21 May 2024

Whoopi Goldberg

American actress Whoopi Goldberg (1955) earned an Oscar nomination for her lead role in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). She won an Oscar for her supporting role in Ghost (1990). Goldberg was also acclaimed for her work in Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel and the musical Sister Act (1992).

Whoopi Goldberg
Belgian postcard by MultiChoice Kaleidoscope. Photo: Isopress / Outline (Trachtenberg).

Whoopi Goldberg in Star Trek - The Next Generation (1992-1993)
American postcard by Classico, San Francisco, Inc., no. 105-189. Photo: Paramount Pictures, 1992. Whoopi Goldberg in Star Trek - The Next Generation (1992-1993).

Whoopi Cushion

Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in 1955, in Manhattan, New York. Her mother, Emma (Harris), was a teacher and a nurse, and her father, Robert James Johnson, Jr., was a clergyman. She was inspired to become an actress by watching Nichelle Nichols' portrayal of Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek (1966) series.

She dropped out of high school and became addicted to heroin. She ended up marrying her drug counsellor, Alvin Martin. She cleaned up and later divorced him. She worked as a funeral parlour make-up artist, a bank teller, and a bricklayer while taking small parts on Broadway.

In 1974, she moved to California and helped found the San Diego Repertory Company, where she used the name, Whoopi Cushion. She worked with improv groups, including Spontaneous Combustion, and developed her skills as a stand-up comedian. Goldberg had her breakthrough doing an HBO special and a one-woman show as Moms Mabley.

Her first film role was in Citizen (William Farley, 1982), but her career gained momentum as Celie Johnson in Steven Spielberg's drama The Color Purple (1985), based on Alice Walker's novel. For her role as Celie, she received critical acclaim, an Oscar nomination and became a major star. In 1985, she also won a Grammy Award for 'Whoopi Goldberg: Direct From Broadway'.

Her next films were, at best, marginal hits. She specialised in comedies like Jumpin' Jack Flash (Penny Marshall, 1986), Burglar (Hugh Wilson, 1987) and The Telephone (Rip Torn, 1988). Goldberg made her mark as a household name as Oda Mae Brown in the box office smash Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990) with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. She was the second African-American woman to receive an Academy Award. The first was Hattie McDaniel.

Whoopi Goldberg
American postcard by The American Postcard Co, Inc., no. F59. Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

Whoopi Goldberg
American postcard by the American Postcard Co., Inc. N.Y.C., no. 3249. Photo: Roddy McDowell. Caption: Whoopi Goldberg, New York City, 1990.

Fish-out-of-water with some flash

Whoopi Goldberg received another hit role in Sister Act (Emile Ardolino, 1992) as a nightclub singer forced to take refuge from the mob in a convent. She turns the convent choir into a soulful chorus with a Motown repertoire. Her fish-out-of-water with some flash seemed to resonate with audiences and it was a box office smash.

Goldberg starred in some highly publicised and moderately successful comedies of this time, including Soapdish (Michael Hoffman, 1991) with Sally Field, Made in America (Richard Benjamin, 1993) with Ted Danson and the sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Bill Duke, 1993).

During her acting career, Goldberg played regularly in television series. This began with one-time guest roles in Moonlighting (1986) and A Different World (1991). She had a regular spot in Baghdad Cafe (1990- 1991). From 1990 through 1992 she was a voice actress on the animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

Being a huge fan of the series, Goldberg asked creator and producer Gene Roddenberry for a role in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1988-1993). She was given the role of Guinan, the head of the Ten-Forward lounge. Goldberg also appeared regularly in Liberty's Kids: Est. 1776 (2002-2003).

As the late 1990s approached, Goldberg seemed to alternate between lead roles in straight comedies such as Eddie (Steve Rash, 1996) and The Associate (Donald Petrie, 1996) and supporting parts in more independent-minded films, such as How Stella Got Her Groove Back (Kevin Rodney Sullivan, 1998) with Angela Bassett and The Deep End of the Ocean (Ulu Grosbard, 1999) starring Michele Pfeiffer.

Whoopi Goldberg
American postcard by Fotofolio, New York, N.Y., no. 2312. Photo: Annie Leibovitz. Caption: Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California, 1984.

Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew Barrymore in Boys on the Side (1995)
Dutch postcard by Boomerang Freecards, Amsterdam. Photo: Warner Bros. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker and Drew Barrymore in Boys on the Side (Herbert Ross, 1995).

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Since 1999, Whoopi Goldberg worked regularly as a film producer and screenwriter. Goldberg was one of 15 writers who provided 130 episodes of the TV series Strong Medicine (2000-2006). Goldberg was the first woman to host the Academy Awards on her own. She hosted them in 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2002.

In 2002, she won a Tony Award as a producer for Best Musical, 'Thoroughly Modern Millie'. Goldberg herself returned to the stage in 2003, starring as blues singer Ma Rainey in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's historical drama 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' at the Royale Theatre. She was also one of the show's producers. Since 2007, Goldberg has been on the panel every weekday on the American discussion program The View. In 2009, Goldberg won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host for her work on The View. In 2010, she could also be seen at London's Palladium Theatre as the Mother Superior in the stage version of 'Sister Act'.

In the cinema, she starred in the Tyler Perry film For Colored Girls (2010), alongside Janet Jackson. The film received good reviews. The same year, she voiced Stretch in Pixar's Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) which grossed $1.067 billion worldwide. Goldberg had a recurring role on the television series Glee (2012-2014) during its third and fourth seasons.

She starred in the film Nobody's Fool (Tyler Perry, 2018), and reprised her role as Guinan during the second season of Star Trek: Picard (2022). Goldberg portrayed Mother Abagail, a 108-year-old woman in the miniseries The Stand (2020-2021) with Alexander Skarsgard, based on the novel by Stephen King. She appeared in a cameo as a mid-wife in the remake The Colour Purple (Blitz Bazawule, 2023) and in preproduction is Sister Act 3 with Tyler Perry producing.

Whoopi Goldberg has been married three times. Her spouses were Alvin Martin (1973-1983), David Claessen (1986-1988) and Lyle Trachtenberg (1984-1985). She has one daughter, actress and producer Alex Martin, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Whoopi Goldberg, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden in Star Trek - The Next Generation (1988-1993)
American postcard by Classico, San Francisco, Inc., no. 105-154. Photo: Paramount Pictures, 1991. Whoopi Goldberg, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden in Star Trek - The Next Generation (1988-1993).

Sources: Wikipedia (Dutch and English) and IMDb.

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