Goldie Hawn still regrets missing her Oscar moment.
On the evening of April 7, 1970, the budding 25-year-old actress, with just two film credits to her name, was half a world away from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles when Fred Astaire opened an envelope and read her name as the best supporting actress winner for “Cactus Flower.” Instead of basking in the glow of television history, the “Laugh-In” star was sound asleep in London as an early call time loomed for her next film, “There’s a Girl in My Soup,” opposite Peter Sellers.
Hawn, now 77, is sitting in front of a fire in a woodpaneled study in her Pacific Palisades home as she recalls those few seconds that changed the trajectory of her life but that she never experienced firsthand. Throughout her trailblazing career, which includes such classics as “Foul Play,” “Private Benjamin,” “Overboard” and “The First Wives Club,” Hawn has created no shortage of indelible characters and experienced many artistic triumphs. But if she could get one do-over, she would haul her ass to that 1970 ceremony.
“I never got dressed up. I never got to pick up the award,” she tells me, her bare feet propped up on a coffee table as she stretches her arms over her head. “I regret it. It’s something that I look back on now and think, ‘It would have been so great to be able to have done that.’”
Part of the problem, Hawn admits, is that she didn’t expect to win. After all, this was long before Oscar prognosticating, handicapping and lobbying became de rigueur. “Cactus Flower” was her first real movie role (notwithstanding her bit part in the Disney musical “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band”), and she was nominated alongside accomplished actresses like Sylvia Miles for “Midnight Cowboy” and Susannah York for “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Unlike the 63.1 million who tuned in live in the U.S., Hawn missed the show.
Peggy Sirota for Variety
“I forgot it was on television that night,” she says. “Then I woke up to a phone call at like 4 in the morning. And it was a man’s voice and he said, ‘Hey, congratulations, you got it.’ ‘I got what?’ ‘You got the Academy Award for best supporting actress.’” Hawn thanked the disembodied voice, hung up, called her parents and “had a good cry.”
Though Raquel Welch accepted the coveted statuette on Hawn’s behalf that night, Hawn never watched footage of the moment until just a few weeks ago, while traveling with this year’s Oscar host, Jimmy Kimmel, to a mutual friend’s party. “He said, ‘Did you ever see the part where you’re being announced by Fred Astaire?’ And I said, ‘Fred Astaire?!’ He’s my idol. And I didn’t know he was the one that announced my name. I got emotional when I finally saw it.”
While Hawn wasn’t in the room that night, she certainly made her way back to the Academy Awards, as a return nominee in 1981 for “Private Benjamin,” as a co-host in 1987 (alongside Chevy Chase and Paul Hogan), and 13 times as a presenter, most notably for another no-show winner, George C. Scott. In 1971, the “Patton” star boycotted the Oscars because he was ideologically opposed to actors being pitted against one another in a contest. “I was amused and shocked,” she says of that moment, which could have been awkward but was defused by Hawn’s “Oh, my God!” and trademark giggle.
At the 1989 ceremony, Hawn one-upped herself as she and her partner of now 40 years, Kurt Russell, seemed to toy with the idea of tying the knot before presenting the best director award to Barry Levinson for “Rain Man.” It’s a bit the couple came up with hours before the ceremony because they disliked what had been written for them. “We’re taking a shower together, getting ready to go,” Russell says, “and we looked at each other and said, ‘There’s gonna be a lot of people watching, so let’s get this right.’ And we started punching it back and forth for about 20 minutes. We didn’t tell anybody anything about going off-script.”
To this day, people believe their banter was real. Russell says it was not. “At that time, we constantly got asked, ‘When are you going to get married? Why aren’t you married?’ And we were like, ‘Why does anybody care about that?’ We’d asked our kids if they cared about it. They didn’t. We didn’t.”
When it comes to Russell, the patriarch of their sprawling, blended family, Hawn keeps her words brief. “Kurt is extraordinarily brilliant and creative and collaborative — not in the kitchen,” she says with a laugh. “But really he’s just amazing.”
Years ago, I remember catching Hawn and Russell in an unguarded moment as they emerged from a movie theater in Santa Monica. Not a premiere, mind you, just a weekday showing of “The Hurt Locker.” They were holding hands and smoking cigarettes like teenagers on a date.
Earlier on this dreary February afternoon, Hawn descends the grand staircase of her home with her Oscar in hand, like an earthy version of Norma Desmond, her three dogs (an English lab, a mutt and a blind Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) bounding over to her side when she reaches the base. “Yeah, I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille,” she says with a laugh. She normally keeps the trophy in her bedroom closet, where she can see it but no one else can. “I don’t brag much,” she says. “So those things, I keep kind of quiet.”
And casual. Instead of Desmond’s sequined gown, Hawn is wearing a black long-sleeved T-shirt with shoulder cutouts and a pair of black leather pants. The sweeping staircase is the centerpiece of a house that she and Russell designed together and built from scratch in 2016, moving in a year later. Hawn is proud of the white Southern-style structure that is simultaneously luxurious and lived in, with oversize couches and pricey art sharing space with crafts made by her seven grandchildren. A photo of Hawn with her daughter Kate Hudson and former son-in-law, rocker Chris Robinson, taken on their wedding day sits on top of a white piano. It’s a vivid reminder of Hawn’s “family matters” ethos, where even an ex remains part of the clan.
In a family in which everyone is famous, Hawn doesn’t seem to take celebrity too seriously. “Kurt and I are very similar,” she says. “He doesn’t consider himself a movie star. Nor do I. Neither one of us walks around thinking about that stuff.” But there’s no mistaking the impact she’s had on female stars, paving the way for generations of A-list comic actresses like Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts. On-screen, Hawn was equal parts silly and sexy, but somehow managed to be subversive.
“It’s just an intrinsic talent that she has,” says Mel Gibson, who starred opposite Hawn in “Bird on a Wire,” the early ’90s screwball action hit. “She just seems to have been born with that — the timing and the sense of humor.”
At a time when the movies are clawing for relevance, Hawn offers a vital reminder of how Hollywood was once all about glamour and fun. “It used to be elegant,” she says of the Oscars. “I’m not old-fashioned, but sometimes jokes are off-color. And I’m missing reverence. Things have become politicized. I want to see people in awe. I want to see people believing again. I want to see people laughing more in a way that isn’t just at someone else’s expense.”
For Hawn, the Academy Awards double as a metaphor for what ails society. Example A: Will Smith slapping Chris Rock onstage last year. “It’s indicative of our culture right now,” Hawn says. “I mean, you could look at it and say, ‘What the hell just happened?’ Somebody lost control. They lost their self-regulation. Their bigger brain wasn’t thinking, and they did something that was horrendous and also showed no remorse. That, to me, is a microcosm oftentimes of our world. Chris was brilliant — totally held on to and controlled his emotions, was able to stand with dignity. That’s an example of what we would like our world to look like. But, unfortunately, it isn’t right now.”
Hawn grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., the younger of two daughters of a musician father who played the violin, saxophone and clarinet and a dancer mother. Growing up in a duplex on a dead-end street with her sister, Patti, a longtime Hollywood publicist, her upbringing was steeped in the arts, with her father performing for presidents like FDR and at John F. Kennedy’s wedding.
“I had an idyllic childhood. We never locked the door,” she says. “We had our summers where we made forts out in the yard and played canasta on the porch and badminton in the driveway. In the winter, when it would snow, the police department would build us a fire and we’d go sledding. And then we’d come in and get warm by the fire, and Mommy would make chocolate chip cookies. My mom worked. My sister was almost eight years older than me, so I was 11 when she moved out. I was like an only child, in many ways. But we had dinner every night at 6 o’clock.”
A sensitive child, Hawn says she recited Psalm 23 before bed every night because it made her feel calm. As a little girl, she began dancing three times a week. When she complained about going to her lessons, her mother was unyielding.
Peggy Sirota for Variety
“She was firm about everything, including my behavior,” Hawn remembers. “You just never tell a lie. The truth will serve you better.”
The dream, for Hawn, was to dance on Broadway. So, after studying acting for a year at American University, she bailed on school and headed to New York City. “I was dropped off on 10th Avenue. I had a little suitcase, and I had no place to stay,” she says. “I had to figure shit out right away.”
Her first job was dancing at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. That turned into acting roles in stage musicals that brought her to Los Angeles. Success came quickly when Hawn landed a starring role on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a sketch comedy show that was akin to “Saturday Night Live.” Hawn became a household name as the ditzy blonde with saucer eyes and a disarming giggle. But the threat of being typecast was real. Her first big-screen role, in 1968’s “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band,” was literally playing a character called “Giggly Girl.”
“When I first started in the business, they wanted me to do Judy Holliday. And she sort of talked like this,” she says, doing Holliday’s high-pitched squeak. “She did great movies, and it was her brand. And so they wanted me to do remakes of some of her films. And I said, ‘I can’t. They’re hers.’”
Instead, Hawn would carve out her own screen identity with “Cactus Flower,” playing a suicidal kook opposite Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman. The reviews for Hawn were stellar, with The New York Times gushing, “It comes as a pleasing jolt to find the youngster, Goldie Hawn, at the apex of the triangle, not only beautifully holding her own with the two veteran stars but also enhancing the content and flavor of the movie.”
After winning the Oscar, Hawn had her pick of movie roles. That meant working with “absolute genius” Steven Spielberg in his first feature, the 1974 crime drama “The Sugarland Express.” “That film stands out as one of the great characters I’ve played,” Hawn says of the protagonist, who takes a police officer hostage rather than let her child be put in foster care. “She was quite a pistol. And it took me a long time to get her out of my system. I’m a practical person; I just shake it off — my characters don’t live inside of me. But this one did. She was actually quite tragic. But they put me on the poster with a big, huge smile, and it looked like a comedy. It wasn’t.”
Over the next decade, Hawn’s face on a poster delivered box office manna for a string of comedies, including the Warren Beatty sex romp “Shampoo” in 1975 and the noir sendup “Foul Play” in 1978, opposite Chevy Chase.
“The best actors and actresses don’t forget who they are as a person and how to use that in character,” says Chase, who also starred with Hawn in 1980’s “Seems Like Old Times.” “That was Goldie. I thought she was brilliant in everything she did. I never saw a performance that wasn’t real. But she’s also a smart cookie and a serious woman. Not a ditzy blonde. But she knows how to use the ‘blonde’ so it’s disarming.”
Perhaps leaning into that archetype is what allowed Hawn to also move easily in spaces that had historically been reserved for men — coaching football in “Wildcats,” becoming a World War II-era factory worker in “Swing Shift” or enlisting in the Army in “Private Benjamin.”
Ironically, it was other women who sometimes shamed the actress for her flighty persona. At the height of the ’70s women’s lib movement, Hawn endured an awkward encounter with a female reporter for one of the major women’s magazines. “She said to me, ‘Well, don’t you feel kind of irresponsible for being like a dumb blonde and, you know, playing dumb in a time when women are reaching out to become independent and liberated,’” Hawn remembers. “And I looked at her and I said, ‘Oh, but I’m already liberated.’”
As her career was hitting overdrive, Hawn married musician Bill Hudson in 1976 while pregnant with their son, Oliver. Three years later, she gave birth to their daughter, Kate. But Hollywood isn’t the most natural place to be a mother.
“It was hard,” she says. “I once said to my father, ‘Daddy, I just want to be normal.’ And I remember him saying to me, ‘Well, isn’t your life normal?’ ‘No.’ You’re being recognized all the time, and you have children with you — that’s an invasion. I just wanted to be a mom. I didn’t want to have to deal with that. Mothers were to me the most important thing ever. And I had to leave my kids for work sometimes.”
Shortly after Kate’s birth, Hawn took on a new role as producer, with “Private Benjamin” marking her first project. Considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, it was fraught with behind-the-scenes drama. Hawn says the original director, whom she declines to name, dropped out during production.
“He felt it was an antisemitic film, and she’s a spoiled Jewish girl,” Hawn, who herself is Jewish, says of the title character. “And he went to the Anti-Defamation League, and they said, ‘No, it’s not.’ But he had his ethics, and I respect his decision. At the end of the day, we got Howard Zieff. Howard was funny, quirky and much more collaborative.”
The 1980s also brought forth her first real collaboration with Russell. The pair first met on the set of “One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band” when Russell was 15 and Hawn was 22. He was on set with his mother, who suggested they watch a group of young women auditioning.
“My mom leaned into me and said, ‘You see that blonde with a funny haircut?’ She’s gonna get the job.’ And sure enough, she did,” Russell says. “I thought she was awfully attractive. You couldn’t miss her. She just had this energy about her.”
But they only became a couple while filming “Swing Shift” in 1983, one year after her split with Hudson. Following the birth of their son, Wyatt, in 1986, Hawn and Russell starred together in “Overboard,” the story of a spoiled heiress who falls for a boorish carpenter. It’s a film that Hawn says should never have been remade into the 2018 movie starring Anna Faris.
“‘Overboard’ was really perfect just as it was,” she says. “Very rarely does a remake match the actual original film. So I’m not a fan of remakes, period. I think that people have put their stamp on their movies, and if they’re classics, they should be left alone.”
Peggy Sirota for Variety
Of course, if you’ve worked in Hollywood for as long as Hawn has, there are also the battle scars. Hawn was set to produce and star as Velma Kelly opposite Madonna’s Roxie Hart in a film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Chicago” for Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax.
“He’s finally living his karma,” Hawn says of Weinstein, who likely will serve the rest of his life in prison after being accused by dozens of women of assault and abuse. “Harvey basically undermined me and Madonna.” While they were developing “Chicago” in the late ’80s, Weinstein commissioned a new script in which Velma was 23 years old — two decades younger than Hawn was at the time. “I said, ‘Don’t fuck with me. Because I know just what you’re doing. We made a deal,’” she recounts. So the project languished for years before it was later overhauled into the 2002 Oscar-winning film starring Renée Zellweger. But much to Hawn’s surprise, Weinstein eventually paid her what they had negotiated for her work. “You stand up to a bully, and sometimes you win. I said to him afterwards, ‘You know what the best part of you paying me is? Not the money. You restored my faith in dignity and ethics.’ Little did I know,” she says. As for Madonna, Hawn adds, “I really don’t know how she felt about it. You know, she just went with the tide.”
“Chicago” aside, few actors have held on to their movie-star status through three decades. But Hawn did just that by dominating the comedic space throughout the ’90s as well with such disparate films as “Bird on a Wire,” “Death Becomes Her,” “The First Wives Club” and a pair of Steve Martin collaborations — “Housesitter” and “The Out-of-Towners.” (She made an exception to her no-remakes rule for the latter.)
Martin and Hawn traveled in the same comedy circles back in the late ’60s when he was a writer for the Smothers Brothers and she was pushing the envelope on “Laugh-In.” But they never interacted until “Housesitter.”
“She was flying in from India, and the director, Frank Oz, and I met her for lunch, thinking we were going to talk about the script,” Martin recalls. “And Goldie came and talked about India for an hour. When we did ‘Housesitter,’ my favorite thing to do was, if we had a half-day/half-night shoot, we’d break around 5 or 6, waiting for the sun to drop. And Goldie and I would go to a little restaurant. And maybe we’d have a cocktail, and maybe we wouldn’t. And I just loved to hear her ramble.”
And ramble she does, but usually in an endearing way. Over the course of a two-hour interview, Hawn rarely answers the question at hand. And there are topics she evades, such as working with Woody Allen on “Everyone Says I Love You.” All she’ll say is that the movie was “a joyful experience.”
But there’s one theme she returns to again and again: the death of the movie star. “Where are they?” she says. “The old-fashioned movie star creates excitement. We used to be able to say, ‘I’m gonna take a break because I think I’m overexposed.’ A lot of these people that are coming up are making more money than anybody ever made as an actor, but they’re not known.” She also bemoans that the rom-com is on the brink of extinction. “It’s too pedestrian and not interesting?” she says of the prevailing mindset. “How sad.”
Hawn can afford to be blunt. After all, she largely retreated from the movie business in 2001 after shooting “The Banger Sisters” with Susan Sarandon. “I’d been making a lot of movies for a long time. And when 9/11 happened, the world turned upside down,” she says, “and I wasn’t feeling very happy. But what I realized is that children were actually going to be suffering a silent distress on account of 9/11.” Hawn rattles off some alarming statistics about teen depression. “It shook me to the core, and I said, ‘Am I going to make movies, or am I going to do something?’”
So Hawn created a nonprofit classroom program called MindUP that uses teaching tools to help kids manage stress. The program is now in place in some 50 countries. “It’s changing children,” she says.
Goldie Hawn in 1969’s “Cactus Flower” Courtesy Everett Collection
Since then, she’s returned to the screen just a handful of times, answering Amy Schumer’s call to play her character’s mother in the 2017 kidnap comedy “Snatched,” which flopped. (“Sometimes the phone rings and you pick it up,” she explains.) And she’s played Mrs. Claus opposite Russell’s Santa in two Netflix movies, “The Christmas Chronicles” in 2018 and its 2020 sequel.
There’s no denying that Hollywood has changed since Hawn ceded the spotlight. And some of those shifts make her uncomfortable — namely, the idea of “cancel culture.”
“I think that it’s important to stand vigilant on people’s behavior and really understand when they’re out of line and be able to handle it,” she says. “But I’m concerned about these areas: Suddenly you don’t have a job. Suddenly you can’t date a woman within the business or you’re going to get fired. They’re canceling books — classic books that no one can read. I don’t like that. There’s mistrust everywhere. So not only is there cancel culture, but there are culture wars. Schools are being politicized. But for the greater good of our children? No one’s really looking at that.
“There’s a disruption now. Disruptions are good. But imbalance isn’t. I hope to get back to some level of sensibility and fairness. So ‘cancel culture.’ The word itself scares me more than anything. It’s rigid, concretized thinking, which is not good. It’s got double edges on it. And who has the right to cancel?”
Though she’s on a roll, she pauses, closes her eyes and steadies her cadence before continuing: “The level of sensitivity is so high that comedians are afraid to tell certain jokes the way they used to. And it’s a bit of a quandary for comedians; there are things you can’t say and so on and so forth. I mean, it’s fine. There are certain areas that I agree with. But the level of sensitivity is unforgiving. That’s not a good feeling when you’re in a creative mode.”
As the afternoon stretches on, Hawn is getting ready for her teenage grandson to pop over for a movie night with his friends. All three of her children live nearby by design, with Kate in the house she was raised in. (Russell says they frequently bike to one another’s homes.) Much to Hawn’s delight, her children’s careers are thriving. Kate became a movie star herself after she was nominated for an Oscar in 2001 for “Almost Famous.” Wyatt starred in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and Oliver appeared on TV’s “Nashville.” But Hawn has stopped giving advice to her children and has moved on to her grandchildren. Her philosophy is to teach by example.
“You’ve got to work for a living, stay compassionate and stay realistic,” she says. “And I’m passing that on because that was what my father taught me: Stay in reality. Don’t get taken away with everything. The rest of it is up to them. Being there for them and knowing that they’re going to have to work stuff out themselves, as hard as it is.”
Remarkably, her positive message has spread well beyond her family. Hawn has become a social media star on Instagram with 3.5 million followers. During the pandemic, her peppy dances frequently went viral, with a new generation embracing her authentic and quirky vibe. And she and Russell are keeping romance alive. They celebrated their 40 years together with a weeklong trip to New York in February, taking in shows and their favorite restaurants.
But this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Hawn on the big screen. She says she’d emerge from retirement for the right role. Perhaps a Marvel movie with a “wild, crazy character.” Maybe that long-promised “First Wives Club” sequel that never materialized. And, of course, she wants one more collaboration with Russell. “I’d love to do Mrs. Claus one more time,” she says. That giggle returns. Otherwise, she’s content.
“We all have dreams,” she says, “but it’s how we fulfill them.”
Styling: Thanda Gibson; Hair and Makeup: Joey Maalouf; Look 1 (tuxedo): Jacket, pants and bow tie : Paul Smith, Shirt: Ralph Lauren; Earrings: Rahaminov Diamonds; Look 2 (dress): Dress: Maria Lucia Hohan, Earrings: Norman Silverman