Goldberg, Whoopi 1955-
Goldberg, Whoopi 1955-
(Caryn Johnson, Caryn E. Johnson, Caryn Elaine Johnson)
PERSONAL: Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, November 13, 1955, in New York, NY; daughter of Emma (a nurse and teacher) Johnson; married Alvin Martin, 1973 (divorced, 1979); married David Edward Claessen (a cinematographer), September, 1986 (divorced, 1988); married Lyle Trachtenberg (a labor organizer), c. 1994 (divorced, c. 1995); children: (first marriage) Alexandrea.
CAREER: Actress, comedienne, writer, producer. Worked variously as a bank teller, bricklayer, and mortuary cosmetologist, 1970s. Advocate of and fundraiser for charities, including Comic Relief; spokesperson for Slim-Fast, 2004. Founder/owner of Whoop Inc. and One Ho Productions.
Actress or voice in films, including Citizen, 1982; The Color Purple, Warner Bros., 1985; Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Twentieth Century-Fox/Lawrence Gordon/Silver Pictures, 1986; Fatal Beauty, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1987; Burglar, Warner Bros., 1987; The Telephone, 1988; Clara’s Heart, Warner Bros., 1988; Beverly Hills Brats, 1989; Homer & Eddie, Kings Road, 1989; The Long Walk Home, New Visions, 1990; Ghost, Paramount, 1990; Blackbird Fly, 1991; House Party 2, 1991; Soapdish, Paramount, 1991; Sarafina!, Hollywood Pictures, 1992; The Magical World of Chuck Jones, 1992; The Player, Guild/Spelling Entertainment/Avenue, 1992; Sister Act, Touchstone, 1992; Loaded Weapon 1 (also known as National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1), Three Arts Entertainment/New Line Cinema, 1993; Made in America, Warner Bros., 1993; Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Touchstone, 1993; The Lion King, Disney, 1994; Liberation, 1994; Naked in New York, 1994; Corrina Corrina, New Line Cinema, 1994; Star Trek: Generations, Paramount, 1994; The Pagemaster, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1994; The Little Rascals, Universal/Amblin, 1994; The Celluloid Closet, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment/Sony/Telling, 1995; Boys on the Side, Warner Bros., 1995; Moonlight and Valentino, Gramercy/Working Title/Polygram, 1995; Theodore Rex (also known as T Rex), J & M Entertainment/ New Line Cinema/Shooting Star Entertainment, 1995; Bogus, Warner Bros., 1996; The Associate, Buena Vista/ Hollywood Pictures/Interscope/Polygram, 1996; Eddie, 1996; Ghosts of Mississippi (also known as Ghosts from the Past), Castle Rock/Columbia, 1996; In & Out, Paramount, 1997; An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (also known as An Alan Smithee Film and Burn Hollywood Burn), Cinergi/Hollywood Pictures, 1997; State and Main, 1998; How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1998; The Deep End of the Ocean, Via Rosa/Columbia/Mandalay, 1999; Girl, Interrupted, Columbia, 2000; Monkeybone, Twentieth Century-Fox, 2001; Rat Race, Paramount, 2001; The Hollywood Sign, 2001; Blizzard, 2003; Pinocchio 3000, 2004; Racing Stripes, 2005; The Magic Roundabout, 2005; Doogal, 2006; Everyone’s Hero, 2006; If I Had Known I Was a Genius, 2007; Homie Spumoni, 2007; and (and executive producer) Stream, 2007.
Actress in television movies, shows for children, specials, and series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1988-94; Bagdad Cafe, CBS, 1990; Captain Planet and the Planeteers, syndicated, 1990. Appearances as herself on television shows, including: (co-host) Comic Relief, 1986—; The Whoopi Goldberg Show, 1992; The Academy Awards Show, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002; (and producer of episode) Hollywood Squares, 1998-92; (and executive producer) Whoopi, NBC, 2003; (and writer and executive producer) Whoopi: Back to Broadway; The Twentieth Anniversary, 2005; (and writer and executive producer) The Word According to Whoopi, 2007, as well as hundreds of talk, award, variety, musical, and comedy shows and specials.
Producer of television programs, including What Makes a Family, 2001; Call Me Claus, 2001; Ruby’s Bucket of Blood, Showtime, 2001; (and writer) Strong Medicine (nine episodes), Lifetime, 2003; Good Fences, 2003; The Piano Man’s Daughter, 2003; (and writer) Just for Kicks (five episodes), 2006.
Actress and performer on stage, including Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway (one-woman show), Broadway, 1984-85; Living on the Edge of Chaos, 1988; (and producer) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, New York, NY, 2003; Whoopi: Back to Broadway; The Twentieth Anniversary, Broadway, 2004.
Host of Wake up with Whoopi (radio), Clear Channel, 2006.
AWARDS, HONORS: Drama Desk Award for outstanding one-person show, 1984-85; Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1985; Grammy Award for best comedy recording, 1985, for Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway; Golden Globe Award for best actress in a dramatic role, and Academy Award nomination for best actress, both 1986, both for The Color Purple; Hans Christian Andersen Award, 1987; California Theater Award, 1988; Humanitarian of the Year Award, Starlight Foundation, 1989; Image Award, NAACP, 1990; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for best actress in a supporting role, 1990, Academy Award for best supporting actress, Golden Globe award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture, American Comedy Award for funniest supporting female in a motion picture, all 1991, all for Ghost; Woman of the Year, Hasty Pudding Club, 1993; Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actress in a motion picture comedy/musical, 1993, for Sister Act; ShoWest Award, female star of the year, 1993; American Comedy Award, 1993; honorary degrees from the University of Vermont, 1997, and Wilson College; Mark Twain Prize for humor, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2001; star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2001; Gracie Allen Award, 2003; Women’s World Award for entertainment, 2006.
Alice, illustrated by John Rocco, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
(Illustrator) South and North, East and West: The Ox-fam Book of Children’s Stories, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
(With others) A Taste of Africa: With Over One Hundred Traditional African Recipes Adapted for the Modern Cook, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.
Book (memoir), R. Weisbach (New York, NY), 1997.
(With others) Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum-Security Prison, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1998.
(With others) Alaska Roadhouse Recipes: Memorable Recipes from Roadhouses, Lodges, Bed and Breakfasts, Cafes, Restaurants and Campgrounds along the Highways and Byways, Morris Communications, 1999.
Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners, illustrated by Olo, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2006.
Sound recordings include Whoopi Goldberg, Geffen, 1985; Fontaine: Why Am I Straight?, MCA Records, 1988; and The Best of Comic Relief, Rhino, 1986—; reader of Joel Chandler Harris’s Jump! The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, adapted by Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1990; narrator of A Tad Too Much (Don’t Cry Wolf) (cartridge; interactive game for children), written by Emily Hutta, illustrated by Yakovetic Productions, LeapFrog (Emeryville, CA), 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1992, actress, comedienne, and activist Whoopi Goldberg added “writer” to her list of occupations with the publication of Alice, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Goldberg’s Alice is a young African-American girl living in New York City who dreams of becoming rich. She enters numerous lotteries, and finally one day she wins what she believes is a great sum of money. Together with her friend Robin (a variation on Carroll’s Mad Hatter) and an invisible rabbit named Sal, she boards a bus for Manhattan—the equivalent of the original Alice’s slide into the rabbit hole—to claim her prize. Downtown she finds unscrupulous adults who try to cheat her out of her prize, but she manages to hold on to her winning ticket, only to find that it’s worthless: the ticket only qualifies her to purchase a piece of swampland property in Florida. A fortune teller delivers the story’s moral: “Dear, you are rich. Look at your wonderful friends who stick by you whether you win or lose. Think about the wild adventure you’ve had. No amount of money could buy these things.”
Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper called the book “only mildly successful.” Suzanne Curley, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, conceded that Carroll would “probably not” approve of Goldberg’s adaptation, but she noted “Whoopi’s breezy storytelling” and wondered: “Wouldn’t you love to see Whoopi bring [Carroll’s] ‘Jabberwocky’ into the 20th century?”
In reviewing Goldberg’s Book for Entertainment Weekly, reviewer Al Jacobs wrote that the memoir is a collection of observations on racial issues, the sexes, and “matters scatological.” The reception from Goldberg’s fans, who appreciate her straightforward style, was very positive, and the book became a best seller.
Goldberg has appeared in a number of films, but her acting career was firmly established with such productions as A Color Purple and several years later Ghost, both of which earned her multiple awards.
Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in New York City in 1955. Perhaps the most important and indisputable fact about Goldberg’s childhood is that she dreamed of becoming a star from the beginning. Life was certainly not easy in her home. She and her brother were raised by a single mother after her father abandoned them, and with her offbeat personality, Goldberg did not fit well in school. She found release in movies, often watching three or four a day. Her favorite was It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. During the broadcast of the Academy Awards each year, she would stand up in the living room of the family’s apartment and regale her mother and brother with the acceptance speeches she would one day make.
Goldberg attended high school for just two weeks. In a Good Housekeeping interview with Liz Smith, she said that she loved growing up in New York, with its opportunities to explore and attend free lectures and visit museums. As a teen, she became involved with drugs. She went into treatment and married her drug counselor, by whom she had a daughter, but the two were soon divorced. In 1974 a friend gave her a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, and Goldberg, taking her daughter Alexandrea with her, headed west. She found her way to San Diego, where she became involved in the theatre while working various jobs, including stints as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a cosmetologist responsible for making up the faces of corpses in a mortuary. During this time she also began to adopt the stage name “Whoopi Cushion” (which she pronounced with a French accent, as koo-SHAWN), after a well-known novelty item. Her mother said the name sounded absurd, so seeing the humor in a black female comedian with a Jewish name, she switched to Goldberg.
In 1980 Goldberg and Don Victor, her partner in comedy shows, had an opportunity to perform in San Francisco, but Victor quit before they had a chance to begin. She opted to move north anyway, and in Berkeley she began to develop a comic routine that involved numerous characters. Many of these combined humor with biting social commentary.
On the success of her show, Goldberg began to tour the United States, and in 1984 enjoyed a big break with a show on Broadway. More successes followed as director Mike Nichols offered to produce her show. Nichols was not the only influential figure impressed by her talents. Director Steven Spielberg invited her to appear in his upcoming film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Through her starring role as Celie in Spielberg’s 1985 film, Goldberg quickly became a superstar. A few years before, she had accepted welfare to support herself and her daughter; now she was nominated for an Academy Award.
But the Oscar she had dreamed of eluded her that year, and for many years that followed, as she appeared in a string of films that failed either with critics or fans or both. She continued to command enormous salaries for her pictures, including more than two million dollars in 1987 for Fatal Beauty, a film that earned only eleven million dollars. Meanwhile critics had begun to speculate that Goldberg’s career had already peaked; but in 1990, success came in an unlikely package.
The supernatural love story Ghost had not seemed like a potential blockbuster. Traditionally the Fourth of July weekend is a significant release date for summer movies, and it came out after the holiday. In addition, it faced competition from such big-budget action thrillers as Die Hard 2 and Total Recall, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ghost became a surprise hit, however, and the largest moneymaker of 1990, with nearly 198 million dollars in domestic box office receipts. For her role as the high-spirited fake psychic Oda Mae Brown, Goldberg received an Oscar nomination—and this time she won. On March 25, 1991, Goldberg finally got to make the acceptance speech she had spent years composing. With tears in her eyes, she told the Academy, “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted this… I’m so proud to be here. I’m proud to be an actor, and I’m gonna keep on acting.” Goldberg was only the second black woman in film history, the first being Hattie McDaniel for her performance in Gone with the Wind in 1939, to win an Oscar for best supporting actress.
Several of Goldberg’s subsequent films were successes, including Sister Act in 1992. Others were not. In 1993 her career hit a low point from a public relations standpoint. An incident that received a lot of press involved an appearance Ted Danson made at a Friars’ Club celebrity roast in Goldberg’s honor. Danson was criticized for appearing in blackface and for using comedy material (some written by Goldberg) containing terminology that was offensive to some.
Goldberg was looking for a career change and appeared in a Broadway production of the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. She began a relationship with actor Frank Langella, whom she had met while making the movie Eddie. Langella was going through a divorce during the filming, and in reaching out to him, Goldberg gave him a book by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Their relationship lasted for several years.
Goldberg was a spokesperson for Slim-Fast weight-loss products when in 2004 she angered the conservative right by employing a double entendre involving the surname of then-president George W. Bush. The scene was a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, and other celebrity guests similarly criticized Bush. Goldberg’s remarks angered Bush fans who on various Web sites called for a boycott of Slim-Fast products. The company pulled the ad campaign in which Goldberg described herself as “a big loser,” and she issued her own statement in which she said that “just because I’m no longer in those (commercial) spots, it doesn’t mean I will stop talking. While I can appreciate what the Slim-Fast people need to do in order to protect their business, I must also do what I need to do as an artist, as a writer and as an American—not to mention as a comic.”
Goldberg and pals Robin Williams and Billy Crystal organized the first Comic Relief in 1986, a star-studded telethon to benefit the homeless, and in 2006, they focused their efforts on the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Goldberg has devoted time to other causes, as well, including as an AIDS activist.
She was interviewed by Anne Stockwell for the Advocate, and Stockwell brought up the flap caused by her remarks during the previous year’s election. Goldberg said: “I actually didn’t speak my mind, which is what makes it all the sillier. What I said is so banal that you would go, ‘Much ado about nothing.’” Goldberg continued: “Even if you go online now, you can’t find what I said, because if you actually printed what I said, there’d be no story.” Goldberg has played bisexual and lesbian characters so well that the question has come up regarding her sexual orientation. She describes herself as hetero, but she has been a long-time supporter of gay rights.
The grandmother of three, Goldberg wrote Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners for children. In an interview with Time contributor Andrea Sachs, she said: “I can’t really hold kids responsible because people my age are really kind of responsible for a lot of it. If you grew up during the ’60s, everything was about not being who your parents were. So we raised our children to do all of the things we thought we should be able to do—call our parents by their first names, talk back.” Goldberg said that now kids don’t know they should say please and thank you.
Goldberg continues to win awards for her theater and humanitarian work. She revived her one-woman show for its twentieth anniversary and frequently expresses her views on culture and politics. She founded two production companies and puts a great deal of effort into producing films that accurately portray women’s lives. In 2006, she added radio DJ to her resume when she hosted an early morning talk show for a New York audience, the taped delay of which was heard by listeners on the West Coast.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Adams, Mary Agnes, Whoopi Goldberg: From Street to Stardom, Dillon Press (New York, NY), 1993.
African American Almanac, sixth edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Almanac of Famous People, 9th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2007.
Blue, Rose, and Corinne J. Naden, Whoopi Goldberg: Entertainer, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1995.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
DeBoer, Judy, Whoopi Goldberg, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1997.
Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Culture, Volume 5: African American Culture, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Goldberg, Whoopi, Book, R. Weisbach (New York, NY), 1997.
International Directory of Films and Filmmakers, 4th edition, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Katz, Sandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1996.
Newsmakers, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Parrish, James Robert, Whoopi Goldberg: Her Journey from Poverty to Mega-Stardom, Carol Publishing (Secaucus, NJ), 1997.
Smith, Jessie Carney, Notable Black American Women, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Unterbrink, Mary, Funny Women, McFarland & Company (Jefferson, NC), 1987.
Who’s Who among African Americans, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Advertising Age, August 6, 2007, “Whoopi’s Task on ‘The View’: Keep the Conversation Edgy,” p. 16.
Advocate, January 18, 2005, Anne Stockwell, “Whoopi’s Tough Love: Has Been a Friend of Gays Since She First Hit Broadway. Now She’s Back Onstage, Speaking Her Mind,” interview, p. 66.
Booklist, November 1, 1992, Ilene Cooper, review of Alice, p. 520; March 15, 1993, review of Alice, p. 1345.
Business Wire, May 9, 2006, “On July 31st, Whoopi Goldberg Will Conquer Her Next Entertainment Frontier: Radio”; June 1, 2006, “Whoopi’s Co-Pilot for Morning Program? It’s Paul ‘Cubby’ Bryant!”
CNW Group, September 28, 2006, “Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev Announces Winners of the 2006 Women’s World Awards.”
Daily Variety, April 7, 2005, Brian Lowry, review of Whoopi: Back to Broadway; The Twentieth Anniversary, p. 6.
Detroit Free Press, April 8, 2005, “Wisecracks, Zingers & Attitude: Everything’s Fair Game for Whoopi.”
Entertainment Weekly, October 24, 1997, Al Jacobs, review of Book, p. 60; August 2, 2007, “Whoopi’s Point of ‘View,’” p. 5; November 4, 2005, “Whoopi Goldberg,” p. 58; September 14, 2007, Jennifer Armstrong, “Making Whoopi,” interview, p. 20.
Footsteps, November 1, 2004, “An Oscar for Whoopi: And the Legacy of Hattie McDaniel,” p. 40.
Good Housekeeping, September, 2004, Liz Smith, “Whoopi Goldberg: Laugh-Out-Loud Talk from the Oscar Winner on Her High-Profile Romances, Wearing a Loincloth, and (Maybe) Playing Mary Poppins!,” interview, p. 112.
Houston Chronicle, August 27, 2004, “On Two; Whoopi to Go Solo Again on Broadway; Self-titled Show from Mid-1980s to Return This Fall,” p. 2.
Interview, April, 1999, “Whoopi Meets Wyclef,” p. 66; April, 2002, “Whoopi Goldberg: The Host of the Oscars Chats with the Greatest Talk Show Host of All Time,” p. 62.
Jet, August 29, 1994, “Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Li-otta Go for Laughs and Love in ‘Corrina, Corrina,’’ p. 32; March 20, 2000, “People Are Talking About …,” p. 37; November 6, 2006, “Women’s World Awards,” p. 55.
Los Angeles Magazine, May, 1993, “Whoopi Goldberg,” p. 16.
M2 Best Books, February 24, 2004, “Whoopi Goldberg Signs for Jump at the Sun.”
Magpies, November, 1993, review of Alice, p. 34.
Newsday, September 5, 2007, “Sedate Debut for Whoopi Goldberg on ‘The View.”’
Newsweek, June 17, 2002, Allison Samuels, interview, p. 77.
New York, September 14, 1992, review of Alice, p. 1105.
New York Times, March 24, 2002, “Funny Lady, Serious Woman,” p. 2; December 30, 2003, “Slim-Fast Bets That Its Campaign Featuring Whoopi Goldberg and New Products Will Lift Its Sales,” p. 2.
New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1992, review of Alice, p. 56.
New York Times Magazine, August 20, 2006, “Making Nice,” p. 11.
Parents Magazine, December, 1992, review of Alice, p. 88.
People Weekly, December 13, 2004, “Words of Whoopi: Returning to the One-woman Show That Made Her a Star, Whoopi Goldberg Faces Facts—and Sounds Off,” p. 93; November 20, 2006, “20th Anniversary: Comic Relief,” p. 143.
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 5, 2007, “Whoopi Joins ‘View’; and It’s Plugs ’n’ Hugs.”
PR Newswire, July 16, 2002, “Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover to Star in Upcoming Showtime Original Picture ‘Good Fences’ Spike Lee and Sam Kitt Serve as Executive Producers; Ernest Dickerson Directs”; January 7, 2003, “USA Network and USA Cable Entertainment Announce Development Deal with Whoopi Goldberg”; June 25, 2003, “Royal Caribbean International Serenades Whoopi Goldberg; Whoopi Reprises Godmother Role for Cruise Line’s New Serenade of the Seas”; December 30, 2003, “Whoopi Goldberg Adds ‘Big Loser’ to Her List of Credits—New Slim-Fast Advertising Campaign Features Academy Award Winner” March 18, 2004, “‘Whoopi’ Tackles White-Hot Issue of Gay Marriage”; December 5, 2006, “Whoopi Goldberg Signs Copies of Her New Children’s Book at Borders.”
Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2006, review of Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners, p. 62.
Sacramento Bee, September 5, 2007, “Whoopi’s above ‘The View,’ but Isn’t Nearly Everyone?”
School Library Journal, January, 1993, Michael Cart, review of Alice, p. 76; November, 2006, Marilyn Ackerman, review of Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners, p. 94.
Sun Herald, September 23, 2005, “Whoopi Goldberg Concert to Benefit Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund.”
Tavis Smiley, July 20, 2004, “Commentary: Speculation on Why Slim-Fast Dropped Whoopi Goldberg as a Spokesperson.”
Time, November 22, 2004, Jeffrey Ressner, “10 Questions for Whoopi Goldberg,” interview, p. 8; December 11, 2006, Andrea Sachs, “Q&A: Ms. Manners,” interview, p. W8.
UPI NewsTrack, August 26, 2004, “Whoopi Returns to Broadway 20 Years Later”; October 4, 2005, “Whoopi Goldberg Says Never Again to Oscars.”
USA Today, February 25, 2005, “Hosts with the Most,” p. 5; May 9, 2006, “Hot Dog! Whoopi Gets a Radio Show,” p. 1.
Variety, March 4, 2002, “Whoopi’s Prepared for Her Fourth Fling,” p. 5.