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Goldberg, Whoopi

Whoopi Goldberg

1955—

Comedian, actor, activist

Whoopi Goldberg's life and career have followed similar circular journeys: Both had auspicious beginnings, slipped dangerously toward extinction, then rebounded to fulfill their initial promise. Throughout her acting career she has not forgotten the lessons she learned in her early, difficult life. There is, in a sense, no division between Whoopi Goldberg the actress and Whoopi Goldberg the person. As Paul Chutkow pointed out in Vogue, "She seems much the same way she has often appeared on-screen: fresh, direct, exuberant, no cant, no can't." Goldberg's determination and lack of pretentiousness imbue her best performances, and she has remained committed to her art. "Take the best of what you're offered," she told Chutkow, "and that's all you can do."

Born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City in 1955, Goldberg wanted to be a performer from the very beginning. "My first coherent thought was probably, ‘I want to be an actor … ’," she recounted to Chutkow. "That's just what I was born to do." She was acting in children's plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight, and throughout the rest of her childhood she immersed herself in movies, sometimes watching three or four per day. "I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital," Goldberg explained to Stephen Farber in Cosmopolitan.

By the time she reached high school, however, Goldberg had lost her desire and vision and began using drugs. "I took drugs because they were available to everyone in those times," she told Farber. "As everyone evolved into LSD, so did I. It was the time of Woodstock, of be-ins and love-ins." Goldberg dropped out of high school and became lost in this culture, delving further into the world of drugs and becoming addicted. Eventually, she sought help, cleaned herself up, and along the way married her drug counselor. A year later Goldberg gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year later she was divorced. She was not yet twenty years old.

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, to pursue her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and tried improvisational comedy with a company called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, Goldberg worked at various times as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a mortuary cosmetologist. She was also on welfare for a few years. During this period she went by the name "Whoopi Cushion." After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg finally adopted a name from her family's history.

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, an avant-garde comedy troupe. With this group Goldberg was able to realize her powerful acting and comedic abilities, developing a repertoire of seventeen distinct characters in a one-woman show that she labeled The Spook Show. She performed the show on the West Coast, then toured the United States and Europe in the early 1980s before landing in New York City.

Among her sketches were four particularly powerful characters: Fontaine, a profanity-spewing drug dealer with a Ph.D. in literature who travels to Europe looking for hashish, only to openly weep when he comes across Anne Frank's secret hiding place; a shallow thirteen-year-old surfing Valley Girl who is left barren after a self-inflicted abortion with a coat hanger; a severely handicapped young woman who tells her prospective suitor, who wants to go dancing, "This is not a disco body"; and a nine-year-old black girl who bathes in Clorox and covers her head with a white skirt, wistfully hoping to become white with long blonde hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.

Although Brendan Gill in the New Yorker decided Goldberg's sketches were "diffuse and overlong and continuously at the mercy of her gaining a laugh at any cost," the majority of critical and popular reaction was positive. Cathleen McGuigan, writing in Newsweek, remarked that Goldberg's "ability to completely disappear into a role, rather than superficially impersonate comic types, allows her to take some surprising risks." And Enid Nemy, in a review of Goldberg's show for the New York Times, found the performer's abilities extended beyond mere comic entertainment, and that her creations—seamlessly woven with social commentary—"walk a finely balanced line between satire and pathos, stand-up comedy and serious acting." Her performance also caught the attention of famed film director Mike Nichols. After seeing Goldberg's premiere performance in New York, Nichols offered to produce her show on Broadway in September of 1984.

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Another Hollywood figure entranced by Goldberg's sensitive performances was director Steven Spielberg, who at the time was casting for the film version of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple. Spielberg offered Goldberg the lead role of Celie, even though she had never before appeared in a feature film. Goldberg told Audrey Edwards in Essence how badly she wanted to be a part, any part, of the film: "I told [Alice Walker] that whenever there was an audition I'd come. I'd eat the dirt. I'd play the dirt, I'd be the dirt, because the part is perfect."

At a Glance …

Born Caryn E. Johnson on November 13, 1955, in New York, NY; daughter of Emma Johnson (a nurse and teacher); married first husband, 1972(?) (divorced, 1974[?]); married David Edward Claessen, September 1986 (divorced, 1988); married Lyle Trachtenberg, 1994 (divorced, 1995); children: (first marriage) Alexandrea Martin. Politics: Progressive. Education: New York University, PhD, literature.

Career: Film, television, and theater actor and comedian, 1985—; member of San Diego Repertory Theater and comedy group Spontaneous Combustion; worked as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and mortuary cosmetologist, 1974-late 1970s; member of the comedy troupe Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater; developed own one-woman show, late 1970s-1985; host or cohost of various shows, including The Whoopi Goldberg Show, 1992, Comic Relief benefits, Academy Awards, 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2002, The View, 2007—, and Tony Awards, 2008.

Awards: Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination, 1985, both for The Color Purple; Image Awards, NAACP, 1985, 1990, and 2004; Grammy Award, 1985, for Whoopi Goldberg; Emmy Award nomination, 1986, for guest appearance on Moonlighting; Academy Award, 1991, for Ghost; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2001; Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, 2001; Tony Award, 2002, for Thoroughly Modern Millie; Muse Award, 2003; Women's World Award for World Entertainment, 2006.

Addresses: Office—c/o The View, 320 W. 66th St., New York, NY 10023. Agent—William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

"As Celie, the abused child, battered bride, and wounded woman liberated by Shug's kiss and the recognition of sisterhood's power, Whoopi Goldberg is for the most part lovable and believable," Andrew Kopkind wrote in a review of the movie for the Nation. "She mugs a bit, pouts and postures too long in some scenes, and seems to disappear in others, but her great moments are exciting to behold." Newsweek's David Ansen concurred: "This is powerhouse acting, all the more so because the rage and the exhilaration are held in reserve." For this performance, Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

But the film itself did not universally receive the kind of praise bestowed on Goldberg. "The movie is amorphous," Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker. "It's a pastoral about the triumph of the human spirit, and it blurs on you." Much criticism was aimed at the selection of Spielberg, a white male, to direct a story that focused on the experience of Southern rural black women. Even Goldberg herself was criticized when she defended Spielberg and the film. In an interview excerpted in Harper's, director Spike Lee questioned Goldberg's allegiances: "Does she realize what she is saying? Is she saying that a white person is the only person who can define our existence?… I hope people realize, that the media realize, that she's not a spokesperson for black people." Goldberg countered by defining for Matthew Modine in Interview the breadth of her social character: "What I am is a humanist before anything—before I'm a Jew, before I'm black, before I'm a woman. And my beliefs are for the human race—they don't exclude anyone."

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Despite the lukewarm response to the film as a whole, Goldberg's fortunes rose. In addition to her accolades for acting, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg, and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting. The increased recognition, and acceptance, allowed Goldberg to pursue social justice activities, often focusing on issues that affected her when she was poor and struggling with addiction.

Beginning in 1986, Goldberg hosted, along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. "People would like the United States to be what we're told it can be, without realizing that the price has gone up—the price, you know, of human dignity," she explained to Steve Erickson in Rolling Stone. "Homelessness in America is just disgusting. It's just disgusting that we could have this big, beautiful country and have families living in dumpsters. It makes no sense." Goldberg also campaigned persistently on behalf of environmental causes, the nation's hungry, AIDS and drug abuse awareness, and preserving women's right to choose to end pregnancy. She has been recognized with several humanitarian awards for her efforts.

While her public profile continued to rise, Goldberg's critical reception was not always glowing. She starred in a succession of critically assailed movies, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Clara's Heart, and Homer and Eddie. "On the strength of her past work as a stand-up comic, Goldberg deserves better," Lawrence O'Toole wrote in a review of Burglar for Maclean's. "If she keeps making thumb-twiddling movies like this one, she is unlikely to get it." And in a review of Clara's Heart for People, David Hiltbrand noted that ever since her debut film, Goldberg "has barely kept her head above water while her movies went under. After this, she'll need her own lifeboat."

Goldberg was vexed by gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. "In less than five years she went from Hollywood's golden girl to a rumored lesbian/Uncle Tom with a bad attitude and a career on the skids," Laura B. Randolph described in Ebony. "In Hollywood, that combination is almost always terminal, and insiders whispered that she should pack it in and be happy to do guest spots on the Hollywood Squares." Ironically, Goldberg would help resurrect Hollywood Squares years later.

Despite the wrath of critics, Goldberg persevered. "I've just stopped listening to them," she explained to Chutkow. "I've taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I don't care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job." While the movies bombed, Goldberg herself often managed to remain above the fray some of the time. The New York Times's Janet Maslin, reviewing Fatal Beauty, wrote what could be taken as an overall assessment of Goldberg's failed showings: "It isn't Miss Goldberg's fault, because Miss Goldberg is funny when she's given half a chance."

Ghost Revived Career

Goldberg's chance at redemption came in 1990 with the release of the film Ghost. "Thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff," Ansen proclaimed. Although not all critics fully embraced the film (the New Yorker's Terrance Rafferty called it a "twentysomething hybrid of It's a Wonderful Life and some of the gooier, more solemn episodes of The Twilight Zone"), popular response was overwhelmingly positive, especially to Goldberg's portrayal of the flamboyant and heroic psychic Oda Mae. It was a part for which she lobbied studio executives for more than six months, and her persistence paid off. Considered a sleeper when it was released, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor, the first being Hattie McDaniel, who won for Gone with the Wind in 1939.

Goldberg followed her performance in Ghost with a substantive dramatic role in The Long Walk Home, a poignant recreation of the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement. Goldberg portrayed Odessa Cotter, a housekeeper who, because of the boycott, is forced to walk almost ten miles to work on blistering or bleeding feet. Throughout the movie, Cotter maintains her composure and integrity. Chutkow quoted Richard Pearce, the director of the film, as saying, "What her portrayal of Odessa revealed about Whoopi was a complex inner life and intelligence. Her mouth is her usual weapon of choice—to disarm her of that easy weapon meant that she had to rely on other things. It's a real actress who can bring off a performance like that. And she did."

Goldberg also began appearing regularly on television during this period. Beginning in the 1988-89 season, she earned accolades for her recurring role as Guinon on the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. In 1992 Goldberg became host of her own talk show. Each episode of the Whoopi Goldberg Show was devoted entirely to just one guest. Goldberg interviewed actress Elizabeth Taylor on the show's debut, and subsequent programs featured such celebrities as heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield.

1992 marked the beginning of a series of successful film roles for Goldberg. She began the year portraying a homicide detective in director Robert Altman's acclaimed Hollywood satire The Player. In midyear Goldberg donned a nun's habit as a Reno lounge singer seeking refuge from the mob in a convent in the escapist comedy Sister Act, one of the biggest box-office draws of that summer. Sister Act, according to Judy Gerstel in the Detroit Free Press, worked "as summer whimsy mainly because of Goldberg's usual witty, lusty screen presence." And in the fall she turned again to drama, starring in Sarafina: The Movie, a film adaptation of the musical about a Black South African teenagers' struggle against apartheid. Sarafina was shot entirely on location in Soweto, South Africa.

Goldberg's constant quest for a range of roles—what led Maslin to label her "one of the great unclassifiable beings on the current movie scene"—is not the mark of a Hollywood prima donna but of an actor committed to her craft. "None of my films cure cancer," Goldberg explained to Chutkow. "But they have allowed me to not just play one kind of person, which is important to me. Nobody knows how long this stuff is gonna last, and you want to have it and enjoy as much of it and be as diverse as you can."

Roast Caused Conflict

Goldberg was the honoree at a Friars Club roast in 1993. Her then-boyfriend, Ted Danson, performed a racy skit in blackface that included the N-word and jokes about the couple's sexual lives. Many in attendance were outraged, and talk show host Montel Williams walked out during the performance. Many editorials were written concerning the affair, and the media was relentless in its coverage. Members of the National Political Congress of Black Women sent a letter, which was quoted in Jet, to the Friars Club, stating, "The use of the most vile, profane, deprecating language in describing African Americans in general and African-American women in particular is patently wrong." The couple split soon after.

In 1994 Goldberg married once again, to union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg, whom she met on the set of Corrina Corrina, a film in which she played a housekeeper who wins the heart of a widower and his child. The couple divorced a year later, after which Goldberg entered into a five-year relationship with actor Frank Langella, her co-star in Eddie. During the following years, Goldberg starred in a number of films that displayed her diverse acting abilities. In 1996 she starred in The Associate, a comedy in which Goldberg plays a brilliant financial analyst who is passed over for a promotion. For revenge, she dresses as a man and starts her own business. In Ghosts of Mississippi (1997) Goldberg played the widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers. For a short time, Goldberg strayed from Hollywood and returned to the stage, where she took over Nathan Lane's character in the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

For the remainder of the 1990s, Goldberg starred in and played small parts in several made-for-TV movies and films, guested on numerous television series, and her unique voice was used in several animated films. After ten years of staying put, Goldberg went on tour during the summer of 2001. Goldberg said, "I don't generally get out a lot because I'm going through the change."

Whoopi, a pioneer and somewhat of a maverick, broke more boundaries when she emceed the 66th Academy Awards in 1994. She was the first African American to host the award ceremony, and the first solo female to host the awards. That year, the Academy Awards was the highest rated show of the season. She was invited to host the Oscars again in 1996, 1999, and again in 2002. During this period Goldberg remained passionate about portraying real people and telling real stories. She established her own production company, One Ho Productions. The company helped bring back the popular game show Hollywood Squares with Tom Bergeron as host and Goldberg in the center square. In 2001 she bought the film rights to the book Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, which is based on the memoirs of Hans J. Massoqoui, the former managing editor of Ebony magazine. Goldberg said, "It's a story that needs to be told. People don't realize that during the course of the 30s and 40s in Germany, there were a lot of Black people trying to survive and not making it." According to Jet, this novel "marks the first time in literature that the experiences and ultimate survival of a Black youth growing up in Nazi Germany have been chronicled."

In 2003 Goldberg returned to regular television work when she launched in her own sitcom, the self-titled Whoopi. Intended to be a multicultural New York City sitcom to rival the less-than-diverse sitcoms Friends and Seinfeld, Goldberg led the cast as Mavis Rae, a hotel matron who was once a one-hit-wonder. Mavis Rae's conservative brother, his white girlfriend who acts black, and a Persian handyman agitated by being lumped together with Arabs rounded out the cast of characters. The show was designed to showcase social commentary mixed with comedy, and it tackled topics including gay marriage, racism, and terrorism. After receiving mixed reviews and losing many viewers by the end of its first season, NBC decided not to bring it back for a second year. Speaking with Liz Smith in an interview for Good Housekeeping, Goldberg said, "I really am disappointed. I thought we had a good show. But I'll find something else. Television is growing and stretching. There's a lot more flexibility than the movies in terms of what can be done. I do want to keep making films."

Returned to Broadway

Goldberg provided her voice to characters in four animated movies between 2003 and 2005. She also performed in the fantasy Jiminy Glick in La La Wood and returned to the stage with her one-woman The Spook Show. Featuring many of the same characters as the original one-woman show, the show was re-titled Whoopi Goldberg: Back to Broadway; the show brought Fontaine and other original Goldberg characters back to life, as well as introducing audiences to new creations like the middle-aged, overweight Lurlene who is obsessed with her body, and a fan of Law and Order so devoted he calls himself an Ordery. Though Goldberg's return to Broadway garnered mixed reviews, critics noted the success of some return characters, such as Fontaine, who is, according to Michael Kuchwara's review featured in America's Intelligence Wire, "the toughest—and funniest—social critic around." When asked by Mark Kennedy, also in America's Intelligence Wire, if she would be returning to the stage for a fortieth anniversary show in another twenty years, Goldberg moaned in response, "I'd have to keep doing Pilates all the way until then!" While she may have intended to keep up with Pilates, she would not be continuing her role as a pitchperson for Slim-Fast dieting products; she was dropped from the Slim-Fast campaign in 2004 after making a speech that was critical of the Bush administration.

Another of Goldberg's earlier works, her book Alice, was adapted for the stage by playwright Kim Hines for a production that inaugurated the new family theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. It ran from 2005 through early 2006. Also in 2006 Goldberg contributed the voice of Darlin' in Everyone's Hero, which was released by 20th Century Fox.

Goldberg also continued to work in television and radio. She entered negotiations with the Lifetime network to develop a game show, Shop Shop, which would feature competitive shopping. In addition, she launched a four-hour daily show for Clear Channel radio. Wake Up with Whoopi, which aired from 2006 to 2008, featured Goldberg discussing daily topics, taking calls from listeners, and hosting guests. In an article in Daily Variety, Timothy M. Gray and Steven Zeitchik wrote that in terms of an acting career, "radio was the final frontier." Goldberg commented, "A lot of people will read things into this, I guess, but I've always done as I pleased without worrying what others think."

Rumors of Goldberg's decline, however, were premature. In 2007 she joined the lineup of the popular television talk show The View as cohost and moderator, replacing Rosie O'Donnell. It did not take long for her to stir up controversy in her now role. On her very first day on the job, she created a furor by defending football star Michael Vick, who was in trouble for running a dog-fighting operation. The following month she propositioned the husband of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi on the air. None of these developments seemed to have an impact on Goldberg's career momentum. She was named to host the 2008 Tony Awards, where she once again proved that her star power is imposing enough to withstand all the rumor-mongering Hollywood reporters can throw at her.

Selected works

Books

Alice (for children), Bantam, 1992.

Book, New York, 1997.

Whoopi's Big Book of Manners, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2006.

Albums

Whoopi Goldberg, Geffen, 1985.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief, Rhino, 1986.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 2, Rhino, 1988.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 3, Rhino, 1989.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief '90, Rhino, 1990.

Sister Act Soundtrack, Hollywood Records, 1992.

Sister Act 2 Soundtrack, Hollywood Records, 1993.

Films

The Color Purple, 1985.

Jumpin' Jack Flash, 1986.

Burglar, 1987.

Fatal Beauty, 1987.

The Telephone, 1988.

Clara's Heart, 1988.

Homer and Eddie, 1989.

Ghost, 1990.

The Long Walk Home, 1990.

Soapdish, 1991.

The Player, 1992.

Sister Act, 1992.

Sarafina: The Movie, 1992.

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, 1993.

Boys on the Side, 1995.

Corrina, Corrina, 1994.

The Lion King (voice), 1994.

Eddie, 1996.

Ghosts of Mississippi, 1997.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998.

The Rugrats Movie, (voice), 1998.

Girl, Interrupted, 1999.

Kingdom Come, 2001.

Call Me Claus, 2001.

Monkeybone, 2001.

Rat Race, 2001.

Golden Dreams, 2001.

Star Trek: Nemesis, 2002.

Blizzard (voice), 2003.

Lion King 1.5 (voice), 2004.

Pinocchio 3000 (voice), 2004.

Jimmy Glick in La La Wood, 2004.

Racing Stripes (voice), 2005.

Doogal (voice), 2006.

Everyone's Hero (voice), 2006.

If I Had Known I Was a Genius, 2007.

Television

Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1988-93.

Hollywood Squares, 1998-2002.

The View, 2007—.

Theater

The Spook Show, Broadway production, 1984, recreated as Whoopi Goldberg: Back to Broadway, 2005.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Broadway production, 1997.

(Producer) Thoroughly Modern Millie, Broadway production, 2002.

Sources

Periodicals

America's Intelligence Wire, November 18, 2004; November 19, 2004.

Associated Press, June 14, 2008.

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1986.

Cosmopolitan, December 1988; March 1991; April 1992.

Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1992.

Ebony, March 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 1999, p. 36.

Essence, March 1985.

Good Housekeeping, September 2004.

Harper's, January 1987.

Interview, June 1992; October, 1999, p. 126.

Jet, April 24, 1989; August 13, 1990; April 22, 1991; January 13, 1992; June 1, 1992; November 1, 1993, p. 56; October 27, 1997, p. 64; April 23, 2001, p. 64; April 14, 2008, p. 56.

Maclean's, April 6, 1987.

Nation, February 1, 1986; December 10, 1990.

New Republic, January 27, 1986.

New Statesman, August 23, 1991.

Newsweek, March 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; October 20, 1986; July 16, 1990.

New York, December 12, 1988; April 2, 1990.

New Yorker, November 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; July 30, 1990.

New York Times, October 21, 1984; October 30, 1987; February 14, 1988; February 9, 1990; September 30, 2006.

Parade, November 1, 1992.

People, October 17, 1988; April 2, 1990.

Rolling Stone, May 8, 1986; August 9, 1990.

Time, December 17, 1990; June 1, 1992.

Variety, March 13, 2000, p. 51; December 10, 2000, p. 26; May 9, 2006, p. 1.

Vogue, January 1991.

Online

"Whoopi Goldberg Biography," biography.com, http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9314384 (accessed July 11, 2008).

"Whoopi Goldberg Joins ‘The View’," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/TV/08/01/view.whoopi/index.html?eref=rss_mostpopular, August 1, 2007 (accessed July 11, 2008).

—Rob Nagel, Christine Miner Minderovic,
and Bob Jacobson

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Goldberg, Whoopi 1955–

Whoopi Goldberg 1955

Comedienne, actress, social activist

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Ghost Revived Career

Roast Caused Conflict

Selected works

Sources

Whoopi Goldbergs life and career have followed similar circular journeys: both began with ingenuous hope then slipped dangerously toward extinction, only to be resurrected by a rediscovery of the dormant initial promise. Throughout her acting career, she has not forgotten the lessons she learned in her early, difficult life. There is, in a sense, no division between Whoopi Goldberg the actress and Whoopi Goldberg the person, as Paul Chutkow pointed out in Vogue: She seems much the same way she has often appeared on-screen: fresh, direct, exuberant, no cant, no cant. Goldbergs unpretentiousness and determination imbue her best characterizationsthey are direct and empathetic. She remained committed to her art. Simply, I love the idea of working, she admitted to Aldore Collier in Jet. You hone your craft that way. And she continued her committed to rectifying disparaging social conditions affecting the unfortunate, and to which she was once subjected. Her success was earned, and she offered no platitudes for its achievement, only a realistic vision: Take the best of what youre offered, she told Chutkow, and thats all you can do.

Born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City in 1955, Goldberg wanted to be a performer from the very beginning. My first coherent thought was probably, I want to be an actor, she recounted to Chutkow. I believe that. Thats just what I was born to do. She was acting in childrens plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight and throughout the rest of her childhood immersed herself in movies, sometimes watching three or four a day. I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital, Goldberg explained to Cosmopolitans Stephen Farber.

But by the time she reached high school, Goldberg had lost her desire and vision. It was the 1960s, and she was hooked on drugs. I took drugs because they were available to everyone in those times, she told Farber. As everyone evolved into LSD, so did I. It was the time of Woodstock, of be-ins and love-ins. Goldberg dropped out of high school and became lost in this culture, delving further into the world of drugs and ending up a junkie. Finally she sought help, cleaned herself up, and, in the process, married her drug counselor. A year later, Goldberg gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year afterward, she was divorced. She was not yet twenty years old.

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, pursuing her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and tried improvisational comedy with a company called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, Goldberg had to work as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a mortuary cosmetologist. She was also, for a few years, on welfare. During this period, she went by the name Whoopi Cushion, sometimes using the French pronunciation Kushon. After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg finally adopted a name from her familys history.

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

In a significant step, Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake

At a Glance

Born Caryn E. Johnson in November of 1955, in New York, NY; daughter of Emma Johnson (a nurse and teacher); married first husband, c. 1972 (divorced, c. 1974); married David Edward Claessen, September 1986 (divorced, 1988); married Lyle Trachtenberg 1994 (divorced 1995); children: (first marriage) Alexandrea Martin.

Career: Film, television, and theater actress and comedienne, 1985-; San Diego Repertory Theater and comedy group Spontaneous Combustion; worked as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and mortuary cosmetologist, 1974-late 1970s; member of the comedy troupe Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater; developed own one-woman show, late 1970s-85; host, The Whoopi Goldberg Show, 1992; Hollywood Squares, producer, talent; Co- host for Comic Relief benefits. Television appearances include: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bagdad Cafe, 1990. Guest television appearance: Moonlighting, among others; host, Academy Awards, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002.

Awards: Golden Globe Award for best actress in a dramatic role, Academy Award nomination for best actress, both for The Color Purple, 1985; Image Award, NAACP, 1985, 1990; Grammy Award for best comedy recording, for Whoopi Goldberg, 1985; Emmy Award nomination, for guest appearance on Moonlighting, 1986; Academy Award for best supporting actress, for Ghost, 1991,

Addresses: Office Gallin/Morey Associates, 8730 Sunset Blvd., Penthouse West, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Street Hawkeyes Theater, a comedie avant-garde troupe. With this group, Goldberg was able to realize her powerful acting and comedie abilities, developing a repertoire of 17 distinct personae in a one-woman show that she labeled The Spook Show. She performed the show on the West Coast, then toured the country and Europe in the early 1980s before landing in New York City.

Among her sketches were four ruefuland sometimes sublimecharacters: Fontaine, a profanity-spewing drug dealer with a Ph.D. in literature who travels to Europe looking for hashish, only to openly weep when he comes across Anne Franks secret hiding place; a shallow thirteen-yearold surfing Valley Girl who is left barren after a self-inflicted abortion with a coat hanger; a severely handicapped young woman who tells her prospective suitor who wants to go dancing, This is not a disco body; and a nine-yearold black girl who bathes in Clorox and covers her head with a white skirt, wistfully hoping to become white with long blonde hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.

Although Brendan Gill of the New Yorker decided Goldbergs sketches were diffuse and overlong and continuously at the mercy of her gaining a laugh at any cost, the majority of critical and popular reaction was positive. Cathleen McGuigan writing in Newsweek believed that Goldbergs ability to completely disappear into a role, rather than superficially impersonate comic types, allows her to take some surprising risks. And Enid Nemy, in a review of Goldbergs show for the New York Times, found the performers abilities extended beyond mere comic entertainment and that her creationsseemlessly woven with social commentarywalk a finely balanced line between satire and pathos, stand-up comedy and serious acting. These realistic and ranging performances also caught the attention of famed film director Mike Nichols. After seeing Goldbergs premiere performance in New York, Nichols offered to produce her show on Broadway in September of 1984.

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Another Hollywood figure entranced by Goldbergs sensitive performances was director Steven Spielberg, who at the time was casting for the film production of author Alice Walkers The Color Purple. Spielberg offered Goldberg the lead role of Celieher first film appearance. Goldberg told Audrey Edwards of Essence how badly she wanted to be a part, any part, of the film: I told [Alice Walker] that whenever there was an audition Id come. Id eat the dirt. Id play the dirt, Id be the dirt, because the part is perfect.

As Celie, the abused child, battered bride, and wounded woman liberated by Shugs kiss and the recognition of sisterhoods power, Whoopi Goldberg is for the most part lovable and believable, Andrew Kopkind wrote in a review of the movie for the Nation. She mugs a bit, pouts and postures too long in some scenes, and seems to disappear in others, but her great moments are exciting to behold. Newsweeks David Ansen concurred in assessing Goldbergs film debut: This is powerhouse acting, all the more so because the rage and the exhilaration are held in reserve. For this performance, Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

But the film itself failed to receive the praise bestowed on Goldberg. The movie is amorphous, Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker. Its a pastoral about the triumph of the human spirit, and it blurs on you. Much criticism was aimed at the selection of Spielberg, a white male, to direct a story that focused on the Southern rural black experience, has a decidedly matriarchal point-ofview, and offers cardboard representations of its male characters. Even Goldberg herself was criticized when she defended Spielberg and the film. In an interview excerpted in Harpers, director Spike Lee questioned Goldbergs allegiances: Does she realize what she is saying? Is she saying that a white person is the only person who can define our existence? I hope people realize, that the media realize, that shes not a spokesperson for black people. Goldberg countered by defining for Matthew Modine in Interview the breadth of her social character: What I am is a humanist before anythingbefore Im a Jew, before Im black, before Im a woman. And my beliefs are for the human racethey dont exclude anyone.

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Despite the lukewarm reception to the film as a whole, Goldbergs fortunes rose. In addition to her awards for her film portrayal, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting. The increased exposure, recognition, and acceptance allowed Goldberg to pursue social activities focusing on issues that affected her when she required public assistance and that she has tried to call attention to since her early stand-up routines.

Beginning in 1986, Goldberg hosted, along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. People would like the United States to be what were told it can be, without realizing that the price has gone upthe price, you know, of human dignity, she explained to Steve Erickson in Rolling Stone. Homelessness in America is just disgusting. Its just disgusting that we could have this big, beautiful country and have families living in dumpsters. It makes no sense. Her protests are not limited to this one social imbalance; Goldberg also campaigned on behalf of environmental causes, the nations hungry, AIDS and drug abuse awareness, and womens right to free choice. She has been recognized with several humanitarian awards for her efforts.

Increased exposure, though, did not translate into increased success for Goldberg, as she went on to star in a succession of critically assailed movies: Jumpin Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Claras Heart, and Homer and Eddie. It seemed that as soon as she had risen, she had fallen. On the strength of her past work as a stand-up comic, Goldberg deserves better, Lawrence OToole wrote in a review of Burglar for Macleans. If she keeps making thumb-twiddling movies like this one, she is unlikely to get it. And in a review of Claras Heart for People, David Hiltbrand noted that ever since her debut film, Goldberg has barely kept her head above water while her movies went under. After this, shell need her own lifeboat.

Goldberg was vexed by gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. In less than five years she went from Hollywoods golden girl to a rumored lesbian/Uncle Tom with a bad attitude and a career on the skids, Laura B. Randolph described in Ebony. In Hollywood, that combination is almost always terminal, and insiders whispered that she should pack it in and be happy to do guest spots on the Hollywood Squares. Ironically, Goldberg would resurrect Hollywood Squares years later.

Goldberg remained steady, though, disavowing critical displeasure. Ive just stopped listening to them, she explained to Chutkow. Ive taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I dont care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job. And that seems to be the tenuous thread that connects her box-office disappointments: her strong performance marred by poor direction or a poor final script. The New York Timess Janet Maslin, reviewing Fatal Beauty, wrote what could be taken as an overall assessment of Goldbergs failed showings: It isnt Miss Goldbergs fault, because Miss Goldberg is funny when shes given half a chance.

Ghost Revived Career

Goldberg seemed simply to need the right vehicle to transport to the audience her comic approach underscored by biting social and tender humanitarian elements. Her chance came with the 1990 film Ghost. Thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff, Ansen proclaimed. Although some critics didnt fully embrace the film (the New Yorkers Terranee Rafferty called it a twentysomething hybrid of Its a Wonderful Life and some of the gooier, more solemn episodes of The Twilight Zone), most critical and popular response was overwhelmingly positive especially to Goldbergs portrayal of the flamboyant yet heroic psychic, Oda Mae. It was a part for which she lobbied studio executives for more than six months, and her persistence paid off. Considered a sleeper when it was released, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. And Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor the first was Hattie McDaniel, who won for Gone with the Wind in 1939.

In a decisive indication of her acting range, Goldberg immediately followed her comedie role in Ghost with a substantive dramatic role in The Long Walk Home. The film is a poignant evocation of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955a pivotal event in the American civil rights movement. Goldberg portrays Odessa Cotter, a housekeeper who, because of the boycott, is forced to walk almost ten miles to work, regardless of blistering or bleeding feet. Throughout, the character maintains her composure and integrity. Chutkow quoted Richard Pearce, the director of the film, on Goldbergs successful characterization: What her portrayal of Odessa revealed about Whoopi was a complex inner life and intelligence. Her mouth is her usual weapon of choiceto disarm her of that easy weapon meant that she had to rely on other things. Its a real actress who can bring off a performance like that. And she did.

Goldberg also confirmed her far-reaching, unassailable talent in the arena of television. Beginning in the 198889 season, she earned accolades for appearing on a recurring basis as a crew member on the successful series Star Trek: The Next Generation. And while her 1990 stint in the series Bagdad Cafe was shortlived, Goldberg in 1992 secured the coveted position of late-night talk show host. The Whoopi Goldberg Show devoted each program to just one guest; Goldberg interviewed actress Elizabeth Taylor on the shows debut, and subsequent programs featured such celebrities as heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holy-field.

The year 1992 also brought a series of successful film roles to Goldberg. She began the year portraying a homicide detective in director Robert Altmans highly anticipated and subsequently acclaimed Hollywood satire The Player. In mid-year Goldberg donned a nuns habit as a Reno lounge singer seeking refuge from the mob in a convent in the escapist comedy Sister Act, one of the biggest box-office draws of the summer of 1992. The film, according to Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel, worked as summer whimsy mainly because of Goldbergs usual witty, lusty screen presence. And in the fall she turned again to a dramatic role, starring in Sarafina: The Movie, a film adaptation of the musical about Black South African teenagers struggle against apartheid. Sarafina was shot entirely on location in Soweto, South Africa.

Goldbergs constant quest for a range of roleswhat led Maslin to label her one of the great unclassifiable beings on the current movie sceneis not the mark of a Hollywood prima donna but of an actor committed to her craft. None of my films cure cancer, Goldberg explained to Chutkow. But they have allowed me to not just play one kind of person, which is important to me. Nobody knows how long this stuff is gonna last, and you want to have it and enjoy as much of it and be as diverse as you can.

Roast Caused Conflict

Goldberg was the honorée at a Friars Club roast in 1993. Her then-boyfriend, Ted Danson, performed a racy skit in blackface that included the N-word and jokes about the couples sexual lives. Many in attendance were outraged and talk show host, Montel Williams, walked out during the performance. Many editorials were written concerning the affair and the media was relentless in its coverage. Members of the National Political Congress of Black Women sent a letter, which was quoted in Jet, to the Friars Club, stating The use of the most vile, profane, deprecating language in describing African Americans in general and African-American women in particular is patently wrong. The couple split soon after.

In 1994 Goldberg married once again, to union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg, whom she met on the set of Corrina Corrina, a film in which she played a housekeeper who wins the heart of a widower and his child. The couple divorced a year later, after which Goldberg entered into a five-year relationship with actor, Frank Langella, who co-starred with her in Eddie. During the following years, Goldberg starred in a number of films that displayed her diverse acting abilities. In 1996 she starred in The Associate, a comedy where Goldberg plays a brilliant financial analyst who is passed over for a promotion. For revenge, she dresses as a man, and starts her own business. In Ghosts of Mississippi (1997) Goldberg played the widow of the slain Medger Evers. For a short time, Goldberg strayed from Hollywood and returned to the stage where she took over Nathan Lanes character in the play, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

For the remainder of the 1990s, Goldberg starred in and played small parts in several made-fortelevision movies and films, numerous television shows, and her characteristic voice was used for several characters in some animated films. She has also taken part in many tributes to other performers and movers and shakers in Hollywood. After ten years of staying put Goldberg went on tour during the summer of 2001. Goldberg said, AI dont generally get out a lot because Im going through the change.

Whoopi, a pioneer and somewhat of a maverick, broke more boundaries when she emceed the 66th Academy Awards, in 1994. She was the first African American to host the award ceremony, and the first solo female to host the awards. That year, The Academy Awards was the highest rated show of the season. She was invited to host the Academy Awards in 1996, 1999, and again in 2002. Goldberg remained passionate about portraying real people and telling real stories. She established her own production company, One Ho Productions. The company helped bring back the popular Hollywood Squares with Tom Bergeron as host and Goldberg in the center square. In 2001 she bought the film rights to the book, Destined To Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, which is based on the memoirs of Hans J. Massoqoui, who was the former managing editor of Ebony magazine. Goldberg said, Its a story that needs to be told. People dont realize that during the course of the 30s and 40s in Germany, there wee a lot of Black people trying to survive and not making it. According to Jet, this novel marks the first time in literature that the experiences and ultimate survival of a Black youth growing up in Nazi Germany have been chronicled.

Selected works

Books

Alice (for children), Bantam, 1992.

Albums

Whoopi Goldberg, Geffen, 1985.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief, Rhino, 1986.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 2, Rhino, 1988.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 3, Rhino, 1989.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 90, Rhino, 1990.

Films

The Color Purple, 1985.

Jumpirì Jack Flash, 1986.

Burglar, 1987.

Fatal Beauty, 1987.

The Telephone, 1988.

Claras Heart, 1988.

Homer and Eddie, 1989.

Ghost, 1990.

The Long Walk Home, 1990.

Soapdish, 1991.

The Player, 1992.

Sister Act, 1992.

Sarafina: The Movie, 1992.

Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, 1993.

Boys On The Side, 1995.

Corrina, Coruna, 1994.

Ghosts of Mississippi, 1997.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998.

The Rugrats Movie, (voice only), 1998.

Girl, Interrupted, 1999.

Kingdom Come, 2001.

Call Me Claus, (TNT Original), 2001.

Sources

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1986.

Cosmopolitan, December 1988; March 1991; April 1992.

Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1992.

Ebony, March 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 1999, p. 36.

Essence, March 1985.

Harpers, January 1987.

Interview, June 1992; October, 1999, p. 126.

Jet, April 24, 1989; August 13, 1990; April 22, 1991; January 13, 1992; June 1, 1992; November 1, 1993, p. 56; October 27, 1997, p. 64; April 23, 2001, p. 64.

Macleans, April 6, 1987.

Nation, February 1, 1986; December 10, 1990.

New Republic, January 27, 1986.

New Statesman, August 23, 1991.

Newsweek, March 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; October 20, 1986; July 16, 1990.

New York, December 12, 1988; April 2, 1990. New Yorker, November 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; July 30, 1990.

New York Times, October 21, 1984; October 30, 1987; February 14, 1988; February 9, 1990.

Parade, November 1, 1992.

People, October 17, 1988; April 2, 1990.

Rolling Stone, May 8, 1986; August 9, 1990.

Time, December 17, 1990; June 1, 1992.

Variety, March 13, 2000, p. 51; December 10, 2000, p. 26.

Vogue, January 1991.

Rob Nagel and Christine Miner Minderovic

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Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg has been called Hollywood's most uncategorizable star. The high-energy actress, who has appeared in such films as The Color Purple and Sister Act was the first African American to host the Academy Awards.

Whoopi Goldberg's life and career have followed similar circular journeys: both began with ingenuous hope then slipped dangerously toward extinction, only to be resurrected by a rediscovery of the dormant initial promise. Throughout her acting career, she has not forgotten the lessons she learned in her early, difficult life. There is, in a sense, no division between Goldberg the actress and Goldberg the person, as Paul Chutkow pointed out in Vogue: "She seems much the same way she has often appeared on-screen: fresh, direct, exuberant, no cant, no can't." Goldberg's unpretentiousness and determination imbue her best characterizations—they are direct and empathetic. She is committed to her art. "Simply, I love the idea of working," she admitted to Aldore Collier in Jet. "You hone your craft that way." And she is committed to rectifying disparaging social conditions affecting the unfortunate, and to which she was once subjected. Her success is earned, and she offers no platitudes for its achievement, only a realistic vision: "Take the best of what you're offered," she told Chutkow, "and that's all you can do."

Born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City in 1955, Goldberg wanted to be a performer from the very beginning. "My first coherent thought was probably, I want to be an actor," she recounted to Chutkow. "I believe that. That's just what I was born to do." She was acting in children's plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight and throughout the rest of her childhood immersed herself in movies, sometimes watching three or four a day. "I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital," Goldberg explained to Cosmopolitan's Stephen Farber.

But by the time she reached high school, Goldberg had lost her desire and vision. It was the 1960s, and she was hooked on drugs. "I took drugs because they were available to everyone in those times," she told Farber. "As everyone evolved into LSD, so did I. It was the time of Woodstock, of be-ins and love-ins." Goldberg dropped out of high school and became lost in this culture, delving further into the world of drugs and ending up a junkie. Finally she sought help, cleaned herself up, and, in the process, married her drug counselor. A year later, Goldberg gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year afterward, she was divorced. She was not yet twenty years old.

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, pursuing her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and tried improvisational comedy with a company called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, Goldberg had to work as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a mortuary cosmetologist. She was also, for a few years, on welfare. During this period, she went by the name "Whoopi Cushion," sometimes using the French pronunciation "Kushon." After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg finally adopted a name from her family's history.

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

In a significant step, Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, a comedic avant-garde troupe. With this group, Goldberg was able to realize her powerful acting and comedic abilities, developing a repertoire of 17 distinct personae in a one-woman show that she labeled The Spook Show. She performed the show on the West Coast, then toured the country and Europe in the early 1980s before landing in New York City.

Among her sketches were four rueful—and sometimes sublime—characters: Fontaine, a profanity-spewing drug dealer with a Ph.D. in literature who travels to Europe looking for hashish, only to openly weep when he comes across Anne Frank's secret hiding place; a shallow thirteen-year-old surfing Valley Girl who is left barren after a self-inflicted abortion with a coat hanger; a severely handicapped young woman who tells her prospective suitor who wants to go dancing, "This is not a disco body"; and a nine-year-old black girl who bathes in Clorox and covers her head with a white skirt, wistfully hoping to become white with long blonde hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.

Although Brendan Gill of the New Yorker decided Goldberg's sketches were "diffuse and overlong and continuously at the mercy of her gaining a laugh at any cost," the majority of critical and popular reaction was positive. Cathleen McGuigan writing in Newsweek believed that Goldberg's "ability to completely disappear into a role, rather than superficially impersonate comic types, allows her to take some surprising risks." And Enid Nemy, in a review of Goldberg's show for the New York Times, found the performer's abilities extended beyond mere comic entertainment and that her creations—seemlessly woven with social commentary—"walk a finely balanced line between satire and pathos, stand-up comedy and serious acting." These realistic and ranging performances also caught the attention of famed film director Mike Nichols (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate). After seeing Goldberg's premiere performance in New York, Nichols offered to produce her show on Broadway in September of 1984.

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Another Hollywood figure entranced by Goldberg's sensitive performances was director Steven Spielberg, who at the time was casting for the film production of author Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Spielberg offered Goldberg the lead role of Celie—her first film appearance. Goldberg told Audrey Edwards of Essence how badly she wanted to be a part, any part, of the film: "I told [Alice Walker] that whenever there was an audition I'd come. I'd eat the dirt. I'd play the dirt, I'd be the dirt, because the part is perfect."

"As Celie, the abused child, battered bride, and wounded woman liberated by Shug's kiss and the recognition of sisterhood's power, Whoopi Goldberg is for the most part lovable and believable," Andrew Kopkind wrote in a review of the movie for the Nation. "She mugs a bit, pouts and postures too long in some scenes, and seems to disappear in others, but her great moments are exciting to behold." Newsweek's David Ansen concurred in assessing Goldberg's film debut: "This is powerhouse acting, all the more so because the rage and the exhilaration are held in reserve." For this performance, Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

But the film itself failed to receive the praise bestowed on Goldberg. "The movie is amorphous," Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker. "It's a pastoral about the triumph of the human spirit, and it blurs on you." Much criticism was aimed at the selection of Spielberg, a white male, to direct a story that focuses on the Southern rural black experience, has a decidedly matriarchal point-of-view, and offers cardboard representations of its male characters. Even Goldberg herself was criticized when she defended Spielberg and the film. In an interview excerpted in Harper's, director Spike Lee questioned Goldberg's allegiances: "Does she realize what she is saying? Is she saying that a white person is the only person who can define our existence? … I hope people realize, that the media realize, that she's not a spokesperson for black people." Goldberg countered by defining for Matthew Modine in Interview the breadth of her social character: "What I am is a humanist before anything—before I'm a Jew, before I'm black, before I'm a woman. And my beliefs are for the human race—they don't exclude anyone."

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Despite the lukewarm reception to the film as a whole, Goldberg's fortunes rose. In addition to her awards for her film portrayal, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting. The increased exposure, recognition, and acceptance allowed Goldberg to pursue social activities focusing on issues that affected her when she required public assistance and that she has tried to call attention to since her early stand-up routines.

Beginning in 1986, Goldberg hosted, along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. "People would like the United States to be what we're told it can be, without realizing that the price has gone up—the price, you know, of human dignity," she explained to Steve Erickson in Rolling Stone. "Homelessness in America is just disgusting. It's just disgusting that we could have this big, beautiful country and have families living in dumpsters. It makes no sense." Goldberg appeared on Capitol Hill with Senator Edward Kennedy in a forum that opposed the proposed cuts in federal welfare. Jet reported her remarks in December 1995. She told the forum, "The welfare system works. I know it does because I'm here." Her protests are not limited to any one social imbalance; Goldberg also campaigns on behalf of environmental causes, the nation's hungry, AIDS and drug abuse awareness, and women's right to free choice. She has been recognized with several humanitarian awards for her efforts.

Increased exposure, though, did not translate into increased success for Goldberg, as she went on to star in a succession of critically assailed movies: Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Clara's Heart, and Homer and Eddie. It seemed that as soon as she had risen, she had fallen. "On the strength of her past work as a stand-up comic, Goldberg deserves better," Lawrence O'Toole wrote in a review of Burglar for Maclean's. "If she keeps making thumb-twiddling movies like this one, she is unlikely to get it." And in a review of Clara's Heart for People, David Hiltbrand noted that ever since her debut film, Goldberg "has barely kept her head above water while her movies went under. After this, she'll need her own lifeboat."

Goldberg was vexed by gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. "In less than five years she went from Hollywood's golden girl to a rumored lesbian/Uncle Tom with a bad attitude and a career on the skids," Laura B. Randolph described in Ebony. "In Hollywood, that combination is almost always terminal, and insiders whispered that she should pack it in and be happy to do guest spots on the Hollywood Squares."

Goldberg remained steady, though, disavowing critical displeasure. "I've just stopped listening to them," she explained to Chutkow. "I've taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I don't care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job." And that seems to be the tenuous thread that connects her box-office disappointments: her strong performance marred by poor direction or a poor final script. The New York Times's Janet Maslin, reviewing Fatal Beauty, wrote what could be taken as an overall assessment of Goldberg's failed showings: "It isn't Miss Goldberg's fault, because Miss Goldberg is funny when she's given half a chance."

Ghost Revived Career

Goldberg seemed simply to need the right vehicle to transport to the audience her comic approach underscored by biting social and tender humanitarian elements. Her chance came with the 1990 film Ghost. "Thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff," Ansen proclaimed. Although some critics didn't fully embrace the film (the New Yorker's Terrance Rafferty called it a "twenty something hybrid of It's a Wonderful Life and some of the gooier, more solemn episodes of The Twilight Zone"), most critical and popular response was overwhelmingly positive—especially to Goldberg's portrayal of the flamboyant yet heroic psychic, Oda Mae. It was a part for which she lobbied studio executives for more than six months, and her persistence paid off. Considered a sleeper when it was released, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. And Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor (the first was Hattie McDaniel, who won for Gone with the Wind in 1939).

In a decisive indication of her acting range, Goldberg immediately followed her comedic role in Ghost with a substantive dramatic role in The Long Walk Home. The film is a poignant evocation of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955—a pivotal event in the American civil rights movement. Goldberg portrays Odessa Cotter, a housekeeper who, because of the boycott, is forced to walk almost ten miles to work, regardless of blistering or bleeding feet. Throughout, the character maintains her composure and integrity. Chutkow quoted Richard Pearce, the director of the film, on Goldberg's successful characterization: "What her portrayal of Odessa revealed about Whoopi was a complex inner life and intelligence. Her mouth is her usual weapon of choice—to disarm her of that easy weapon meant that she had to rely on other things. It's a real actress who can bring off a performance like that. And she did."

Goldberg also confirmed her far-reaching, unassailable talent in the arena of television. Beginning in the 1988-89 season, she earned accolades for appearing on an irregular basis as a crew member on the successful series Star Trek: The Next Generation. And while her 1990 stint in the series Bagdad Cafe was short-lived, Goldberg in 1992 secured the coveted position of late-night talk show host. The Whoopi Goldberg Show devoted each program to just one guest; Goldberg interviewed actress Elizabeth Taylor on the show's debut, and subsequent programs featured such celebrities as heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. The show was canceled in 1993.

The year 1992 also brought a series of successful film roles to Goldberg. She began the year portraying a homicide detective in director Robert Altman's highly anticipated and subsequently acclaimed Hollywood satire The Player. In mid-year Goldberg donned a nun's habit as a Reno lounge singer seeking refuge from the mob in a convent in the escapist comedy Sister Act; one of the biggest box-office draws of the summer of 1992, the film, according to Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel, worked "as summer whimsy mainly because of Goldberg's usual witty, lusty screen presence." And in the fall she turned again to a dramatic role, starring in Sarafina: The Movie; a film adaptation of the musical about Black South African teenagers' struggle against apartheid, Sarafina was shot entirely on location in Soweto, South Africa.

Goldberg went on to appear in several more films including Made in America, Sister Act II (for which she was paid eight million dollars), Corrina, Corrina, and Boys on the Side. These films received mixed reviews, but as Janet Maslin stated in the New York Times in her review of Boys on the Side, "Ms. Goldberg, still reigning as Hollywood's most uncategorizable star, finally finds a role that suits her talents."

The Academy Awards

Goldberg took a break from acting to host the Academy Awards in 1994 and 1996. This took a great deal of courage considering she was the first African American and first female to host the event solo. The awards show is scrutinized by more than one billion people. In 1994, she had big shoes to fill because Billy Crystal had hosted the event for four years previously and the public was upset that he did not return. She performed to the critics' approval. Jet reported, "Critics and industry observers who had expressed wariness and reservation … hailed her for her tasteful comments, good jokes and ability to keep the three-hour show moving merrily along."

In 1996, the academy faced public protest by the Rev. Jesse Jackson for the lack of African American voters and nominees. The protest did not seem to bother Goldberg, who joked that she would wear Jackson's ribbon of protest, but she knew he was not watching. Maslin of the New York Times commented, "With Whoopi Goldberg as its quick-witted host, the show soon established an energetic tone and a refreshing impatience with Oscar traditions."

Love Life Makes Headlines

Goldberg has been linked with several of her movies costars: Timothy Dalton, Ted Danson, and most recently Frank Langella, her costar in a Disney release called Eddie. Her reported romance with Langella comes after a brief one-year marriage to Lyle Trachtenberg, a movie and television technicians' union organizer, whom she met on the set of Corinna, Corinna. A friend of Goldberg's admitted to People, "They've been mismatched from the beginning." Mismatched is a curious description, considering Goldberg once told Larry King, "Lyle's a real normal guy."

Her divorce happened quietly compared to what happened at the end of her romance with Ted Danson, whom she met on the set of Made in America. At a Friars Club Roast of Goldberg, Danson showed up tastelessly in black-face. His face appeared totally black with very large white lips. Danson roasted Goldberg by presenting a routine that included the word "nigger" several times, and included details of their sex life. Although many do not believe Danson is a racist, Jet commented, "Danson's routine stirred memories of days when white actor Al Jolson performed black caricature, which many found offensive." Many prominent African Americans expressed their disgust—Jackson, Spike Lee, and Montel Williams. At first, Goldberg defended Danson, claiming that she hired the makeup artist for Danson and wrote some of the jokes. However, Goldberg later told Jet magazine, "Well, we had already split up by then, but it ruined our friendship—it certainly did—which was sad. It was real painful, and it was very public. And the loss of this friendship hurts a great deal. We can never go and have a soda, anywhere." The incident drew so much attention that Goldberg probably wished the press would only report on her acting.

Goldberg's constant quest for a range of roles—what led Maslin to label her "one of the great unclassifiable beings on the current movie scene"—is not the mark of a Hollywood prima donna but of an actor committed to her craft. "None of my films cure cancer," Goldberg explained to Chutkow. "But they have allowed me to not just play one kind of person, which is important to me. Nobody knows how long this stuff is gonna last, and you want to have it and enjoy as much of it and be as diverse as you can."

In 1997, after appearing in the comedy film The Associate, Goldberg left Hollywood and returned to the theater, starring on Broadway in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The hit production of this 1963 musical classic is a vaudevillian spin on the classic Roman comedies of Plautus.

Further Reading

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1986.

Cosmopolitan, December 1988; March 1991; April 1992.

Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1992.

Ebony, March 1991.

Essence, March 1985.

Harper's, January 1987.

Interview, June 1992.

Jet, April 24, 1989; August 13, 1990; April 22, 1991; January 13, 1992; June 1, 1992.

Maclean's, April 6, 1987.

Nation, February 1, 1986; December 10, 1990.

New Republic, January 27, 1986.

New Statesman, August 23, 1991.

Newsweek, March 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; October 20, 1986; July 16, 1990.

New York, December 12, 1988; April 2, 1990.

New Yorker, November 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; July 30, 1990.

New York Times, October 21, 1984; October 30, 1987; February 14, 1988; February 9, 1990; March 7, 1997.

Parade, November 1, 1992.

People, October 17, 1988; April 2, 1990.

Rolling Stone, May 8, 1986; August 9, 1990.

Time, December 17, 1990; June 1, 1992.

Vogue, January 1991. □

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Goldberg, Whoopi 1955–

Whoopi Goldberg 1955

Comedienne, actress, social activist

At a Glance

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Ghost Revived Career

Selected writings

Selected discography

Sources

Whoopi Goldbergs life and career have followed similar circular journeys: both began with ingenuous hope then slipped dangerously toward extinction, only to be resurrected by a rediscovery of the dormant initial promise. Throughout her acting career, she has not forgotten the lessons she learned in her early, difficult life. There is, in a sense, no division between Whoopi Goldberg the actress and Whoopi Goldberg the person, as Paul Chutkow pointed out in Vogue: She seems much the same way she has often appeared on-screen: fresh, direct, exuberant, no cant, no cant. Goldbergs unpretentiousness and determination imbue her best characterizationsthey are direct and empathetic. She is committed to her art. Simply, I love the idea of working, she admitted to Aldore Collier in Jet. You hone your craft that way. And she is committed to rectifying disparaging social conditions affecting the unfortunate, and to which she was once subjected. Her success is earned, and she offers no platitudes for its achievement, only a realistic vision: Take the best of what youre offered, she told Chutkow, and thats all you can do.

Born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City in 1955, Goldberg wanted to be a performer from the very beginning. My first coherent thought was probably, I want to be an actor, she recounted to Chutkow. I believe that. Thats just what I was born to do. She was acting in childrens plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight and throughout the rest of her childhood immersed herself in movies, sometimes watching up to three or four in a single day. I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital, Goldberg explained to Cosmopolitans Stephen Farber.

But by the time she reached high school, Goldberg had lost her desire and vision. It was the 1960s, and she was hooked on drugs. I took drugs because they were available to everyone in those times, she told Farber. As everyone evolved into LSD, so did I. It was the time of Woodstock, of be-ins and love-ins. Goldberg dropped out of high school and became lost in this culture, delving further into the world of drugs and ending up a junkie. Finally she sought help, cleaned herself up, and, in the process, married her drug counselor. A year later, Goldberg gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year afterward, she was divorced. She was not yet twenty years old.

At a Glance

Born Caryn E. Johnson in November of 1955 in New York City; daughter of Emma Johnson (a nurse and teacher); married first husband (a drug counselor), c. 1972 (divorced, c. 1974); married David Edward Claessen (a cinematographer), September 1986 (divorced, 1988); children: (first marriage) Alexandrea Martin.

Film, television, and theater actress and comedienne, 1985. Member of San Diego Repertory Theater and comedy group Spontaneous Combustion, and worked as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and mortuary cosmetologist, 1974-late 1970s; member of the comedy troupe Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, later developing own one-woman show, late 1970s-85. Films include The Color Purple,1985, Jumpin Jack Flash,1986, Burglar,1987, Fatal Beauty,1987, The Telephone,1988, Claras Heart,1988, Homer and Eddie,1989, Ghost,1990, The Long Walk Home,1990, Soapdish,1991, The Player,1992, Sister Act,1992, and Sarafina: The Movie,1992. Host of The Whoopi Goldberg Show (talk show), 1992; has served as a cohost for Comic Relief benefits. Television appearances include roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation,1988, and Bagdad Cafe,1990. Guest television appearances on Moonlighting and Rock the Vote, among others.

Awards: Recipient of numerous honors, including Golden Globe Award for best actress in a dramatic role and Academy Award nomination for best actress, both 1985, for The Color Purple; Image Award, NAACP, 1985 and 1990; Grammy Award for best comedy recording, 1985, for Whoopi Goldberg; Emmy Award nomination, 1986, for guest appearance on Moonlighting; Academy Award for best supporting actress, 1991, for Ghost.

Addresses: HomeMalibu, CA. Office Gallin/Morey Associates, 8730 Sunset Blvd., Penthouse West, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, pursuing her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and tried improvisational comedy with a company called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, Goldberg had to work as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a mortuary cosmetologist. She was also, for a few years, on welfare. During this period, she went by the name Whoopi Cushion, sometimes using the French pronunciation Kushon. After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg finally adopted a name from her familys history.

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

In a significant step, Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, a comedic avant-garde troupe. With this group, Goldberg was able to realize her powerful acting and comedic abilities, developing a repertoire of 17 distinct personae in a one-woman show that she labeled The Spook Show.She performed the show on the West Coast, then toured the country and Europe in the early 1980s before landing in New York City.

Among her sketches were four ruefuland sometimes sublimecharacters: Fontaine, a profanity-spewing drug dealer with a Ph.D. in literature who travels to Europe looking for hashish, only to openly weep when he comes across Anne Franks secret hiding place; a shallow thirteen-year-old surfing Valley Girl who is left barren after a self-inflicted abortion with a coat hanger; a severely handicapped young woman who tells her prospective suitor who wants to go dancing, This is not a disco body; and a nine-year-old black girl who bathes in Clorox and covers her head with a white skirt, wistfully hoping to become white with long blonde hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.

Although Brendan Gill of the New Yorker decided Goldbergs sketches were diffuse and overlong and continuously at the mercy of her gaining a laugh at any cost, the majority of critical and popular reaction was positive. Cathleen McGuigan writing in Newsweek believed that Goldbergs ability to completely disappear into a role, rather than superficially impersonate comic types, allows her to take some surprising risks. And Enid Nemy, in a review of Goldbergs show for the New York Times, found the performers abilities extended beyond mere comic entertainment and that her creationsseemlessly woven with social commentary walk a finely balanced line between satire and pathos, stand-up comedy and serious acting. These realistic and ranging performances also caught the attention of famed film director Mike Nichols (Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate).After seeing Goldbergs premiere performance in New York, Nichols offered to produce her show on Broadway in September of 1984.

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Another Hollywood figure entranced by Goldbergs sensitive performances was director Steven Spielberg, who at the time was casting for the film production of author Alice Walkers The Color Purple.Spielberg offered Goldberg the lead role of Celieher first film appearance. Goldberg told Audrey Edwards of Essence how badly she wanted to be a part, any part, of the film: I told [Alice Walker] that whenever there was an audition Id come. Id eat the dirt. Id play the dirt, Id be the dirt, because the part is perfect.

As Celie, the abused child, battered bride, and wounded woman liberated by Shugs kiss and the recognition of sisterhoods power, Whoopi Goldberg is for the most part lovable and believable, Andrew Kopkind wrote in a review of the movie for the Nation.She mugs a bit, pouts and postures too long in some scenes, and seems to disappear in others, but her great moments are exciting to behold. Newsweeks David Ansen concurred in assessing Goldbergs film debut: This is powerhouse acting, all the more so because the rage and the exhilaration are held in reserve. For this performance, Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

But the film itself failed to receive the praise bestowed on Goldberg. The movie is amorphous, Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker. Its a pastoral about the triumph of the human spirit, and it blurs on you. Much criticism was aimed at the selection of Spielberg, a white male, to direct a story that focuses on the Southern rural black experience, has a decidedly matriarchal point-of-view, and offers cardboard representations of its male characters. Even Goldberg herself was criticized when she defended Spielberg and the film. In an interview excerpted in Harpers, director Spike Lee questioned Goldbergs allegiances: Does she realize what she is saying? Is she saying that a white person is the only person who can define our existence?... I hope people realize, that the media realize, that shes not a spokesperson for black people. Goldberg countered by defining for Matthew Modine in Interview the breadth of her social character: What I am is a humanist before anythingbefore Im a Jew, before Im black, before Im a woman. And my beliefs are for the human racethey dont exclude anyone.

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Despite the lukewarm reception to the film as a whole, Goldbergs fortunes rose. In addition to her awards for her film portrayal, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting.The increased exposure, recognition, and acceptance allowed Goldberg to pursue social activities focusing on issues that affected her when she required public assistance and that she has tried to call attention to since her early stand-up routines.

Beginning in 1986, Goldberg hosted, along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. People would like the United States to be what were told it can be, without realizing that the price has gone upthe price, you know, of human dignity, she explained to Steve Erickson in Rolling Stone. Homelessness in America is just disgusting. Its just disgusting that we could have this big, beautiful country and have families living in dumpsters. It makes no sense. Her protests are not limited to this one social imbalance; Goldberg also campaigns on behalf of environmental causes, the nations hungry, AIDS and drug abuse awareness, and womens right to free choice. She has been recognized with several humanitarian awards for her efforts.

Increased exposure, though, did not translate into increased success for Goldberg, as she went on to star in a succession of critically assailed movies: Jumpin Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Claras Heart, and Homer and Eddie. It seemed that as soon as she had risen, she had fallen. On the strength of her past work as a stand-up comic, Goldberg deserves better, Lawrence OToole wrote in a review of Burglar for Macleans. If she keeps making thumb-twiddling movies like this one, she is unlikely to get it. And in a review of Claras Heart for People, David Hiltbrand noted that ever since her debut film, Goldberg has barely kept her head above water while her movies went under. After this, shell need her own lifeboat.

Goldberg was vexed by gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. In less than five years she went from Hollywoods golden girl to a rumored lesbian/Uncle Tom with a bad attitude and a career on the skids, Laura B. Randolph described in Ebony. In Hollywood, that combination is almost always terminal, and insiders whispered that she should pack it in and be happy to do guest spots on the Hollywood Squares.

Goldberg remained steady, though, disavowing critical displeasure. Ive just stopped listening to them, she explained to Chutkow. Ive taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I dont care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job. And that seems to be the tenuous thread that connects her box-office disappointments: her strong performance marred by poor direction or a poor final script. The New York Timess Janet Maslin, reviewing Fatal Beauty, wrote what could be taken as an overall assessment of Goldbergs failed showings: It isnt Miss Goldbergs fault, because Miss Goldberg is funny when shes given half a chance.

Ghost Revived Career

Goldberg seemed simply to need a cinematic vehicle that would blend her comic approach with both biting social and tender humanitarian elements. Her chance came with the 1990 film Ghost. Thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff, Ansen proclaimed. Although some critics didnt fully embrace the filmthe New Yorkers Terrance Rafferty called it a twentysomething hybrid of Its a Wonderful Life and some of the gooier, more solemn episodes of The Twilight Zone most critical and popular response was overwhelmingly positive, especially to Goldbergs portrayal of the flamboyant yet heroic psychic, Oda Mae. It was a part for which she lobbied studio executives for more than six months, and her persistence paid off. Considered a sleeper when it was released, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. And Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor. (The first was Hattie McDaniel, who won for Gone with the Wind in 1939.)

In a decisive indication of her acting range, Goldberg immediately followed her comedie role in Ghost with a substantive dramatic role in The Long Walk Home. The film is a poignant evocation of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955a pivotal event in the American civil rights movement. Goldberg portrays Odessa Cotter, a housekeeper who, because of the boycott, is forced to walk almost ten miles to work, regardless of blistering or bleeding feet. Throughout, the character maintains her composure and integrity. Chutkow quoted Richard Pearce, the director of the film, on Goldbergs successful characterization: What her portrayal of Odessa revealed about Whoopi was a complex inner life and intelligence. Her mouth is her usual weapon of choiceto disarm her of that easy weapon meant that she had to rely on other things. Its a real actress who can bring off a performance like that. And she did.

Goldberg also confirmed her far-reaching, unassailable talent in the arena of television. Beginning in the 1988-89 season, she earned accolades for appearing on an irregular basis as a crew member on the successful series Star Trek: The Next Generation.And while her 1990 stint in the series Bagdad Cafe was short-lived, Goldberg in 1992 secured the coveted position of late-night talk show host. The Whoopi Goldberg Show devotes each program to just one guest; Goldberg interviewed actress Elizabeth Taylor on the shows debut, and subsequent programs have featured such celebrities as heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield.

The year 1992 also brought a series of successful film roles to Goldberg. She began the year portraying a homicide detective in director Robert Altmans highly anticipated and subsequently acclaimed Hollywood satire The Player.In mid-year Goldberg donned a nuns habit as a Reno lounge singer seeking refuge from the mob in a convent in the escapist comedy Sister Act; one of the biggest box-office draws of the summer of 1992, the film, according to Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel, worked as summer whimsy mainly because of Goldbergs usual witty, lusty screen presence. And in the fall she turned again to a dramatic role, starring in Sarafina: The Movie; a film adaptation of the musical about Black South African teenagers struggle against apartheid, Sarafina was shot entirely on location in Soweto, South Africa.

Goldbergs constant quest for a range of roleswhat led Maslin to label her one of the great unclassifiable beings on the current movie sceneis not the mark of a Hollywood prima donna but of an actor committed to her craft. None of my films cure cancer, Goldberg explained to Chutkow. But they have allowed me to not just play one kind of person, which is important to me. Nobody knows how long this stuff is gonna last, and you want to have it and enjoy as much of it and be as diverse as you can.

Selected writings

Alice (for children), Bantam, 1992.

Selected discography

Whoopi Goldberg, Geffen, 1985.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief, Rhino, 1986.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 2, Rhino, 1988.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 3, Rhino, 1989.

(With others) The Best of Comic Relief 90, Rhino, 1990.

Sources

Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1986.

Cosmopolitan, December 1988; March 1991; April 1992.

Detroit Free Press, May 29, 1992.

Ebony, March 1991.

Essence, March 1985.

Harpers, January 1987.

Interview, June 1992.

Jet, April 24, 1989; August 13, 1990; April 22, 1991; January 13, 1992; June 1, 1992.

Macleans, April 6, 1987.

Nation, February 1, 1986; December 10, 1990.

New Republic, January 27, 1986.

New Statesman, August 23, 1991.

Newsweek, March 5, 1984; December 30,1985; October 20, 1986; July 16, 1990.

New York, December 12, 1988; April 2, 1990.

New Yorker, November 5, 1984; December 30, 1985; July 30, 1990.

New York Times, October 21, 1984; October 30, 1987; February 14, 1988; February 9, 1990.Parade, November 1, 1992.

People, October 17, 1988; April 2, 1990.

Rolling Stone, May 8, 1986; August 9, 1990.

Time, December 17, 1990; June 1, 1992.

Vogue, January 1991.

Rob Nagel

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Goldberg, Whoopi

GOLDBERG, Whoopi



Nationality: American. Born: Caryn Johnson in New York City, 13 November 1949 (some sources say 1955). Education: Attended the New York School for Performing Arts. Family: Married 1) (divorced 1974), one daughter: Alexandra; 2) David Claessen, 1986 (divorced 1988); 3) Lyle Trachtenberg, 1994 (separated). Career: 1974—moved to California; worked as mortuary beautician; worked in repertory theater with Blake Street Hawkeyes, Berkeley; also co-founder, San Diego Repertory Company, and member, Spontaneous Combustion improvisational group; 1983—The Spook Show, one-woman show off-Broadway, seen by Mike Nichols, led to Broadway run, 1984, and film debut in The Color Purple, 1985; 1990—in TV series Bagdad Cafe; 1988–93—occasional appearances in TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation; 1992–93—host of TV talk show The Whoopi Goldberg Show; profiled on Inside the Actors Studio (Bravo), 1994; 1994 and 1996—host of the Academy Awards; appeared as "center square" on Hollywood Squares, 1998. Awards:


Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, for Ghost, 1990. Address: c/o CAA, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.


Films as Actress:

1985

The Color Purple (Spielberg) (as Celie)

1986

Jumpin' Jack Flash (Penny Marshall) (as Terry Doolittle)

1987

Burglar (Wilson) (as Bernice Rhodenbarr); The Telephone (Torn) (as Vashti Blue); Scared Straight: 10 Years Later (doc) (as host)

1988

Fatal Beauty (Holland) (as Rita Rizzoli); Clara's Heart (Mulligan) (as Clara Mayfield)

1989

Homer and Eddie (Konchalovsky) (as Eddie Cervi); Beverly Hills Brats (Sotos); The Long Walk Home (Pearce) (as Odessa Cotter); Kiss Shot (London)

1990

Ghost (Zucker) (as Oda Mae Brown)

1991

Soapdish (Hoffman) (as Rose Schwartz); House Party 2 (Jackson) (as Professor)

1992

Wisecracks (Singer—doc); Sister Act (Ardolino) (as Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence); Sarafina! (Roodt) (as Mary Masembuko); The Player (Altman) (as Detective Avery); The Magical World of Chuck Jones (Daugherty)

1993

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Duke) (as Deloris Van Cartier/ Sister Mary Clarence); National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 (Quintano) (as Sergeant York); Made in America (Benjamin) (as Sarah Matthews)

1994

The Lion King (Minkoff) (as voice of Shenzi the Hyena); Naked in New York (Algrant) (as Tragedy Mask); Liberation (Schwartzman—doc) (as narrator); The Pagemaster (Hunt and Johnston) (as Fantasy); Corrina, Corrina (Jessie Nelson) (title role); The Little Rascals (Spheeris) (as Buckwheat's mom); The Celluloid Closet (Epstein and Friedman—doc) (as interviewee); Star Trek: Generations (David Carson) (as Guinan)

1995

Moonlight and Valentino (Anspaugh) (as Sylvie Morrow); Boys on the Side (Herbert Ross) (as Jane DeLuca); T. Rex (Betuel) (as Kate)

1996

The Associate (Petrie); Bogus (Jewison); Eddie (Rash) (as Edwine "Eddie" Franklin)

1997

In & Out (Oz) (as Herself); An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (Hiller, Smithee) (as Herself); In the Gloaming (Reeve—for TV) (as Myrna); Destination Anywhere (Pellington) (as Cabbie); Cinderella (Iscove—for TV) (as Queen Constantina)

1998

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (Kevin Rodney Sullivan) (as Delilah); Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (Kowalchuk) (as Stormella); A Knight in Camelot (Young—for TV) (as Vivien Morgan); The Rugrats Movie (Kovalyov, Virgien) (as Ranger Margaret)

1999

Girl, Interrupted (Mangold) (as Nurse Valerie); Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as herself); Alice in Wonderland (Willing—for TV) (Cheshire Cat); The Deep End of the Ocean (Grosbard) (as Candy Bliss); Jackie's Back (Townsend) (as Nurse Ethyl Washington Rue Owens); Leprechauns (Henderson—for TV) (as The Grand Banshee); Our Friend Martin (Smiley and Trippetti) (as Mrs. Peck)

Publications


By GOLDBERG: book—

Alice (for children), with John Rocco, New York, 1992.

Book, New York, 1997.


By GOLDBERG: articles—

Interview in Inter/View (New York), December 1984.

Interview in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1985.

Interview with Matthew Modine, in Interview (New York), June 1992.

Interview with Rod Lurie, in Los Angeles Times Magazine, May 1993.

Interview with R. Maxwell, in Radio Times (London), 7 August 1993.


On GOLDBERG: book—

Adams, Mary Agnes, Whoopi Goldberg: From Street to Stardom, New York, 1993.

Blue, Rose, Whoopi Goldberg; Entertainer, Broomall, 1995.

Katz, Sandor, Whoopi Goldberg, Broomall, 1996.

DeBoer, Andy, Whoopi Goldberg, Mankato, 1998.

Parish, James Robert, Whoopi Goldberg: Her Journey from Poverty to Mega-Stardom, Sommerville, 1999.

Caper, William, Whoopi Goldberg; Comedian & Movie Star, Berkeley Heights, 1999.

Gaines, Ann G., Whoopi Goldberg; Comedian/Performer, Broomall, 1999.


On GOLDBERG: articles—

Current Biography 1985, New York, 1985.

Erickson, Steve, "Whoopi Goldberg," in Rolling Stone (New York), 8 May 1986.

Stone, Laurie, "Goldberg Variations," in Village Voice (New York), 17 January 1989.

Randolph, L. B., "The Whoopi Goldberg Nobody Knows," in Ebony (Chicago), March 1991.

Dillon, Cathy, "Whooping It Up," in The Voice (London), 9 April 1991.

Skow, John, and P. E. Cole, "The Joy of Being Whoopi," in Time (New York), 21 September 1992.

Tibbetts, John C., "Many Bridges to Cross: a Fable About Whoopi," in Films in Review (Denville), November-December 1995.

Stars (Mariembourg), Summer 1996.

Premier (Boulder), July 1996.

Horst, Sabine, "Eine ganz normale Heldin," in EPD Film (Frankfurt/Main), August 1997.


* * *

Whoopi Goldberg is a spunky, likable African-American character actress/comedienne whose many talents have transcended the industry's initially sorely underutilizing her.

Her debut performance in The Color Purple was proof of Goldberg's celluloid abilities. Based on Alice Walker's acclaimed novel, the film is a stirring ode to African-American sisterhood which was controversial for its depiction of black males as inept, womanizing brutes and its many Academy Award nominations (including one for Goldberg, but excluding one for director Steven Spielberg) without earning a single statue. Goldberg offers a sensitive performance as the passive, much-abused Celie, a deceptively simple, multifaceted character who is "black . . . poor . . . ugly . . . (and) a woman (which means that she's) nothing at all." It is a difficult role, which Goldberg pulls off with the aplomb of a screen veteran.

After this promising debut, Goldberg found herself wasted in a series of uniformly dreadful features: Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, Clara's Heart, The Telephone, and Homer and Eddie. In each, her performance borders on self-caricature, with her character either being poorly defined or an overbearing know-it-all.

Goldberg's screen career was headed for oblivion when it was salvaged by her Oscar-winning turn in Ghost, the surprise smash of 1990. Nevertheless, her character—Oda Mae Brown, a storefront medium who conveys messages from a recently deceased Manhattanite (Patrick Swayze) to his grieving widow (Demi Moore)—is a throwback to an ill-informed earlier era. Oda Mae is little more than a slimmed-down Hattie McDaniel: a sassy, bossy contemporary mammy whose role within the scenario is dependent upon those of the hero and heroine. She is an African-American stereotype, an unenlightened picture of a black woman for white moviegoers.

Fortunately for Goldberg, her success in Ghost did not lead to her being forever cast as a comical caricature. First she offered a solid performance in The Long Walk Home as a domestic in the American South in the 1950s; she later was to play a not-dissimilar role in Corrina, Corrina. After a fine turn as a police detective in Robert Altman's The Player—she was one of the few stars who appeared in the film playing a character, rather than in a cameo—Goldberg was perfectly cast in the smash-hit comedy Sister Act as an on-the-lam lounge singer who hides in a convent after witnessing a murder. The film was so successful that it inspired a sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, and Goldberg has since had her pick of projects. The most impressive of these are: The Lion King, in which she is the voice of Shenzi, and the female buddy movies Boys on the Side and Moonlight and Valentino. The latter films serve in marked contrast to Ghost in that her characters—Jane in Boys on the Side and Sylvie Morrow in Moonlight and Valentino—are central to, rather than satellites of, the dramatic action, equal to, not subordinates of, her co-stars. Furthermore, they have come full circle from Celie in that they are anything but physically and psychologically beaten down by men; Jane and Sylvie are fully independent, modern, and contemporary—and Jane even is a lesbian.

Offscreen, Goldberg has found herself at the center of controversy. Her recipe for "Jewish American Princess Fried Chicken," published in a book titled Cooking in Litchfield Hills, offers instructions to "send a chauffeur to your favorite butcher shop for the chicken," "watch your nails" while shaking the chicken in a brown paper bag, and "have cook prepare rest of meal while you touch up your makeup." During her brief romance with Ted Danson, which began when they co-starred in Made in America, he showed up at a Friar's Club function in blackface and delivered an epithet-laden monologue intended, as he explained, "to amuse my dear friend Whoopi." Yet, observed an attendee, "Whoopi was the only one laughing."

But Goldberg has emerged unscathed. Furthermore, while a full-fledged movie star, she is not averse to appearing on the small screen. She has been a regular on the television series Bagdad Cafe and Star Trek: The Next Generation, appeared on numerous musical and comedy specials, and even hosted her own syndicated talk show.

—Rob Edelman

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Goldberg, Whoopi

Whoopi Goldberg

Born: November 13, 1955
New York, New York

African American actress and comedian

The high-energy actress Whoopi Goldberg has appeared in such films as The Color Purple, Ghost, and Sister Act. She became the first African American woman to host the Academy Awards and only the second African American woman to actually win one.

Early years

Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City around 1955 (some reports say 1949 or 1950), the first of Emma Johnson's two children. Her father abandoned the family, and Goldberg's mother worked at several different jobs, including as a nurse and teacher. Goldberg began acting in children's plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight and spent much of her free time watching movies, sometimes three or four a day. "I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital," Goldberg explained to Cosmopolitan 's Stephen Farber.

During the 1960s Goldberg dropped out of high school and became addicted to drugs. Finally she sought help, cleaned herself up, and, in the process, married her drug counselor. A year later Goldberg gave birth to a daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year after that, she was divorced. During this time she worked as a summer camp counselor and as a member of the choruses of Broadway shows such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.

New start in California

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, pursuing her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and worked with a comedy group called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, she had to work as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a funeral home assistant. She was also on welfare for a few years. During this period she went by the name "Whoopi Cushion," sometimes pronouncing her name "ku-SHON" as if it were French. After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg changed it.

Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, a comedy troupe. This helped her develop powerful acting and comedic abilities and led to the creation of seventeen different characters for a one-woman show that she called The Spook Show. She performed the show first on the West Coast, then toured the rest of the country and Europe in the early 1980s before ending up in New York City. These performances caught the attention of film director Mike Nichols (1931), who offered to produce her show on Broadway in September 1984. In 1985 director Steven Spielberg (1946) offered Goldberg the lead role in The Color Purple, her first film appearance. Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and was nominated (her name was put forward for consideration) for an Academy Award for her performance.

Social work

Goldberg's fortunes continued to rise. In addition to her film awards, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting. The increased exposure, recognition, and acceptance allowed Goldberg to pursue social activities, focusing on issues that affected her when she required public assistance, which she has tried to call attention to since her early days in show business.

Beginning in 1986, along with Billy Crystal (1947) and Robin Williams (1952), Goldberg hosted the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. Goldberg also appeared before Congress to oppose proposed cuts in federal welfare, in addition to speaking out on behalf of environmental causes, the nation's hungry, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS; a disease that attacks the immune system), drug abuse awareness, and women's right to free choice. She has been recognized with several awards for her efforts.

This increased exposure, though, did not lead to increased success for Goldberg, as she went on to star in a series of poorly received movies, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Clara's Heart, and Homer and Eddie. It seemed that as quickly as she had risen, she had fallen. Goldberg became the subject of gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. She remained steady, though, ignoring bad reviews and criticism. "I've just stopped listening to them," she told Paul Chutkow in Vogue. "I've taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I don't care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job."

Ghost revives career

Goldberg needed to find the right film to highlight her comic approach in combination with social and humanitarian (promoting human welfare) elements. Her chance came with the 1990 film Ghost. Although not all critics liked the film, most critical and popular response was positive, especially regarding Goldberg's performance as the flashy but heroic psychic, Oda Mae. She had spent six months persuading studio executives that she was perfect for the part, and her hard work paid off: Ghost made more money than any other film released in 1990. In addition, Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor.

Goldberg's next role was in a drama, The Long Walk Home. She also continued her television work. Beginning in the 1988 and 1989 season, she appeared off and on as a crew member on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in 1992 she hosted her own talk show. In 1992 alone Goldberg appeared in three films: director Robert Altman's (1925) The Player; the comedy Sister Act, one of the biggest box-office hits of the summer; and Sarafina: The Movie, a film version of the musical about black South African teenagers' struggle against apartheid (South Africa's policy of keeping the races separate). Goldberg also appeared in Made in America, Sister Act II (for which she was paid eight million dollars), Corrina, Corrina, and Boys on the Side.

Academy Awards

Goldberg took a break from acting to host the Academy Awards in 1994 and 1996, becoming the first African American and first female to host the event solo. More than one billion people worldwide saw the awards show and critics praised her performance. In 1996 the academy faced public protest by the Reverend Jesse Jackson (1941) regarding the lack of African American voters and award nominees. Goldberg joked that she would have worn Jackson's ribbon of protest, but she knew he was not watching.

In 1997, after appearing in a comedy called The Associate, Goldberg left Hollywood and returned to theater, starring on Broadway in a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. She continued to appear in films, including The Deep End of the Ocean and Girl, Interrupted, both in 1999, and on television on the game show Hollywood Squares. She hosted the Academy Awards again in 1999 and 2002. In 2001 she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

For More Information

Caper, William. Whoopi Goldberg: Comedian and Movie Star. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1999.

Gaines, Ann Graham. Whoopi Goldberg. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.

Katz, Sandy. Whoopi Goldberg. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.

Parish, James Robert. Whoopi Goldberg: Her Journey from Poverty to Megastardom. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1997.

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