His dad was one of Hollywood’s founding fathers. If there is something that Samuel Goldwyn Jr should be remembered for following his death on Friday night, it’s this, according to Tom Rothman: “For the 20 or so years before Disney put money in Miramax or we started Fox Searchlight with NewsCorp money and other studios got in the game, the independent film business really began with Sam in the late 70s.” Rothman, a lawyer in New York who repped Jim Jarmusch when he made the deal with Goldwyn Jr for Stranger Than Paradise, was hired by Goldwyn Jr to become president of The Goldwyn Company before moving on to Fox where he became the first president of Fox Searchlight.
“People forget what a seminal figure Sam was, and how many filmmakers broke through because of him,” Rothman said. “There was Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Minghella, Ang Lee, David Lynch and John Sayles. Sam was a dose of class in a rough and tumble business. He had an unerring eye for quality, and wore being the son of Sam Goldwyn with dignity, and used his legacy to build a business.” Rothman, who now runs TriStar, said that Goldwyn got his financial cushion from the films his father made, classics that included Guys and Dolls, Ball Of Fire, The Best Years of Our Lives, Wuthering Heights, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Porgy and Bess and Stella Dallas.
“For all the stories about Sam Sr’s malapropisms, he was a connoisseur of quality who made these terrific high quality films, and financed the negatives himself, which meant that studios didn’t own those titles, he did,” Rothman said. “Sam took stewardship when his father passed away, back when the syndication value was so high. He didn’t sell the library, but rather he put the revenues to work, funding a new era of independent films. His word was his bond and he paid his bills.”
Rothman said when Goldwyn Jr believed he saw a winner, he didn’t much care what anybody else said.
“A good example was Henry V, when people were like, are you kidding me, is this a sequel to Henry IV? Nobody else would have done what Sam did and I remember people thinking he was nuts,” Rothman recalled. “Nobody had done anything with Shakespeare since Olivier, and Branagh was coming out of nowhere. On the very first film he directed, Branagh got Oscar nominations both for Best Actor and Best Director. Sam won several Palm d’Or Awards with bold films like Wild At Heart, and many of the people who learned the business there went on to great careers, including Bingham Ray, Jeff Lipsky and Steve Gilula.”
While Goldwyn Jr would seem to have been able to take risks because of his father’s success, this doesn’t give credit for the fact it was with family money, at a time most preferred to use other people’s money. “He was a gentlemen with a disruptive, cutting edge spirit and a belief in his ability to separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Rothman, who remained in touch with Goldwyn Jr and worked on a few remake deals with him when Rothman ran Fox with Jim Gianopulos. “I loved the guy and wouldn’t want people to forget what he meant during a very important time in the indie business.”
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