JAN. 9, 2015
By BROOKS BARNES
By BROOKS BARNES
LOS ANGELES — Samuel Goldwyn Jr., an urbane, soft-spoken scion of a Hollywood dynasty who became an influential movie executive in his own right, supporting promising young directors and advancing the independent film movement, died here on Friday. He was 88.
His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was caused by congestive heart failure, his son John said.
A ravenous book reader, possessing intellectual curiosity in a business not known for it, Mr. Goldwyn was an early champion of stylized, cerebral films that most major studios thought would never sell a ticket.
His indie operation, the Samuel Goldwyn Company, founded in 1979, helped create a business model — low production costs, guerrilla marketing — that allowed art-house movies to grow into a powerful cultural and economic force.
“Most people don’t quite realize what an independent film pioneer he was,” said Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of TriStar. Mr. Rothman, whose formative Hollywood years were spent at the Samuel Goldwyn Company, went on to found Fox Searchlight, which remains a specialty film superpower.
“Sam was the inspiration for Fox Searchlight,” Mr. Rothman said.
Mr. Goldwyn was credited with giving Julia Roberts her big break in “Mystic Pizza” in 1988. But he was also known for backing budding directors on their early films, including Ang Lee (“The Wedding Banquet”), Anthony Minghella (“Truly Madly Deeply”) and Kenneth Branagh (“Henry V”).
In one of his audacious moves, in 1989, Mr. Goldwyn backed “Longtime Companion,” a feature film about the impact of the AIDS crisis on the lives of gay men. Some theater owners refused to book it, but Mr. Goldwyn pressed on, releasing a trailer that mentioned AIDS in its first 10 seconds.
As Hollywood dynasties go, the Goldwyns are among the few to have made a mark for successive generations. Samuel Goldwyn was the G in MGM. Sammy, as his son was known in his younger days, followed. Among the third generation’s accomplishments, John Goldwyn was vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, and another son, the actor Tony Goldwyn, is a star of the ABC series “Scandal.”
Famous names, especially in Hollywood, are often too heavy for future generations to bear, noted A. Scott Berg, the Pulitzer-winning author whose “Goldwyn: A Biography” was published in 1989. But Mr. Goldwyn found the strength, he said.
“Sam was raised by a volatile, at times emotionally abusive father and a loveless mother and yet managed to emerge as a genuinely affectionate man of equanimity,” Mr. Berg said in an interview on Friday.
Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, 1926, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. had a privileged upbringing. As a newspaper delivery boy, he initially tossed the papers, rolled up, from the window of his father’s limousine, Mr. Berg said.
But he was not spoiled — when Charlie Chaplin and other stars came for dinner, Sammy ate in the kitchen with the cook — and his parents steered him away from Hollywood. He went to prep school in Colorado and attended the University of Virginia. After serving in the Army, he worked as a theatrical producer in London and for Edward R. Murrow at CBS in New York.
He moved to Hollywood in the 1950s. Over the next two decades, he delivered films like “The Proud Rebel” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem” before founding the Samuel Goldwyn Company to acquire and distribute art films.
For a time he owned Landmark, a chain of art theaters. As a producer, he was nominated for a best picture Oscar in 2004 for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”
Mr. Goldwyn was a major supporter of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, which provides health services and other support to entertainment industry workers. His contributions, through a family foundation, built a children’s day care center and a behavioral health center.
He lived in the Hollywood Hills, in the house his parents had owned.
Besides his sons John and Tony, he is survived by two other sons, Francis and Peter; two daughters, Catherine Goldwyn and Elizabeth Goldwyn; and 10 grandchildren. Mr. Goldwyn is also survived by his third wife, Patricia Strawn. His previous two marriages ended in divorce.
His final producing credit came in December 2013 with the release of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” starring and directed by Ben Stiller, a remake of one of his father’s biggest hits.
“Producers — real producers — never retire, and he was discussing casting for his next picture with us over dinner very recently,” Mr. Berg said. “He wasn’t happy to be in a wheelchair, to have his mobility limited. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him.”