Thirty years ago, Gretchen Monahan and Ricky Paull Goldin were sweeping hair off barbershop floors several states away from each other. Monahan was 6, earning 50 cents an hour working for her uncle Eddie Priest at his shop in Cambridge’s Central Square. Goldin, 5½ years her senior, was living on Long Island with his mom, earning $1 an hour at Tito’s Barber Shop in Woodmere, N.Y.
Now a couple, with a home in the Boston area and a 2-year-old son, both of them have come a long way since those modest beginnings. Goldin, a Broadway actor and soap star who began acting at 3, is hosting a new HGTV show filmed in New England called “Spontaneous Construction.”
With financial help from family and friends, Monahan opened the first of several salons at 24. She is a beauty and fashion contributor on the “Rachael Ray” show and “Good Morning America,” as well as owner and CEO of Boston-based Gretta Enterprises, which includes several spas, boutiques, and media ventures.
Sitting in a French bistro in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Goldin recalled how he was once failing an acting class at Fordham University while playing Billy Ray Jr. on Broadway in “On Golden Pond.”
“I was missing a lot of class because of ‘On Golden Pond’,” said Goldin, who is perhaps best-known for playing Gus on “Guiding Light” and Dr. Jake Martin on “All My Children.” “But I was getting real-work training on Broadway.” Goldin went on to play Danny Zuko in “Grease,” opposite Rosie O’Donnell and Brooke Shields, and continued his TV work in various prime-time series and soap operas.
Monahan’s enrollment at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology was also short-lived, because of a lack of money. “I was working in a sewing circle and doing every job I could find, but the bitter bite of the Big Apple sent me back home to Waltham,” said Monahan. Her uncle, who helped raise her because of her mother’s chronic illness, encouraged her to learn a trade in the field she loved: cosmetology. She discovered that she was drawn to all aspects of the beauty industry, and she “fell in love with dealing with a real person in my chair.”
Years later, although she was making a name for herself in the worlds of beauty and fashion, Monahan still wanted that degree that had eluded her. In her early 30s she earned an executive MBA at Harvard Business School, and recently joined the Young President’s Organization, which links entrepreneurs across the globe.
Monahan’s and Goldin’s careers landed them both at the Daytime Emmy Awards show in 2009, and a chance meeting backstage marked the beginning of their high-profile lives together. “I saw Ricky backstage doing an interview,” said Monahan. “I introduced myself and mentioned a mutual friend. He looked at me like I was a crazy fan groupie. I turned to leave, and he grabbed my hand and said, ‘I’ll find you, mark my words.’ ” Monahan thought to herself, yeah, right.
Goldin spent the next 48 hours searching for her, beginning with a call to the mutual friend. Monahan had no expectations that they’d ever speak again, but while shooting in Miami for a “Gretta’s Got It” segment on WHDH-TV, her assistant called to say she had received the biggest, most beautiful bouquet of flowers. “It literally wouldn’t fit through the door,” said Monahan. “The card said, ‘I told you I’d find you. Ricky.’ ”
Since then, their careers have continued to thrive, and the two have divided their time among Boston, New York, and California. But the birth of their son, Kai, in 2010 shifted their priorities. The mention of his name made them both smile. “He is bigger than we are, and our careers,” said Goldin, 48. “Having a child is the perfect thing to happen. . . . It makes you stop the madness and be a family.”
“Becoming a family changed us, and me, in every way,” said Monahan, 42. “We were both hyper-focused on work and career. I’ve always craved having a family to come home to. It brings a sense of happiness in my life, and we see what’s really important.”
Having been raised by a single mom, Goldin had a natural desire to be a hands-on dad. (Goldin’s father, Paul Goldin, was a well-known hypnotist and therapist who often traveled.)
“One thing nobody ever told me about parenting is that it isn’t just one or two diapers in a day — it’s many, many diapers, continuously,” Goldin said, laughing.
Parenting wasn’t the only thing Goldin wanted to get his hands into. When he was 15, he worked with his mother renovating houses. “My mom created a special niche for me while she acted as general contractor for the rich,” said Goldin. “I’d watch her and the contractors work, and then she let me tell contractors what to do when they were working in our own house. One of them put a tool belt on me and let me do some work that they’d often have to re-do. But I loved it and became good at it.”
As a struggling actor in Los Angeles, Goldin put his eye for home design to work by renovating and flipping homes for financial survival. Years later he surprised his fiancee by refurbishing what Monahan called their “junk apartment” in Los Angeles. Their newly renovated home was featured on HGTV’s “My Favorite Place.” HGTV executive Danny Tepper liked what he saw in Goldin’s creativity and handiwork, and asked Goldin to be part of HGTV’s new television project “Spontaneous Construction,” a 13-episode home-improvement series filmed from the Cape to the North Shore. It premiered Feb. 15 in its 8 p.m. Friday time slot, with back-to-back episodes filmed in Concord and Essex. The half-hour show is produced by Powderhouse Productions of Somerville.
Goldin is the host and creative contributor to the show, which uses social media to solicit homeowners’ renovation applications, and to find volunteers to dance and work alongside Goldin and HGTV contractors as they work..
“There is no other show on TV that recruits dancing flashmobs and volunteer taskmobs through social media to make homeowners’ dreams come true,” he said. The show features projects like backyard makeovers, kitchens, family rooms, and even a barn renovation.
Winner of a Daytime Emmy Special Fan Award for his role as Gus in “Guiding Light,” four-time Daytime Emmy Award nominee, and the only actor to star in four soaps across all three networks, Goldin held a premiere party for “Spontaneous Construction” on Feb. 10 in New York, with a guest list full of his former castmates. Among them were Susan Lucci (Erica Kane, “All My Children”), and Goldin’s on-air love interest Beth Ehlers (Harley Cooper, “Guiding Light”). Goldin chartered a bus to send about 30 flashmobbers from Massachusetts to perform at the party. Along with celebrating the new show, the party raised money for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in areas hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, and Operation Smile, which treats childhood facial deformities.
“Home improvement shows are so hot right now,” said Goldin. “The idea of incorporating a good time and music into making people’s dreams come true was something I really wanted to get involved with.”
also has a task list that is ever growing. Along with her TV work, and managing the operations of Grettacole and Gretta Luxe in and around Boston, and G Spa at MGM Grand in Foxwoods, she writes a fashion blog
and is a local media consultant for retail stores and TV. She recently partnered with the American Chemistry Council’s “Plastics Make It Possible” to promote the use of recycled plastics in fashion. Her first how-to book is slated for publication by Penguin Books in the fall, and she is developing her website, www.gretta
style.com to include webinars, real-people stories, virtual style services, online chats, and fashion, beauty, and parenting advice from experts.
Though her business is beauty, it’s not the sole focus for Monahan, who has been active in community outreach and fund-raisers supporting causes such as the Faulkner-Sagoff breast center in Jamaica Plain, the American Liver Foundation, and the Joshua Frase Foundation, addressing rare genetic disorders.
Both Monahan and Goldin say they did not achieve their personal or business success on their own, and they are aware that a lot of people rely on them for their livelihoods. “I still feel the pressure of success,” said Monahan. “I remember going to sleep when I was just starting out thinking how my aunt and uncle could lose their home because they took out a second mortgage to open my first salon. Failure was not an option. Now I have more than 100 employees’ families who are counting on me. I’m so grateful for them and their trust.”
Goldin said Tito from the barbershop taught him invaluable life lessons. “I learned everything I needed as a young man from Tito. I never realized until now how important the kinship is from a working-class family, and how much success can come from hard work.”