, you like that. I know Jimmy Unrath would like that. Since we're a music station
A. Scott Berg Yes, absolutely.
Studs Terkel And also maybe, maybe for a theater? Doesn't have to be a famous one. Doesn't have to be a great actor or director, someone [unintelligible] and the name that occurs to me is Eva Le Gallienne.
A. Scott Berg Yes, that's a great figure.
Studs Terkel [Hands?] it all, you see, in every way, classical and contemporary. And in any event, you have a way as a biographer. It's quite remarkable.
Studs Terkel And any, we haven't touched on so many anecdotes and incidents. Olivier and Merle Oberon and "Wuthering Heights" and what happened on that set.
A. Scott Berg It was a constant catfight. But I also wanted to say the most interesting thing for me in putting the book together in the end was that after all is said and done, and I really have tried to write a history of Hollywood here, the most interesting parts of the book to me have nothing to do with the movies. They have to do with this teenage runaway, this illegal alien, this boy who came to America believing in the dream, manufactures the dream, sells the dream, and becomes Sam
Studs Terkel By the, it also has almost a "Ragtime" touch here, you know in the part when he was young boy, a young guy riding the inter-urban, riding the trollies from one town to another as that guy did, Tateh in "Ragtime". That's interesting,
Studs Terkel So it's possible that Doctorow may have had someone like Goldwyn in mind.
A. Scott Berg Someone in mind, I think so. I mean, when you remember the end of "Ragtime", too, where you know we end up in the movies.
Studs Terkel The movies. Everything seems to end up in the movies. So we talk about fantasy. There was a fantasy president recently. And now again fantasy, and the book "Goldwyn", A. Scott Berg my guest, and Knopf the publisher, it's a beauty, and thank you very much.