Friday, August 17, 2007

August 17: Goldwynism Day

Today is the birthday of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw, Poland in 1879, Goldwyn immigrated to Canada and then New York when he was 19 years old. He left his job as a glove seller in 1913 to start a business in the infant movie industry, forming a company with his brother-in-law. For his first film The Squaw Man, he hired then unknown Cecil B. DeMille to direct.

Throughout his career as a movie producer Goldwyn helped build some of the most influential Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and United Artists. Despite the fact that he had a volatile temper and lacked formal education, Goldwyn had keen business instincts and is unquestionably one of the greatest geniuses in the history of film making.

In the realm of the English language, however, Goldwyn's name has become synonymous with malapropisms -- that is a ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with another word with a similar sound. Goldwyn is so notorious for his slips of the tongue, that an entire sub-category of malaprops are named for him: Goldwynisms. Wikipedia lists over 50 of these malaprops attributed to Goldwyn, such as one of the most famous: "A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on" (2).

The reality is, however, that like Yogi Berra, Goldwyn did not say everything that people said he said. In fact during his lifetime studio screenwriters even went so far as to hold contests to create the best Goldwynisms. The winner reportedly was "It rolls off my back like a duck" (3).

Today's Challenge: "I Didn't Say Everything I Said"
To verify the true Goldwynisms from the pseudo-Goldwynisms, we turn to the book The Quote Verifier which devotes a special section to Samuel Goldwyn. Label the malaprops below as Yes, meaning Goldwyn said it; Maybe, meaning the evidence in inconclusive; or No, meaning he did not say it.

1. I was on the brink of an abscess.

2. I'll give you a definite maybe.

3. I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn't like it.

4. I can answer you in two words: 'im possible.'

5. I read part of it all the way through.

6. I don't care if my pictures don't make a dime, so long as everyone comes to see them.

7. Let's have some new cliches.

8. A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

9. In this business it's dog eat dog, and nobody's gonna eat me.

10. It's more than magnificent, it's mediocre.

Quote of the Day: Television has raised writing to a new low. --Attributed to Samuel Goldwyn (1879 -1974)

Answers: 1. Yes 2. Possibly 3. Yes 4. No 5. No 6. Yes 7 Maybe 8. No 9. Yes 10. Maybe

1 - Aberdeen, J. A. "Samuel Goldwyn, Hollywood's Lone Wolf." The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

2 -

3 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.

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