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Private Goldie

If you think you know her, think again

Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn in 'Private Benjamin'

Warner Brothers/Getty Images

“I WANTED TO GO for the throat,” says Goldie Hawn with glee, recalling one of many battles she had to fight in her new role as executive producer of her own films. The subject is Private Benjamin, the surprise comedy hit that ratified her status as Hollywood’s top film comedienne – one of the best, according to some critics, since actress Carole Lombard. “The people connected with the film wanted to take out the wedding party scene in which Judy Benjamin went down on her husband [Albert Brooks] in the car. They felt it was unnecessary and would turn a lot of people off.”

The story she is recounting is, er, not the sort of thing we are accustomed to hearing from blond, blushing Goldie Hawn, but then, it’s become increasingly obvious that we knew precious little about the lady to begin with.

“Sexuality,” she continues, “is, of course, the worst thing you can show in a picture. You can cut off a woman’s breast in some bloody, violent film, but you can’t film a man making love to it.

“I wanted the scene in there because I wanted to demonstrate something about Judy’s character – that basically she was someone who didn’t have much self-esteem. She wasn’t able to say, ‘No. I don’t want to do this. I’m in my wedding gown. It’s our wedding night. I’m embarrassed.’ What she valued most was having a man take care of her. She was prepared to be a doormat.

“There was no tenderness involved, so the scene showed his character and hers. She pleaded briefly, realized, ‘Okay, I have to do this,’ and then she went down out of the frame. The script was written for me,” she says with finality, “and I had a clear vision of what I wanted.”

(“Goldie wanted to linger on that scene for a long time,” director Howard Zieff told me later, “and she wanted to let people see the back of her head in her husband’s lap. I objected to that, and I guess I was afraid of the scene anyway, in that I didn’t want the audience to squirm during it.”)

“We fought for that scene and won,” says Goldie, “but then, in the final cutting, they wanted to edit it before her head even went out of the frame! A bunch of us said, ‘This isn’t going to work. It ruins the joke and you don’t get the impact.’ So we got a little bit of what we wanted, but I still would have been happier had she stayed out of the frame longer.”

Still, Goldie’s not exactly crying in her Amaretto. Strolling around the expansive bedroom of her colonial home in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles, a tumbler of the liqueur in her hand, she exudes a hard-won confidence. Particularly satisfying to her was the process of developing Private Benjamin with write-producer friends Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller.

She also showed a bold agility when it came to doing business with the film studios.

“The fact that Goldie herself took Private Benjamin around to the studios was unusual,” Howard Zieff points out to me. “She and the script were an instant package, and she had a lot of pull as a result of her performance in Foul Play. Everybody with sense knew she had become the hot film comedienne.”

Foul Play made over $ 50 million and put Goldie back in the film business,” adds Stan Kamen, Hawn’s longtime friend and agent. “She’s always been smart in terms of making sure she held on to her loyal TV audience by doing a special every eighteen months or so, but Foul Play [which was released in 1978] paved the way for Seems like Old Times and Private Benjamin. She could finally show the world her sex appeal, comedic timing and vulnerability.”

But she could not necessarily display her personal sensibilities. Foul Play established Hawn as a bankable star, but it also exploited a safe, boy-girl (in distress) formula. Private Benjamin was considered too provocative.

“It was, for some reason, a big deal for people in this town to accept Goldie as a Jewish princess – let alone one who grows to be independent and aggressive,” explains Charles Shyer. “The mentality was: stick with what works.”

“The studios wanted to keep her a lovable victim,” says Nancy Meyers, “or keep her in a Laugh-In bikini with Love painted on her belly. One studio head called Goldie and said, ‘You’re making one of the biggest mistakes of your career with this film.’

“Other studios offered us more money for the script, but we went with Warner Brothers because [theatrical and feature division president] Bob Shapiro didn’t just want to make a ‘Goldie Hawn’ film. He believed in the character.”

But Arthur Hiller, the first director, did not. “He didn’t want to depict Judy or her parents as Jews,” says Shyer. “He felt it could be construed as anti-Semitic, which we four all found ridiculous. So he gracefully stepped aside.”

Meyers recounts ruefully that in November 1979, “We had a week to find a director or the film would have to be shelved, because of Goldie’s prior commitment to Seems like Old Times.”

“One day, Goldie, Nancy and I saw Howard Zieff on the Warners lot,” says Shyer. “He called me later and asked, ‘What are you doing these days?’ I said, ‘Funny you should ask’ and offered him the picture. He took it, thank God.”

“I liked the original script,” says Zieff, “but meeting Goldie was the deciding factor for me – I was totally charmed by her, which is also what made her a good executive producer.”

(The feisty foursome recently agreed to collaborate on another film, which will be made – once they write it – over the next two years or so. Shyer will direct, Hawn will be executive producer and Meyers and Miller will act as producers.)

“Goldie’s ability to get the studio’s attention in order to get a little more money for a scene, etc., was significant,” Zieff observes. “She is, without question, a very persuasive person – and it’s because of her great charm, not because of any pushiness. People on the set and from the studio were forever telling me how charming she was, and frankly, I got a little tired of saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know!’

“Also, cooperation on all sides was important because we were on a very tight schedule. We had only six or seven weeks to prepare for filming: to find all the locations, both here and in Paris, to build all the sets and to cast all the parts. Goldie worked with the writer-producers, and she would also do things like read with auditioning actors and actresses, which is not common; it’s often tough to get a star to do something like that. Therefore, we could immediately see the great chemistry between her and Armand Assante, who played her French fiancé, and with Eileen Brennan, who was so good as the sergeant in charge of Judy’s barracks.”

“For big battles,” says Meyers with a laugh, “we always said, ‘Send in the Babe,’ and Goldie would go in and make people understand our logic rather than simply intimidate them.”

“If we, for instance, disagreed,” says Shapiro, “she stood firm and argued but also knew how to compromise. From the time I got involved in the film in February of 1979, the single most impressive thing about Goldie Hawn was that she never, ever, used her status as a star to win a point.”

“I just stuck to my guns,” Goldie says. “There were differences of opinion, but I didn’t back down too easily, and this was hard for me, because I didn’t want people to see me as a bitch.”

When the film was first assembled, it ran three hours and one minute. Before its première, Zieff had to toss one hour and twelve minutes of the movie “into the trim barrel,” as he puts it, “and it was like killing my children.”

What made the editing so painful, he explains, was the hilarity of many of the deleted scenes, most of which took place in France.

“We had to cut a wonderful scene in which Armand, who plays a gynecologist-obstetrician-playboy, is lecturing on a new method of delivering babies at a college you were supposed to believe was the SorboNne. Goldie, as Judy, is auditing the course, and the interplay between them was uproarious. And there was another scene in which Goldie is left in Armand’s house for the first time while he leaves to play soccer. She must stay there and listen to his telephone answering service. All these women keep calling, leaving their numbers, and she gets more and more bugged!

“In the end, all of the necessary points were made, and I was satisfied, but nobody, of course, knew what a hit it would become; it was just released as product. But we knew from two very successful screenings in Denver and Chicago that we would have a good response. When Warners saw that, they really got behind the film, and Goldie worked very hard on the promotion.”

“After grossing $ 60 million, the film is still going very strong,” says Bob Shapiro with undisguised delight. “It will be released in foreign markets in the spring, and a handsome TV sale price will further increase its coffers. It will be a very, very profitable movie. I’d like to do one or two Goldie Hawn pictures a year. That would make me one very happy man.”

I CANNOT BE ANYTHING ON THE screen that I haven’t seen or felt myself – I can’t pretend,” says Hawn of her acting technique. “I have to have, or to find, something in my own experience to draw on.” But she says she was never a Jewish princess like Judy in Private Benjamin. “As a child, I wasn’t spoiled or protected too much, but I understood the character, having known people who were somewhat like Judy. I liked the fact that Judy was a directionless Jewish girl who didn’t know from the army at all. It was a big canvas for comedy, but also a chance to say some things I felt about women.

“We all get rained on, but a Jewish princess would see herself as being drenched. A princess is someone who thinks she is better than anyone else, privileged, and that the world owes her something. I don’t buy that,” Goldie says firmly. “And I don’t like people who don’t work for what they want or get. I’m not afraid – without breaking character – to let my real feelings about a film situation show on camera.”

“She’s a fine actress because she is so natural,” says Chevy Chase, her costar in the romantic comedies Foul Play and Seems like Old Times. “She never went out of her way to be any different than she really is, except to add whatever ingredient – rage, sorrow, fright – was needed to make a scene work.

“When we were filming Foul Play, doing that insane car chase up and down the steep streets of San Francisco, I could barely see through the lighting and camera equipment mounted on the hood of the car. Goldie was truly terrified, having once been in a serious car crash, and it really helped to make the whole sequence much more believable.”

(“I was in this awful car crash on the West Side Highway in New York City in 1965,” Hawn says. “I woke up in the hospital, and the doctor said it was a miracle we all survived. Afterward, I went through a long period of severe anxiety – I couldn’t even ride in a car that I wasn’t driving.”)

“The two words that describe Goldie best are endurance and resilience,” adds Chase. “There was always some mild chaos going on with both films, but she would always maintain her composure – except to laugh at herself. She was continually surrounded by an entourage – all these little kids and dogs and family members and somebody hemming a dress that she’d gone shopping for earlier in the day. The key thing to remember, however, is that the woman is no disorganized kook. No matter how much seems to be in disarray, Goldie, in her own wonderful way, has got it all covered.”

THIS IS THE SINGLE TOUGHEST time in my life,” Goldie says bluntly, hunched over in baggy denims on a couch in her living room as the dusk gathers outside. “I’m thirty-five, and now I’m gonna have to learn to date again!” she says, referring to her pending divorce from Bill Hudson, her second husband, after five years. “If I ever had a life plan, I saw myself as happily married. I never saw myself as single, with children, and frightened. I mean, waking up alone to a screaming child sometimes really scares me. And then one of the kids [Hawn and Hudson have two children: Oliver, 4, and Kate, almost two] will wonder why there aren’t two of us at home, and all I can say is, ‘Honey, I’m here; let’s get it done together.’

“It’s a terror!” she yelps, lighting another in a succession of cigarettes. “So now what do I do, already?!”

What indeed? Though it’s tough to see past the prismatic appeal of Hawn’s flamboyant personality, beneath this pseudo-wacky eruption is a sturdy, worldly-wise resolve. “Handle it right!” is her constant, clipped soliloquy.

Over the last twenty-odd years, Goldie Hawn has survived a spate of snap judgments, from those who decided (wrongly, as it turned out) that the seventeen-year-old Goldie was too green and goofy for the lead in a Williamsburg, Virginia, summer-stock production of Romeo and Juliet, to the Burbank executives who deemed her incapable of transcending her bikini-cum-body-paint “ding-a-ling” blackouts on Laugh-In to garner anything in the movie world but dizzy blond-type bit parts. She now has thirteen feature films to her credit, including a humble debut in a dancing sequence in the Disney studio’s dismal The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, her Oscar-winning performance (Best Supporting Actress) opposite Walter Matthau in Cactus Flower, her big breakthrough in Foul Play and her present box-office blitz.

While it took more than serendipity for her to gain major television exposure – a chorus spot on an Andy Griffith special led to a role in a brief CBS series called Good Morning, World and, in turn, a three-show trial from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In producer George Schlatter – it certainly didn’t hurt matters when she flubbed her straight lines with such charm that Schlatter immediately signed her to a long-term contract.

Freakish good fortune runs in the family tree. Goldie’s father, Edward Rutledge Hawn, is a direct descendant of the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. Initially dismissed as “a peacock” and “excessively vain and weak” by future president John Adams, twenty-six-year-old Edward Rutledge of South Carolina did vacillate a bit on the subject of independence. Thomas Jefferson later joked that the savage influx of horseflies swarming around the silk stockings of Rutledge and his colleagues in the summer of 1776 had much to do with the speed with which they made up their minds and scrawled their way into a hallowed place in American history.

But, like Goldie, her ancestor was greatly underestimated by his contemporaries. Edward Rutledge went on to fight bravely in the American Revolution, serve in the South Carolina legislature and become governor of the state.

“And you know,” Goldie says with a smirk, “if my Presbyterian father hadn’t married a Jew [the former Laura Speinhoff], I would have been qualified to end up as some horrible damned member of the DAR!”

GOLDIE JEANNE HAWN WAS born on November 21st, 1945, in Takoma Park, Maryland, a Washington D.C. suburb. At the age of three she was enrolled in the Roberta Fera School of Dance, and it was not long before she was also taking lessons in voice, piano and acting. By the age of ten she had danced in the chorus of a production of The Nutcracker Suite with the Ballet Russe Monte Carlo.

“It was not, originally, my decision,” Goldie says of her early plunge into showbiz, “Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and it became a part of my life. When I was seventeen, I had my own school in Maryland: Goldie’s Dancing School. I guess I was just industrious. I taught ballet and handled everything.”

“I admit that I introduced the idea and encouraged her,” says her mother, “but she grew up in a music and dance environment and just responded to it very positively. She was also very athletic; she swam on the school team and was a cheerleader in junior high school. If she had to choose, she would always go to dance class rather than go swimming.

“Uh, you see,” says Mrs. Hawn awkwardly, “Goldie’s teen years were also a difficult time for her. She was a late bloomer, and not quite as developed physically as the other girls. She didn’t do much dating.”

“I was very, very flat-chested,” says Goldie. “I had absolutely no shape. It’s a wonder I don’t have a horrible inferiority complex, because I was someone who sat in the corner at all the dances – and most everything else, too. Even at spin the bottle I never had much luck! Once, in my early teens, I had a Halloween party and we played the game, and on my turns, the bottle never pointed to a soul! I’m telling you, I was a sloow starter.

“I tried out for cheerleader in ninth grade and got it for one year, but even that didn’t help. And then I fell in with a bad crowd – or tried to – and I’d hang out smoking cigarettes and would cut my homeroom to put on eye liner, but it was no use.

“I mean, sure, I wore falsies and all, but still you’re made fun of, and some guy says, ‘Hey, your mother know what you’re wearing under there?’ What it does to a girl who’s trying her best to be attractive to the opposite sex is devastating. The first time I kissed anybody, I was sixteen and in this car with this guy I hardly knew, and, ugh, it was a disappointment, too. In the middle of it, all I could think was, ‘God, what a bore. Is this what it’s about?’

“I once said to my mother, in tears, ‘I don’t have any titties!’ And she said [soothingly], ‘But honey, you’re very young, and you’ll get older, and those boys, you’re not gonna be able to keep them from your door. You’ll have to beat them off.’

“To this day,” Goldie says, “I haven’t been beating them off [shrieking giggles], and I hope you’ll pardon the pun!”

Having gotten a taste of the outside world during her summer-stock stint in Virginia, Goldie hit the Big Apple.

“I was studying dance and working the go-go circuit,” she recalls. “It was grim and hard and not very profitable, but I would not trade the time spent in that world for anything, because of what I saw.

“Bad experiences are not necessarily totally bad,” she counsels with a shrug. “Especially if you get over them. I learned from the bottom, looking around myself at the dregs of society, having both men and women relate to me purely as a sexual creature, coming on to me, propositioning me.

“I never danced topless, but I worked some dives. At least I always knew I was a very good dancer.”

The go-go and chorus-girl grind took her to New Jersey, back to New York, then on to Anaheim and Las Vegas. The pace was punishing: usually four shows a night, each a feverish hour-and-a-half revue (if it wasn’t feverish, you were fired).

Something had to give – and it did.

She had a nervous breakdown.

“I was living in L.A., alone for the first time,” she recounts slowly. “Suddenly, I was making tea for myself at night and wondering what mattered. I was so upset, I was always throwing up in some bathroom.

“And then came seven years of analysis, and lots of soul-searching, and lots of honesty, and lots of bullshit. And I eventually came out of it. It’s really an alienation from the family and tough on them [giggling nervously] – and tough on spouses, too.

“Sometimes you outgrow old friends, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because you cannot turn back. If I realized anything from the experience, it was: one, that I would never have anxieties like those again; and two, I would not share a common sensibility with certain friends ever again. These kinds of realizations, especially if you’re a sensitive person, are very hard to accept, and it’s also hard to demonstrate this awareness by having to confront that person. But you do it.”

During this period, Goldie married (in 1968) Gus Trikonis, a dancer who aspired to be an actor and a director. In 1969, she copped the Academy Award for the first major film role and felt “so hollow; it came too soon, too easily.” In 1973, she did three debilitating films in one year, and her marriage to Trikonis simultaneously self-destructed. In an effort to restore herself, she began traveling with sister Patti, friends or by herself. Her personal manager, Art Simon, wanted her to work, however, and litigation ensued.

The situation seemed to brighten in 1975 when she met Bill Hudson of the Hudson Brothers. Although long separated, Goldie did not file for divorce until she and Bill planned to wed. Trikonis demanded a $75,000 settlement from Hawn under the California community-property law. “I was hurt,” she said at the time. “He never supported me a day in his life.”

When she and Hudson married in 1976 in the backyard of her childhood home in Takoma Park, Goldie was “joyfully” pregnant. Three months after the wedding – a month late by the doctor’s count – Oliver was born.

For a time, things were good with Hudson. Then Goldie’s static career slowly began to accelerate, while Hudson’s hit the skids.

“After I had my first child,” she recalls, “I started to get itchy about going back to work. My career had not been flourishing by any means, partly by choice and partly not. I had made a decision earlier to turn down all pictures offered to me, though I was not being offered the cream, either. At the two-and-a-half-year mark, I was open to things, and I was offered stuff like Superman, but I didn’t want to do it. I was wondering exactly what I was gonna do. There didn’t seem to be anything tangible to look forward to, careerwise. An actress, when she’s not being sought after, is merely a lump of protoplasm.”

MOM! SEE! I GOT you some potato bugs that you could put in your bedroom!” says blond, beaming Oliver Rutledge Hudson as he bursts through the front door and scurries over to the couch, clutching a weed- filled jar. His face is mottled with dirt, and he is shadowed by an equally grimy little boy named John, who is the son of Goldie’s friend Joan and is Oliver’s “best friend in the whole world.”

“That’s great!” says Goldie, her enthusiasm rivaling her offspring’s. “Potato bugs to put in my room; I like the idea of that! Shall I leave them here, or do you want to go and put them up on my bed? Upstairs?”

Oliver nods at the latter suggestion and leaves the room.

It’s late afternoon at the Hawn residence (Hudson has possession of their Malibu beach house and joint custody of the children, who live with Goldie during the week), and I’m still trying to get my bearings after a half-hour in the hectic household, whose antiques-crammed rooms lend it an aura closer to that of a Connecticut farmhouse than a movie star’s California manse. Katie and her toddler companions are following their own errant muses into various corners, and Oliver and John can be heard demanding bananas and cookies in the kitchen. Causal order is imposed by Goldie, a middle-aged housekeeper named Teresa, and Carol, a thirtyish governess/extra pair of eyes. But Goldie is clearly the lady of the house, and when her son comes back sobbing after being denied a between-meals snack, Goldie embraces him and says with a tenderness underscored by no-bullshit finality, “Hold the phone; it’s not that important. You’ll have a nice dinner soon.” He calms down.

Reflecting Hawn’s heritage as well as her own distinctive predilections, the living-room decor is a mix of oddball stuffed animals and sentimental tchotchkes dominated by Early American folk art and primitive paintings. When I ask her which of these possessions she could least bear to lose, she reflects for a few seconds and then shows me a painting that hangs by her front door. It is an American primitive of a child with piercing blue eyes, dressed in a ruffled gown and one blue slipper – that other clutched in the child’s hand.

“I bought this painting in 1971 while I was doing Butterflies Are Free,” she says quietly, “and I could not bear to lose it. There’s something very pure and profound about it. The child resembles both of my children, and my father, too. I love the fact the that I see this child whenever I enter or leave the house.

“I have this naive, idealistic attitude toward life,” she offers when we’ve settled back on the couch. “That’s why I buy these simplistic, romantic paintings. And I enjoy being with a man who has an artistic point of view. What a shame,” she says, her face suddenly flushed with sadness, “you always meet people in the business.”

“Neither Gus nor Bill,” I observe, “was doing as well as you were during your marriages.”

“I honest to God try, at least, to leave my career problems outside my door,” she says. “But in the end, that didn’t even work, so either it’s money, power or fame. They all work against you, unless you find a man who is absolutely secure in who he is.

“Personally, I have few excesses; I’m not a coke head, I don’t drink too much; I guess I do smoke a lot. But being well balanced, being someone who has the ability to look at the problem objectively, is not necessarily an asset.

“I have my own problems that people have to buy when they fall in love with me or when we hitch up in marriage – I come with my sack of goods, too. But forgetting that, the other things that are – or seem – bigger than both of us are success, power and money.

“It’s hard enough on a man when a woman has these things, and it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to maintain a balance of power in a relationship. And it’s the saddest realization that I have ever had to come to in my life. With women’s liberation and all the great strides that people are making, basically we are having the same problems, and I’m confronting them head-on right now.

“Having my kids know how much I love them is so important to me. When I was a little girl, I dreamed about a woman who lived on our street in Maryland, and she was very scary to me. With her hooked nose, she looked like a witch. In my dreams, I remember her as someone walking around being threatening – someone who was gonna get me. I want my children to feel wanted, protected.”

Judging from her general tone whenever the subject arises, the things Goldie says about her children, she could just as easily be saying about herself.

“It was very rough on her when she suddenly became a big star,” says her mother. “Her marriage was breaking up, and thirteen people would run up to her in the supermarket; she lost her sense of privacy and security.”

Much of Goldie Hawn’s film persona is of a piece with her personal experiences, and that loss of privacy and security, that vulnerability, is a quality that many moviegoers can readily identify with.

“Absolutely,” Zieff agrees. “Yet even when she’s tough, you’re sympathetic. But it would be difficult to cast Goldie as a negative force; that would be like trying, in the old days, to make Gary Cooper into a villain.”

Unfortunately, the actions Goldie takes to fortify her world are the same ones that invite the greatest jeopardy.

“I’m not anxious to get back to work,” she offers. “Having worked so hard over the last two years, I feel drained, played out; I need to get back in gear. I’m not a goal-oriented person; I’m more project-oriented. Do you know what I’m saying? I certainly have an aggressive spirit when it comes to getting something I believe in done, but I don’t sit home and immediately think of what I should do next: ‘Well, I should make this move now. . . . ‘ ”

We walk to the playroom and find Kate and Oliver on their knees before the TV screen, happily painting their coloring books and waiting for Goldie to come on the screen in a cable-TV interview program.

Goldie gives Kate a big hug and kiss, and then stands expressionless as the silver-haired host, film critic Charles Champlin, introduces a glamorous-looking Goldie and describes her “great triumph” with Private Benjamin.

“Private ‘Mommy’ Benjamin,” Oliver corrects with annoyance, as a clip of the film is shown.

Afterward, Champlin asks his guest, “Is the Goldie Hawn we see very close to the Goldie Hawn that you see . . . when you go home?”

Goldie frowns at the phoniness of the segment and shuts off the TV.

“I think I’ve OD’ed on looking at myself, listening to myself on TV or film,” she says to no one in particular. “It’s not healthy.”

At that moment, Oliver leaps up and hands me his finished painting.

“I want this to be for you!” he says, and Goldie squeals with delight. “Ollie! What a nice little son I have! What a wonderful thing to do for someone!”

She lifts him with a loving nuzzle and carries him up to bed, Carol following with Kate, good nights and goodbyes exchanged all around.

AN HOUR LATER, I’M in the car with Goldie and her friend Joan, heading down Sunset Boulevard to see a movie. Goldie sighs and mentions Oliver’s gift to me, how touched she was by his gesture.

We reach a red light and she brakes, looks downward pensively, and says to both of us, “The other day, Oliver gave me this star, and I just had to ask, ‘Is this for being a movie star or for being [long pause] a mommy?”‘

The pause is unsettling. The light changes. Goldie, glassy-eyed, gazing straight ahead, speaks, her voice just above a murmur. “He said, ‘It was for being a star mom.’ “

And then she hits the gas.

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