Oscar Profile #511: Whoopi Goldberg

Born November 13, 1955 in New York, New York, Caryn Elaine Johnson, known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg, is the daughter of Robert James Johnson Jr., a Baptist clergyman, and Emma Johnson, née Harris, a nurse, and teacher. A high school dropout, she relocated to Southern California in the mid-1970s before moving to Berkeley, outside of San Francisco.

Holding down a series of jobs while trying to get her comedy and acting careers off the ground, Goldman married first husband Alvin Martin in 1973 with whom she had her only child. They were divorced in 1979.

In various one-woman shows, she appeared on Broadway in 1984 in Whoopi Goldberg for which she won several awards. Although she had been part of an ensemble in 1982’s Citizen, her film career really began with her Oscar nominated performance in 1985’s The Color Purple. Briefly married to Dutch documentary filmmaker David Claessen from 1986-1988, she appeared in such films as Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, and Clara’s Heart during the marriage.

Goldberg starred in two high-profile 1990 films, The Long Walk Home and Ghost, winning an Oscar for the latter. She starred along with Jean Stapleton in the 1990-1991 TV series, Bagdad Café. In 1992, she was again in two high profile films, The Player and Sister Act, receiving a Golden Globe nomination for the latter. She had a recurring role in TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1988 and appeared regularly during the show’s last season in 1992-1993. She was in Made in America, Naked in New York and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, all in 1993.

In highly publicized relationships with actors Frank Langella and Ted Danson, Goldberg married her third husband, union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg in 1994, the same year she became the first woman to host the Oscars solo. She and Trachtenberg were divorced the following year. During this period, her films included The Lion King, Corinna, Corinna, Boys on the Side and Moonlight and Valentino.

Goldberg continued her highly successful Hollywood career in such films as 1996’s Ghosts of Mississippi, the 1997 TV movie, In the Gloaming, 1997’s In & Out, in which she had an uncredited role, and 1999’s The Deep End of the Ocean and Girl, Interrupted.

In the first decade of the new century, Goldberg expanded her horizons as a producer of the 2002 Broadway musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie and the 2008 Broadway musical, Xanadu. In 2010, she appeared as the Mother Superior in the London musical version of Sister Act, which she later produced on Broadway.

On TV’s The View from 2005-present, Goldberg has her best acting role in some time as a 108-year-old woman in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand at 64.


THE COLOR PURPLE (1985), directed by Steven Spielberg

Spielberg’s first “serious” film was nominated for 11 Oscars but failed to win any. Scandalously, Spielberg himself was not nominated. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in their first films were nominated for their performances as was veteran Margaret Avery. It was the first time three black performers were nominated for the same film and the first time two black performers (Winfrey and Avery) were nominated in the same category for the same film. Goldberg’s nomination was the first for a black actress since Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones 31 years earlier.

CLARA’S HEART (1988), directed by Robert Mulligan

Goldberg’s performance was her best since The Color Purple and arguably her last great dramatic performance. She was terrific as the Jamaican woman who takes a job as housekeeper for a well-to-do Maryland couple (Michael Ontkean, Kathleen Quinlan) grieving for the loss of their infant daughter. 15-year-old Neil Patrick Harris (13 at the time of filming), in his film debut, proves to be her match as the couple’s surviving child whose best friend she becomes. The film was produced by MTM productions which became the property of 20th Century-Fox, but Warner Bros. which originally released the films retains the rights.

GHOST (1990), directed by Jerry Zucker

Nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, this romantic thriller won two, one for Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay and one for Goldberg for Best Supporting Actress. Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Tony Goldwyn have the romantic leads, but Goldberg steals the show as the film’s comic relief, a charlatan psychic who surprises herself by proving to have some of the psychic powers she pretends to have. The most rented film on videocassette in 1991, Goldberg got the role at the insistence of Swayze. It was Goldberg who announced Swayze’s death at 57 on The View in 2009.

SISTER ACT (1999), directed by Emile Ardolino

The script for Goldberg’s most popular comic hit was written by Paul Rudnick for Bette Midler. He researched it while staying at Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut where Mother Dolores Hart, the former actress and only real-life nun ever to be a voting member of AMPAS, is prioress. Goldberg’s dialogue was rewritten for her by Carrie Fisher when she replaced Midler as the witness to a mob hit hidden by the police in a convent. Goldberg received numerous acting awards and nominations for her role and later played the part of the Mother Superior, played by Maggie Smith in the film, in the London stage production.

THE VIEW (2005-2020), produced by ABC

Although Goldberg hadn’t been out of the limelight since the early 1980s, she increased her fame exponentially with her role in this popular daily TV show. Originally hired to replace Rosie O’Donnell s the show’s second banana next to Barbara Walters, she eventually replaced Walters as host of the four-woman panel when Walters retired. During this time, she continued to make regular appearances at the Oscars, as well as act and produce Broadway shows including Sister Act – The Musical, even playing the Mother Superior in the London production, taken over by Victoria Clark when the show went to Broadway.


  • The Color Purple (1985) – nominated – Best Actress
  • Ghost (1990) – Oscar – Best Supporting Actress

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