Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Actress Whoopi Goldberg

I read her news with Glee.  Literally.  Award-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg will play a character in episodes of Glee that are scheduled to begin airing early in the highly-competitive May ratings period.  Whoopi is a top daytime television personality.  The news that she got a role on that TV series excites me because, as an Oscar-winning actress, Whoopi Goldberg has been under-utilized.  She is a stunningly good and versatile actress.  Rent The Color Purple and watch it again.  Hers was one of the top Hollywood performances of the 1980s.  That remarkable work as Celie still holds up.  Steven Spielberg's film brought Whoopi her first Oscar nomination.  Her second nomination got her the Hollywood gold.  The movie, Ghost.  
For those of us black folks of a certain age, Whoopi's Oscar win that night was as significant, as memorable as when Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Academy Award for 1963's Lilies of the Field.  He was the first black man to win an Oscar.  The first African-American to be nominated for the Oscar and the first to win it was Hattie McDaniel for her Best Supporting Actress performance in 1939's Gone With The Wind.  Whoopi was the second black woman to win Best Supporting Actress thanks to her fabulous, hard-won work in that 1990 fantasy comedy/drama.  Whoopi was guest on my old VH1 talk show when she was promoting her 1988 movie, Clara's Heart. She was a terrific guest.  I don't mean to play a "race card" but when Caucasian friends of mine would say, "She did The Color Purple. Why is Whoopi doing movies like Fatal Beauty now?," I'd get upset.  I'd have to school them on the fact that black actresses don't get the same amount of Hollywood opportunities that white actresses get -- even if they've got Oscar nominations to their credit.  Whoopi needed to pay the bills.  She'd take a script that had another actress' fingerprints on it and try to make it her own whether a Fatal Beauty -- turned down by Cher -- or a Sister Act -- turned down by Bette Midler.  Whoopi wasn't even wanted for Ghost.  She had a Best Actress Academy Award nomination in a hit film to her credit.  But she could not get an audition to play Oda
Mae until Patrick Swayze made the director/producer test her or lose him as leading man.  Now that Whoopi entertains daytime TV viewers every weekday on The View, folks forget how skilled an actress she is when given the chance.  Whoopi and Viola Davis are now the only two black actresses with more than one Oscar nomination to their credits.  Each now has two.  Last year and early this year, there was much controversy over The Help and Hollywood still casting black women as maids.  Whoopi too has played maids and she was memorable in her portrayals.  If The Help was a Best Picture nominee for 2011 then The Long Walk Home should've been up for Best Picture of 1990.  Co-starring Sissy Spacek, it's one strong, well-acted drama about people who refused to sit in the back of the bus in the mid 1950s.  And it's about people who challenge themselves to do the right thing.  You need to see it.
She was a maid in Corrina, Corrina.  It's one of my favorite weekend feel-good rentals.  Ray Liotta plays the widower dad with a lovable little girl.  He starts to fall in love with the maid, Corrina, when she gently eases his daughter out of emotional pain..  You sit through this bright film hoping that dad and the maid will kiss.  Terrific chemistry between Whoopi and Ray Liotta.  Corrina, Corrina has the heart of a 1950s Italian comedy.
I told Whoopi back in 2007 that Corrina, Corrina should be turned into a Broadway musical comedy.  Liotta's character was an advertising jingle writer.  There's already a music angle in the story.  I still believe it would work.  Heck, The Color Purple, Sister Act and now Ghost have gotten the stage musical  treatment.  Why not that one?  I also loved Whoopi's work as the non-nonsense detective on a Hollywood case in Robert Altman's The Player with Fred Ward and Tim Robbins...
...and her role as the harried network TV executive trying to keep control over the cast of neurotic daytime drama actors in the comedy Soapdish with Sally Field.
A biographical role she essayed really moved me in a Rob Reiner film.  She played Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.  He was shot dead in the driveway of his home in 1963.  His murder is mentioned as a news story in The Help.  Myrlie struggled for 30 years to bring the assassin to justice.  Co-star James Woods got an Oscar nomination for his performance.  This is one of Whoopi's strongest films, a film with history that should be talked about in schools
Whoopi Goldberg can go from serious drama to screwball comedy and back with ease.  Not every actor can.  People should've been writing Hollywood scripts with her in mind as first choice.  But she's had to crash through the color barrier that every minority performer encounters to get equal opportunities in some area.  I am not an actor of Whoopi's skills or popularity but I am familiar with the kind of struggles, frustrations and humiliations she's had.  I interviewed her on my prime time network talk show.  My show got high marks from The New York Times.  Did I try to get another national talk show gig after VH1?  Yes.  I wanted a vehicle like James Lipton's Inside the Actors Studio.  Was I ever offered another national talk show host opportunity?  No.  But Joan Rivers, Dennis Miller, Craig Kilborn, Pat Sajak and Rosie O'Donnell all got shots at a second national talk show.  If anything, I spent most of the '90s convincing broadcast agents, TV executives and news producers that I really did host and write a network talk show.  That's...the business.  The entertainment industry presents us minorities with some extra challenges.  And we really have to love this business to want to stay in it.  As I blogged previously, we minorities are often lucky to get the opportunity to try to get the opportunity.  Think about Whoopi not being able to get an audition for Ghost until Patrick Swayze lent his star clout.  Before Whoopi became a welcomed addition to ABC's The View, she hosted a national weekday morning radio show for a couple of years in New York City.
I was a regular on her show for its 2006 to 2008 run.  It may not have been a hit show but being picked by Whoopi to be her weekly movie critic was as significant to me as seeing her win the Oscar.  She'd made Oscar history.  She selected me to do the kind of work that we African-Americans were never chosen to do when she and I were growing up.  I was reviewing new movies and talking about classic ones.  I sat right next to her when I did it every week.  And I made her laugh.  Honestly, I do not know if she realized how deeply important and special that job, that privilege, was to me.  I was so proud of it -- and she made that job possible.  In the big broadcast market picture, my film critic gig on Premiere Radio was a minor thing but it was a big deal to me.  To go to work, sit next to and perform live with a show biz icon...wow.  An unforgettable experience.  It was thrilling, surreal, occasionally frustrating and humbling at the same time.  Frustrating because, to her with her international fame, that morning radio show may not have been something major she chose to publicize.  To the rest of us on the staff, it was major.  I still would love to host a show like Inside the Actors Studio.  I truly believe that if minority kids see reflections of themselves on TV telling why classic films, new films and live theatre are important -- and interviewing the folks who make films and theatre -- it inspires those kids to embrace the arts.  That's important to me.  If I got a project like that, I'd love to interview Whoopi again.  I love to thank her once more for making me feel significant.  I'm so glad Glee has given her a role.  Whoopi's a good actress.  There's more to her than what we see five days a week on The View.  Incidentally -- Whoopi Goldberg does an imitation of Lana Turner that is so wickedly funny it would make drag queens want to hang themselves with their own pantyhose because they didn't come up with it first.
Oh. And another thing -- for a long time, she wanted to do a remake of the Preston Sturges classic, Sullivan's Travels.  I'd really like to discuss that in an interview.

1 comment:

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