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Gloversville Mogul

Movie legend Samuel Goldwyn got his start here as glovemaker

March 23, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald
GLOVERSVILLE — When former city resident Donald Garson Schine died on Leap Day, it was a reminder that the Schines were not the only well-known local family with cinematic connections.

Schine was president of Darnell Theaters and executive vice president of Schine Enterprise of Theaters, hotels and radio stations according to the March 6 obituary.

Unknown to many locally, one of the moguls of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had his start in the city’s glove-making business.

Samuel Goldwyn was his name.

Fulton County Historian Peter Betz found Goldwyn’s birth name was Schmuel Gelbfish (aka Gelbfisz) and that left his home in the ghetto of Warsaw, Poland, in the early 1890s. This was after his father, Aaron, died, according to A. Scott Berg’s “Goldwyn: A Biography.”

Berg wrote Gelbfisz walked the 500 miles to Hamburg, Germany, where he hoped to get passage to the United States, but he was broke. His mother had given him the name of a Warsaw family they knew in Hamburg, and searching through the city, Gelbfisz found Jacob Liebglid.

Liebglid was a glovemaker and put Gelbfisz to work learning the trade. He also passed the hat among the Jewish community and raised the 18 shillings needed to put Gelbfisz on a boat train to London when Gelbfisz wanted to move on.

After staying with his mother Hannah’s sister and her family a short time in the ghetto of Birmingham, England, Gelbfisz worked a number of jobs, including selling sponges for Isaac and Dora Saalberg. Dora claimed later that she suggested anglicizing Schmuel Gelbfisz to Samuel Goldfish because of the disadvantages of emphasizing his Jewish heritage. She also claimed Sam took money invested in sponges to sell and instead took passage to the United States.

Berg writes that Gelbfisz now Goldfish not only stole the money to get passage (an assertion corroborated by Goldwyn’s second wife Frances, who said, “Sam always told me that he stole the money to get to America,”) but he also entered the country as an illegal alien.

Berg wrote that Sam was most likely incorrectly named Sam Goldberg, a steerage passenger on the ship Labrador bound for New York in December 1898.

When Sam made it to New York in early 1899, he heard of a Polish community upstate where he could use his knowledge of glovemaking and that they were so in need of laborers they would even pay his passage there.

Gloversville had a population of 15,000 and about 12,000 of those people were in the glovemaking industry.

Goldfish’s first job was sweeping the four stories of the Louis Meyers and Son. glove factory on the corner of West Pine and South Main streets next to the railroad tracks for $3 a week.

According to Berg, Fulton County produced half the work gloves and 95 percent of dress gloves in the U.S. at the turn of the century. Goldfishbecame a glove cutter at Joseph Bachner and Joseph Moses Bacmo Gloves where he could make as much in a day as he had at Meyers in a week.

When Goldfish’s courting of a leather worker’s daughter, Mary Cohen, was rebuffed because of his crude manners and speech, he enrolled in the Gloversville Business College to improve himself.

After a failure in trying to start his own glove shop with a friend, Charles Sesonske, Goldfish talked his way into being foreman of 100 glove cutters for the Elite Glove Co.

He soon saw the real money was being made by glove salesmen, according to Berg, and five years later, talked his way into selling gloves for Elite by asking for the toughest territory. He was persistent and soon was making $15,000 per year. He was able to send enough money for his two younger brothers to sail to the U.S. and got them started selling gloves as well on smaller accounts he no longer had time for.

When Goldfish became sales manager for Elite, he moved to offices in New York City, where he first saw “flickers” — the beginning of movies — and was introduced to and married his first, wife Blanche Lasky, a former vaudevillian.

He saw a future in cinema and pursued it as doggedly as he had glove sales. He talked his brother-in-law, Jesse Lasky, and another mutual friend, Cecil Blount DeMille, into pursuing an idea Goldfish had to make the short flicker features longer by putting several reels of film together. From there, Goldfish was “off to the movies.”

According to'>, when, along with the famous theatrical Selwyn family, he formed Goldwyn Pictures in 1917, he liked the name so much that he legally changed his name to Samuel Goldwyn. He was instrumental in forming not one, but two of the largest Hollywood studios: Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He also was a founding member of the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers.

Herbert Engel, author of “Shtetl in the Adirondacks,” speculated the two Jewish businessmen who would later found theatrical empires — Myer Schine and Goldwyn — knew each other.

“It is reasonable to assume that in the course of business matters of common interest Myer [Schine] met … Goldwyn,” Engel wrote.

On Halloween night in 1945, Goldwyn returned to Gloversville for a dinner at the Kingsboro Hotel, where, Betz wrote, Goldwyn met his old benefactor, Joseph Liebglid, from Hamburg, now a resident at the hotel. In his remarks that night, Goldwyn said he got his citizenship papers in Fulton County and also remarked, “People are probably happier here than in the big cities … I have a great affection for this town. This is the place that gave me my first start in life.”

Article Photos

Samuel Goldwyn was 20 in this photo taken in Gloversville in about 1899. He then was called Samuel Goldffish.



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