For years Hollywood executives considered her a talented pain in the neck. Now Whoopi Goldberg's making them pay.
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A few years ago, probably because of her ties to Berkeley in the '60s, The Whoop was labeled a wild-eyed radical. As usual with Whoopi and labels, this was never accurate, and today the very idea seems overblown. "Some people want Clinton to change the Haitian policy immediately," she says. "I think, because of the situation in Haiti, this policy has to gradually change, so we don't find ourselves with the entire country of Haiti in the United States and no way to house them or get them to work." Pragmatic. Diplomatic. ("Hello, UNICEF? Mike Ovitz at CAA. Have we got a goodwill ambassador for you!")
As she talks, you often get the feeling that Walter Mitty is alive and well and hiding under Whoopi's skirts. Part of her wants to be Carole Lombard, part of her wants to pump steel and compare cigars with Arnold and part of her wants to be Bill Moyers or Diane Sawyer. Above all, she wants to feel free to do comedy or serious drama depending only on her spirit of the moment, not on any pigeonholing by the Hollywood-establishment money men. In sum, Whoopi Goldberg wants it all, and given the roll she's on now, she just may have it all, pretty much the way she dreamed it back in the housing projects of Chelsea.
Do all her career ambitions and her diverse interests leave any time for a private life? There have been reports of a romance between her and her Made in America co-star Ted Danson, but Whoopi remains discreet. "One of the reasons it's so hard to live here is that you're not allowed to have friends. It so sad. You want to know about my love life? I'll tell you. I eat macadamia nuts and I read," she laughs. "That's it." Like many stars, Whoopi has a low pain threshold about the press in general, and the tabloid press in particular. One recent story said she was the best friend of some social-climbing starlet in Hollywood. "Hey," "Whoopi says, snuffing out her Davidoff, "I don't even know this bitch!"
Still, Whoopi knows that the public scrutiny and loss of privacy come with the territory of stardom, just like hassles with the studio bosses and the penthouse she used to keep here at the St. James Club, a premier landmark of West Hollywood. With its distinctive Art Deco mirrors and detail, the St. James serves as an enduring reminder of all the glamour and high style of Hollywood in its golden years, and as Whoopi walks through the lobby you can easily picture Carole Lombard sweeping down the staircase and out toward the waiting klieg lights of the celebrity photographers and myth-makers.
"This place is me, don't you think?" Whoopi says, reaching up for a kiss good-bye. Absolutely, Whoop. Absolutely.
Paul Chutkow writes frequently about the arts. He is currently working on a biography of Gerard Depardieu.