Sam Zimbalist
Born(1905-03-31)March 31, 1905
Kiev, Russian Empire (present-day Kyiv, Ukraine)
DiedNovember 4, 1958(1958-11-04) (aged 53)
Rome, Italy
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California
  • Film producer
  • film editor
Years active1920–1958
  • Margaret C. Donovan (1924–1950; divorce)
  • Mary Taylor (1952–1958; his death)

Sam Zimbalist (March 31, 1901[1][unreliable source?] – November 4, 1958) was a Russian-born American film producer and film editor.[2]

Early life

Born to a Ukrainian Jewish family,[3] he arrived to the US in August 1914.

He began his career at 16 as an office boy to Richard A. Rowland, who was president of Metro Studios, and studied film editing. He began to do some editing in his spare time when films needed to be trimmed to meet censorship requirements.[2]

He became friendly with actress Alla Nazimova who was under contract to Metro and told her of his desire to be a full editor. She invited him out to Hollywood in 1920 to become second assistant editor on her films. In 1923 when Nazimova's contract with Metro ended, he returned with her to New York and became her assistant stage manager on Broadway.[2][4]

Film editor

In 1924 Zimbalist returned to Los Angeles seeking film work. Metro pictures had merged with Sam Goldwyn's company to become MGM. Zimbalist went to work for them as an assistant editor and soon worked his way up to full editor. He edited the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. Among the films he edited at MGM were Lon Chaney's While the City Sleeps (1928), Alias Jimmy Valentine, the studio's first sound film, and The Broadway Melody (1929), the first sound musical.[2][4]

Film producer

He was promoted to assistant producer in 1929 working for Hunt Stromberg[2] and became a producer on his own in 1936 with Married Before Breakfast.[5]

He produced films including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), the story of the Doolittle Raiders, King Solomon's Mines (1950) and Quo Vadis (1951). The latter two both received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. Quo Vadis was MGM's second-highest-grossing film at the time behind Gone with the Wind and MGM's most profitable film of the era with worldwide rentals of $23 million on a cost of $7 million.[6]

Based on the success of Quo Vadis, he was made producer of MGM's most elaborate production until that time, the 1959 epic Ben-Hur.[6][7]


Zimbalist collapsed suddenly of a heart attack on set in Rome, Italy, during filming of Ben-Hur.[2] He was taken to his villa where he died.[5]

He was buried at the Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California. He received a posthumous Oscar for the film, and remains the only person to ever posthumously receive a Best Picture award.[8] His Oscar was accepted by his wife Mary Zimbalist, who made a speech in honor of her late husband. Ben-Hur was even more profitable than Quo Vadis becoming MGM's second-highest-grossing film at the time (again, behind Gone With the Wind) making Zimbalist the producer of the second- and third-highest-grossing films at the studio.

He left an estate of $500,000.[9]

Personal life

He married Margaret C. Donovan in 1924. They divorced in 1950. Zimbalist then married Mary Taylor, a former fashion model and actress, in 1952.[10]

Selected filmography

Unmade films


  1. ^ Birth year according to naturalisation papers. "".
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Obituaries". Variety. November 12, 1958. p. 63. Retrieved July 7, 2019 – via
  3. ^ "Whither Quo Vadis?: Sienkiewicz's Novel in Film and Television" By Ruth Scodel and Anja Bettenworth p. 215
  4. ^ a b "SAM ZIMBALIST, 57, FILM-MAKER, DEAD". The New York Times. November 5, 1958. p. 39.
  5. ^ a b "SAM ZIMBALIST, FILM CHIEF, DIES: Noted Producer, 57, Suffers Heart Attack on Supercolossal 'Ben-Hur' Set in Rome". Los Angeles Times. November 5, 1958. p. 4.
  6. ^ a b "Zimbalist of 'Quo Vadis' Dies at 57 on Eve of Winding M-G 'Ben-Hur'". Variety. November 12, 1958. p. 5. Retrieved July 7, 2019 – via
  7. ^ Behlmer, Rudy. "King Solomon's Mines: Part I". American Cinematographer. Vol. 70, no. 5 (May 1989). Hollywood. pp. 38–44.
  8. ^ Natalie Finn (January 27, 2009). "Rare and Extraordinary" Oscar Noms for Pollack, Minghella". E! Online.
  9. ^ "Zimbalist's Family Shares $500,000 Estate". Los Angeles Times. November 13, 1958. p. C11.
  10. ^ "Paid Death Notices: Mary Taylor Zimbalist". The New York Times. June 29, 2008. p. 25. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  11. ^ "CRUSOE' LEAD ROLE TO SPENCER TRACY". New York Times. January 18, 1947. p. 10.