Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood producer, was by all accounts an asshole. Many of the people who show up in A. Scott Berg’s biography of him praise him professionally, but nobody has anything good to say about him as a human being.
Being an asshole came with the job description. You didn’t reach and stay at the top in Hollywood by being nice. There was a place for well-meaning, intelligent, talented people in the movie business, and that place was at the feet of someone like Goldwyn.
Like most of Hollywood’s founders, Goldwyn was an Eastern European Jew, and the lesson he took from his impoverished Warsaw childhood was that you have to grab hold of everything in your reach. Life is a competition with all the other people: Never let go, never trust, never rest, and never show weakness.
Despite his name also ending up in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer company name, Goldwyn spent most of his career as an independent producer, in a time when the major studios controlled the entire distribution chain. This didn’t make him easier to work with.
But somehow it worked out, and he and all the other assholes made some really good movies. How such awful people ended up creating such fantastic movies is a mystery worth pondering, (especially if you’re one of those who think movies should be financed by the state, and then wonder why nobody wants to see them).