Peanuts & perspiration

I’m reading Scott Berg’s biography of Sam Goldwyn, a book with no end of terrific anecdotes. I particularly like the one explaining how, in 1913, the immigrant who had been born Schmuel Gelbfisz, but who had changed his name to Sam Goldfish, suddenly made another decision — to leap from making gloves to making films:

Even in the summer torpor, he liked to walk home to his apartment. One especially hot, muggy afternoon that August, Goldfish altered his routine. He chanced into the Herald Square Theatre on Thirty-Fourth Street, which showed “flickers”.

“Going into a nickleodeon wasn’t considered in entirely good taste,” Goldwyn remembered years later. Upon entering, he knew why. Inside the theatre, he was almost overcome by the heavy odour of peanuts and perspiration. For five or ten minutes, images — cops and robbers and bar room slapstick — fluttered around on a crude idea of a screen. A cowboy on horseback, identified as “Broncho Billy”, suddenly appeared, jumping on a moving train.

Goldfish left the dingy three-hundred-seat theatre and walked uptown. By the time he had reached the south-west corner of Central Park, his mind was made up. The same lightning bolt that had struck Zukor and Laemmle and Fox and Loew and Mayer and the Warner Brothers had electrified him. He could not get that image of Broncho Billy out of his head.


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