Samuel Goldwyn Jr., the son of a fiercely independent-minded Hollywood mogul and the producer of many independent films in his own right including “Mystic Pizza” and studio hits including “Master and Commander,” died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 88. His son John Goldwyn told the New York Times he died of congestive heart failure.
Goldwyn Jr. received his final credit as a producer, together with son John and others, on Fox’s long-gestating remake of the Goldwyn Sr.-produced classic “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” starring and directed by Ben Stiller and released in December 2013.
The courtly and soft-spoken scion was known for shepherding independent and foreign films and got his start in documentary filmmaking, in contrast to his brash father, who made his way from a youth of poverty in Poland to a partner in MGM.
“I love it. If you don’t love this business, don’t go near it. Don’t go near it to get rich,” he told Britain’s the Independent in 2004. “And just remember, if you’re right 51 per cent of the time in this business, you’re a genius.”
As producer of the Peter Weir-directed “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” together with Weir and Duncan Henderson, Goldwyn Jr. shared that film’s Oscar nomination for best picture in 2004. (The film received a total of 10 nominations and won two Oscars.)
His Samuel Goldwyn Company was one of the most significant distributors of independent film during the period in which they flourished in the 1980s and 1990s. Among the films the company acquired and distributed were David Lynch’s Palme d’Or winner “Wild at Heart,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” Bill Forsyth’s “Gregory’s Girl,” Alex Cox’s “Sid and Nancy,” Stephen Frears’ “Prick Up Your Ears,” Robert Townsend’s “Hollywood Shuffle,” Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger,” John Sayles’ “City of Hope,” Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
After a failed merger and lawsuit resulting from MGM’s acquisition of the distributor, Goldwyn Jr. relaunched his company as Samuel Goldwyn Films in the early 2000s. Though it was not nearly as active as the earlier incarnation, the new entity released indies such as “The Squid and the Whale,” “2 Days in Paris” and “Robot & Frank.”
In a 2004 New York Times profile, the tall, silver-haired Goldwyn was described as resembling not so much his father “as a combination of Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman.”
But Goldwyn Jr. gloried in his father’s achievements, eventually returning to live as an adult in the vast Beverly Hills estate built by his father and tending to the library of films. The films Samuel Goldwyn Sr. produced, including “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Guys and Dolls,” are handled by the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust and currently licensed to Warner Bros. for U.S. distribution.
Sam Goldwyn Sr. was one of the pioneers of Hollywood, and his production company, Goldwyn Pictures Corp., became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, but Goldwyn Sr. had no involvement with MGM and was independent of the studio system after that.
Goldwyn Jr., however, did not “trade on his father’s name,” Tom Rothman, who began his career at the Samuel Goldwyn Company, told the New York Times.
Goldwyn Jr. grew up in Los Angeles as a self-confessed “Hollywood brat” — his mother was actress Frances Howard, he attended his first Oscar ceremony at age 11 and worked in editing rooms during summer vacation. He then spent a long period away from Los Angeles, attending prep school in Colorado and the U. of Virginia. After serving in the Army, he then took a job in England working for J. Arthur Rank, where he earned his first film credit as associate producer on the British crime thriller “Good-Time Girl,” Diana Dors’ first film, in 1948. Goldwyn Jr. rejoined the military in 1950, where he produced and directed documentaries for the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Back in the U.S., he worked under Edward R. Murrow at CBS News and co-produced docu series “Adventure.”
When the young Goldwyn returned to Hollywood in the mid-1950s, Goldwyn Sr.’s career was in decline. In 1955 Goldwyn Jr. launched his production company Formosa Prods. (his father’s Samuel Goldwyn Studio was located at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue) and produced his first film, uncredited, the same year: the Robert Mitchum Western “Man With the Gun.”
Via Formosa Prods. he also produced “The Sharkfighters” (1956), “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1960) and, in the early 1970s, “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “Come Back, Charleston Blue.” Goldwyn Jr. directed one film, “The Young Lovers,” starring Peter Fonda and Sharon Hugueny, in 1964.
In addition to his film work, Goldwyn Jr. produced the Academy Awards ceremony twice, in the late 1980s, winning an Emmy in 1988 for his effort.
His family’s charitable contributions are evident throughout the city: Samuel Goldwyn Foundation sponsors the yearly Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards, created the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children’s Center day care facility, built the Academy of Motion Pictures theater and constructed the Hollywood Public Library in memory of Frances Howard Goldwyn.
He was married twice, to writer Peggy Elliott, with whom he had two children, and to actress Jennifer Howard, with whom he had four. He is survived by three sons, producer John; actor Tony and Peter, senior VP of Samuel Goldwyn Films; and three daughters Catherine, Frances and Elizabeth; and nine grandchildren.