I’ve always liked Sam Goldwyn, the movie boss, if only for the charmed way he mangled the English language. He arrived in the US from Poland as Schmuel Gelbfisz, a name deemed unpronounceable by the US immigration official who dealt with him and promptly renamed him Goldfish. He then formed a partnership with a guy called Selwyn, and changed his name by combining the first half of Goldfish with the second half of Selwyn. (Wags later reasoned that if he’d done it the other way round he would have wound up as Selfish.)
Some of the stories about him are incomprehensible without footnotes. Take this one from Lillian Hellman’s memoirs:
At a postwar banquet for Field Marshal Montgomery, Goldwyn rose and proposed a toast to “Marshall Field Montgomery”. After a stunned silence, Jack L. Warner corrected him, “Montgomery Ward”.
Footnote 1: Marshall Field was (maybe still is, for all I know) a prominent Chicago Department Store.
Footnote 2: Montgomery Ward was a leading US mail-order chain.
Hellman also recounts a time when the head of his script department told him that the studio would be unable to film her play The Children’s Hour because it dealt with lesbians. “OK”, Sam said, “we make them Albanians”.
(Details courtesy of The Guinness Book of Humorous Anecdotes, edited by Nigel Rees.)