A Lotus Grows In the Mud
By Goldie Hawn
G. P. Putnam's Sons Copyright © 2005 Goldie Hawn
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-399-15285-7
I waddle through the back lot of Paramount Studios, six months pregnant with my second child, Miss Katie. She kicks and rolls as I wend my way in the dark to the restaurant where I am meeting two young writers to discuss a possible new film project.
It is the winter of 1979. The air is cold and damp. I am tired. I gather my coat around my big belly as I approach this landmark eatery where the old ghosts of Hollywood hover and the new players meet, share ideas and gossip unceremoniously about one another.
I'm at the end of a long week spent on a dark looping stage, re-creating every word I spoke in my last film, Trip with Anita. I am sick of looking at myself day after day trying to make the words fit in my mouth as each scene moves along silently with just a click track in my headphones. Thank heavens it's almost over and I can just concentrate on having my second baby and returning to my so- called normal life for a while.
Maybe it's not too late to make my marriage work, I think to myself. Maybe if I spend less time working, doing films back-to-back, and more time at home with Daddy Bill and little Oliver, we'll be okay. If my new production company takes off, giving me a little more control over the movies I star in and can make for other people, then I can rein back a little.
I open the door to the restaurant and see Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer sitting in a booth near the window. They are animated, energetic, inspired and full of youth. I like them immediately.
"Hey, thanks for coming all the way into Hollywood to meet with me," I say as I peel off my coat and slump heavily into the seat opposite them. "I've been looping all day on this film I did in Italy last year. They don't use sound over there. Go figure."
We laugh about the archaic way that that particular Italian director makes movies. The menu comes, and I order my weekly dose of liver while my companions jump right in explaining what they're up to.
"We've been working on this idea for a script and want to talk to you about it ... to see if you and your company might be interested in helping us get it made. We'd like you to play the lead role."
I settle into my seat, ready and eager to hear.
"Okay, guys, shoot."
"It's a story of a spoiled Jewish girl named Judy Benjamin who joins the Army on an impulse after her husband drops dead on their wedding night," Nancy says.
"While making love," Charles chips in.
I laugh out loud. "Oh my God, that's funny. Really funny. Then what?"
"Well, of course, she's a fish out of water in the Army," Nancy continues. "She can't believe what she's done or how she's living. She can't wait to get out and go back to her comfortable life. But, guess what?"
"What?" I'm on the edge of my seat.
"When the chance finally comes, she decides to stay."
I laugh and laugh as they tell me the whole story. I can't believe what I'm hearing. The concept is so fresh, so brave and original. The female lead carries the whole movie, almost by herself. She embarks on a personal journey and becomes empowered and independent and strong. It couldn't be more different from my last movie.
I can feel a flutter of excitement in my belly that has nothing to do with my baby. This is a dream role for any actress. My fatigue melts away and my heart races at being asked to play one of the best characters I have ever been offered.
"What's the film called?" I ask Nancy and Charles.
"Private Benjamin," they reply.
Feeling the warmth of my baby resting on the tops of my thighs, I shift in my seat, wondering, praying Judy Benjamin will wait for me.
Finally, I pop the question. "When do you plan on shooting this?"
"We aren't sure yet. We want to write the script on spec first."
"Oh, I see." I nod. "You haven't even written it yet?"
They glance at each other. "No, that will take some time. And, anyway, we wanted to find out if you were available first. When's the baby due?"
"In three months. She'll be born at the end of April, actually." I stroke my belly, happy at the prospect.
Charles and Nancy nod to each other and smile knowingly. "Well, that would work out really well."
"Great!" I exhale, over the moon. "Then count me in."
After dinner, we hug and say our good-byes as we walk in opposite directions to our cars. It's late, but I'm no longer tired. Reaching my car, I turn. "Who do you have in mind to produce, by the way?"
"No one yet," they call back across the parking lot. "We were going to wait until the script is finished."
"Well, you know what?" I yell back in the dark. "Maybe we could do this ourselves. Maybe we don't need another voice in the mix right now."
"That's what we were thinking."
I lower myself into the front seat of my Mercedes and start up the engine. Heading for home, I wonder what on earth I'm letting myself in for.
* * *
Warner Brothers bravely agreed to go with our triad as the only producers attached to Private Benjamin. The executives were not only trusting that two women and a man could produce this film, they were also banking on a story about a woman going into the Army bringing a good financial return. The Hollywood film industry at that time was still controlled by men.
But none of us even thought of that as a problem or perceived any glass ceiling at the time. Not at Warner Brothers, anyway. Bob Shapiro, the head of production, loved this movie and what it had to say. He told us from the outset, "If I can't make this film, then I want to be first in line to see it." He was a source of such support during the usual obstacles all films come up against in the long process of production.
It was such an exciting time for all of us. We moved into our offices on the Warner Brothers lot and began to build the dream team that would, we hoped, bring this wonderful script to the silver screen. We needed everything from a director and cast to a cinematographer and set designer. We needed to look at actors and locations, costumes and line producers. All this just six months after I'd given birth to my perfect baby girl.
I drove joyfully to our offices almost every day, packing my tiny Kate in her little car seat, her bottles and cereal in my bag, along with a few rattles and toys and her fold-up playpen. Oliver was in preschool, and his nanny looked after him when I wasn't there. It was so great having Kate gurgling away in the office with us in the midst of the hustle and bustle of pre-production.
We found ourselves a wonderful director, Arthur Hiller, who had directed The In- Laws. For reasons I was never sure of he dropped out He was a good man, and there were no hard feelings. It was difficult, however, to find another director at that stage of pre-production. As fate would have it, we were crossing the streets of the back lot on our way to lunch one day when we ran into a friend of Nancy and Charles's: Howard Zeiff.
"Hey, Howard, what are you doing?" Charles asked.
"Nothing right now."
The three of us looked at each other and smiled. "Nothing? Really? How would you like to direct our new movie?"
So there goes another Hollywood story. Howard Zeiff became our new director.
Happy and fulfilled, my life seemed almost perfect. I only wished there were two of me: the Goldie who could continue to be successful at my work and live the life I loved outside the home, and the Goldie who could be at home cooking and enjoying the domestic side of life that I also cared so deeply about. I battled with myself over these two roles constantly, trying to balance both, but somewhere deep inside I knew that I couldn't win this one. There was never enough time in the day to accomplish my dream of having it all.
Sometimes I'd get home much later than I might have wished and was unable to meet everyone's demands for attention. Some nights I raced home just to bathe my babies and tuck them in bed. I knew that my marriage was suffering as a consequence. The struggle of juggling all this was an enormous burden to bear, and the guilt relentless. The icing on the cake was the slight chance that this film would be a great big fat success. But I also feared that possibility. I knew that if it was a success, my obstacles would only be harder to overcome. The pressures that would put on my already fragile marriage would be almost insurmountable in this business where one party always feels left out of the parade.
But I was on this fantasy ride at Disneyland and I couldn't jump off. For one thing it was way too much fun, and secondly, the train had already left the station.
* * *
The film was a bigger, fatter success than I could ever have imagined. Not only was it the great creative collaboration of my life but the most thrilling time in my professional career. The movie opened at the theatres with more acclaim than anyone expected, and the only name above the title was mine. There was no male star to carry the picture, as they say, as was usually the case. If ever I had suspected how life changing this movie would be for me, I could never have guessed how much.
Everybody suddenly wanted to interview me. I made the cover of Newsweek. I was touted as the Hollywood actress who broke the rules, broke box office expectations and trailblazed a new path for women, especially for actresses who wanted to produce films for themselves and for others.
I was happy but at the same time worried at this superinflated image the media seemed to have created of me. I wasn't the only producer on the film. Nancy and Charles did more, than I did. But because the media decided it would be so, I became the face of female power in Hollywood, even though Nancy is the one who has gone on to write, produce and direct huge box office hits like What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give, and Charles Shyer has directed many films since.
My marriage finally cracked under the pressure, and the double-edged sword of my supposed new power in Hollywood stuck in my side. I'd only feared what success could do to destabilize my home life, I hadn't considered the reaction within the industry. It was increasingly more difficult for me to be simply an actress for hire. I kept hearing things like, "But Goldie does her own films." Even though I met many wonderful, strong directors with great roles to offer, none of them hired me. I began getting a complex thinking that they didn't want to work with me, when, in truth, they just didn't want the baggage of "Goldie Hawn." This realization was so crushing to me.
There were several fallow periods that followed, and many times I looked back and felt the bittersweet sting of Private Benjamin. Of the films I have made since then, some I have produced and some I have not. I've worked alongside some very good directors and some not so good. I have been fearless in arguing points with studio heads I have felt strongly about. I have made some friends and I've made some enemies trying to help make my films be as good as they can be. Sometimes I was right to share my vision and sometimes I was wrong. My only hope was that a great collaboration would be sparked, and that ego and fear would be left outside the door.
But my passion and commitment to work was no longer tempered by the fear of not being liked. My tenacity and determination to be true to the person I had become was sacrosanct. I guess I came to know this about myself: for better or worse, I don't give up.
Excerpted from A Lotus Grows In the Mud by Goldie Hawn Copyright © 2005 by Goldie Hawn. Excerpted by permission.
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