Ghost Makes Sam Goldwyn's Grandson Tony a Hometown Star

updated 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/22/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At first glance he seems too much of a Mr. Nice Guy to be truly ba-a-a-d. Which is one reason why Tony Goldwyn, with his open gaze and friendly smile, had to fight like a tiger for the role of Patrick Swayze's nefariously greedy yuppie buddy in Ghost. What's more, the 30-year-old actor had never had an important role in a movie before. "The producers wouldn't even see me," he explains as he sits in the living room of his three-story 1895 Hoboken, N.J., town house, relaxing before a rehearsal of his current off-Broadway play, The Sum of Us. 'They wanted a name in the role," he recalls.

In fact, Tony did have a name, a golden name. His grandfather was famed Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn, a Polish immigrant and former glove salesman who became one of the industry's founding fathers, producing such classics as Wuthering Heights and such unintentionally hilarious Goldwynisms as "Include me out." But Tony was reluctant to cash in on his pedigree. On the other hand, he wasn't ready to skulk away. "I make a habit of being tenacious," he says. So when Ghost director Jerry (Airplane!) Zucker explained that he "wanted someone evil and dark," the actor fought back. "I said, 'That's too obvious. This character isn't villainous; he's a materialist who makes one big mistake.' " To convince Zucker, Goldwyn offered to videotape an audition. "I desperately wanted this part," he admits. Finally, Zucker agreed to screen the videotape, and it did the trick. "Tony showed such subtle stuff, it was astounding," he recalls.

Ghost, which has so far made $165 million and is second only to Pretty Woman as the top-grossing movie of the year, was not just a staggering break for Goldwyn; it was a period of surprising discovery. First of all, where he thought he'd find a den of "super egodom" inhabited by co-stars Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, he found instead laughs and camaraderie. Goldwyn's most unforgettable moment came while rehearsing the scene where he comes on to Moore. At the time, Rumer, her daughter by husband Bruce Willis, was still nursing. The tot, now 2, crawled onto the couch with them and helped herself to dinner. "I pretended not to notice," Tony says, "but I sure did."

Tony raised a few eyelids of his own when he showed up on day one holding hands with the movie's set designer, Jane Musky. "The stagehands didn't know we were married," he says, laughing. As it turns out, Jane, 36, the set designer for such movies as When Harry Met Sally..., had been hired for Ghost before Tony and had been the first to suggest he go after the part. Working together for six months offered another bonus: a perfect baby-making opportunity. "Jane was feeling her biological clock ticking, and we figured, 'Do it now,' " Tony explains. Daughter Anna was born last May. "I thought nothing was as intoxicating as acting," he says, "but having a baby outdoes everything."

The Goldwyns met nine years ago while both were working at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. He was 21, she was 27, and because of the age difference, Tony worried that the romance wouldn't last. "But I felt I'd never find anyone like Jane again," he recalls. They got along effortlessly and shared a love of athletics. Besides, "Jane was as ambitious as I, and yet we were in sync."

Still, he was scared. "At first I told her, 'Don't talk to me about marriage.' I knew I had to get my own act together. Also, my parents split up when I was very young, and it was more painful than I was ever aware of. I felt that I'd rather live a lonely life than have a bad marriage."

Recalling his own privileged childhood in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood as the son of producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and actress Jennifer Howard (and stepson of TV comedy writer Peggy Elliott), Tony notes, "I was always the class maniac—out of control and disruptive." But it was life with Grandpa Sam, who died when Tony was 14, that was most remarkable. "On Sundays we'd go to the 'big house' for family dinner," he remembers. "He and my grandmother would send their driver Hans over to pick us up in their old Cadillac. It was right out of Driving Miss Daisy."

Young Tony may have had access to the lap of luxury, but his father refused to let him sit in it. "He was so worried about our being spoiled that he went the other way," Tony says. Dad also wasn't thrilled about his offspring's decision to act, but Tony shrugs: "It was in my gut." After prep school in Colorado Springs, he studied at Brandeis and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, always with an eye toward a serious theatrical career.

The box office success of Ghost has offered Tony a springboard for both stage and screen work. After The Sum of Us, where he plays a gay plumber, he portrays Jimmy Carter's former press secretary, Jody Powell, in a TNT film about the Iran-U.S. hostage crisis. Beyond that? Goldwyn is taking his time.

After all, the ghost of Grandfather' Goldwyn may be watching over him. "He was a salesman and self-promoter. He taught me, through osmosis, about survival—long-term survival. And I've learned not to be in too much of a hurry." Sam Goldwyn's grandson smiles his clear-eyed, open smile. "You can burn up fast if you just take anything that comes along. I'm in this for the long haul."

—Marjorie Rosen, David Hutchings in Hoboken

From Our Partners