On this day in 1955, the actress, comedian and talk-show host Whoopi Goldberg is born in New York City. Goldberg earned an Oscar nomination for her Hollywood feature debut in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985) and went on become the first-ever solo female host of the Academy Awards.
Born Caryn Johnson, Goldberg dropped out of high school, battled drug addiction, married at the age of 18, and had a daughter. In the mid-1970s, she moved to California and became involved in theater and stand-up comedy. She eventually developed a one-woman show of character monologues called The Spook Show and began touring the country. Renamed Whoopi Goldberg and directed by Mike Nichols, the show played to sold-out audiences on Broadway from 1984 to 1985. The director Steven Spielberg then cast Goldberg as Celie in The Color Purple, his big-screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel about an African-American woman growing up in the South during the early- to mid-1900s. The film received 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actress nod for Goldberg. She went on to star in films such as Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) and Clara’s Heart (1988). She also continued to perform stand-up comedy, including a series of Comic Relief television benefits with her friends and fellow comics Billy Crystal and Robin Williams to raise money for organizations that help the homeless.
Goldberg won her first Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress category, for her role as psychic Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 blockbuster Ghost, co-starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. (Goldberg was just the second African-American to collect the Best Supporting Actress award. The first, Hattie McDaniel, won for her performance in 1939’s Gone With the Wind.) In 1992, Goldberg scored another box-office hit with Sister Act, in which she played a nightclub singer hiding out in a convent from the mob. During the 1990s, Goldberg also appeared in such films as Robert Altman’s movie-business parody The Player (1992); Made in America (1993), with her one-time paramour Ted Danson; Corrina, Corrina (1994), with Ray Liotta; Boys on the Side (1995), with Drew Barrymore and Mary-Louise Parker; and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), about the trial of the assassinated civil-rights leader Medgar Evers. The dreadlocked entertainment dynamo had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1988 to 1993 and hosted her own talk show from 1992 to 1993.
In 1994, Goldberg became the first-ever solo female host of the Academy Awards, a job she repeated to largely positive reviews in 1996, 1999 and 2002. In September 2007, she signed on as a moderator of the daytime chatfest The View, taking over for the frequently controversial Rosie O’Donnell, who left the show. In addition to her TV and film work, Goldberg has continued to act and produce on Broadway.