Happy Birthday, Goldie Hawn: A Salute to Her Legacy of Laughter

Goldie Hawn turns 70 tomorrow. To celebrate the beloved comedienne, here's a look back at seven of her finest roles.
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Goldie Hawn turns 70 tomorrow. To celebrate the beloved comedienne, here's a look back at seven of her finest roles.
Goldie Hawn Photo

Oscar-winning actress Goldie Hawn has made us laugh in comedy classics including Cactus Flower, Foul Play, Private Benjamin, and The First Wives Club, among others.

All that glitters is still. . .Goldie. A star since her early 20s, when she first delighted audiences with her kewpie doll looks and giggly smiles on TV’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in 1968, Goldie Hawn quickly matured into one of our most celebrated comediennes. Let’s look back on a legacy of laughter by saluting seven of her finest roles as she celebrates her 70th birthday tomorrow.

Cactus Flower (1969)

Goldie Hawn Walter Matthau Photo

Goldie Hawn and Walter Matthau in Cactus Flower (1969).

Goldie went gold—Oscar gold—right off the bat, winning Best Supporting Actress for her first major film role. (Off filming There’s a Girl in My Soup with Peter Sellers, Hawn missed the ceremony.) Based on a popular Broadway comedy that gave Brenda Vaccaro’s career a Tony-nominated boost, Hawn hit it out of the park as a 21-year-old New Yorker first seen attempting suicide over a most unlikely boyfriend—a middle-aged dentist with a wife and three kids, played by Walter Matthau. The farcical twist is that carefree bachelor Matthau doesn’t have a wife and three kids, and has to convince his starchy but secretly lovelorn nurse (Ingrid Bergman) to play-act his spouse when he decides to wed Hawn. If the premise sounds a little familiar, it’s because Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston reworked it for Just Go With It in 2001—but no one went further with it than Hawn, whose winsome, must-see performance made Cactus Flower one of the year’s biggest successes. 

The Sugarland Express (1974)

Steven Spielberg Goldie Hawn Photo

Steven Spielberg and Goldie Hawn on the set of The Sugarland Express (1974).

Hawn’s career took a more serious turn with this fact-based drama, as a Texas mom who busts her husband out of jail to prevent their son from going into foster care. One poor choice snowballs into several more, as the pair kidnaps a patrolman, which sets off a caravan of police cars and news vehicles that careen through the Lone Star State. Eager for a change of pace, Hawn accepted a major pay cut to work with a 26-year-old TV director making his feature debut, Steven Spielberg. (“I always thought she was a dramatic actress, for she took her comedy very seriously,” Spielberg recalled.) She rode the critical acclaim she earned for Express to more challenging parts, as the director ascended the next year with Jaws

Shampoo (1975)

Goldie Hawn Warren Beatty Shampoo

Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty in Shampoo (1975).

Hawn made three films with Warren Beatty. The heist film $ didn’t make too much in 1971 and Town and Country lost many $ 30 years later. Set at the dawn of the Nixon presidency, this politically tinged sex comedy pairs Beatty’s womanizing hairdresser with unsuspecting girlfriend Hawn—and former girlfriend Julie Christie, client Lee Grant (in an Oscar-winning performance), and her daughter (Carrie Fisher, her film debut). Produced and co-written (with Robert Towne) by Beatty, and directed by Hal Ashby (of Harold and Maude and The Last Detail), Shampoo is a quintessential “Seventies film,” earthy, adult, and downbeat, and a perfect fit for Hawn’s ambitions. It was also one of the biggest hits of its year. 

Foul Play (1978)

Chevy Chase Goldie Hawn Foul Play

Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn in Foul Play (1978).

“Beware of the dwarf.” Hawn’s divorced librarian, adrift in San Francisco, is caught up in a comic mystery that teams her with cop Chevy Chase, fresh from Saturday Night Live and in his first starring role. She gets her share of the laughs from a script by director Colin Higgins (9 to 5)—slapstick misunderstandings with a befuddled little person (Billy Barty) and a lecherous conductor (Dudley Moore, in the part that got Hollywood’s attention) in his swinging pad among them. But Hawn also anchors the Hitchcock-inspired gags and chases with her sweetly vulnerable performance, as she gets “ready to take a chance again” (cue the film’s Oscar-nominated theme song, sung by Barry Manilow). Generating good chemistry, she and Chase reunited for another comedy, Seems Like Old Times (1980), written by Neil Simon

Private Benjamin (1980)

Goldie Hawn Photo

Goldie Hawn in the role of Private Benjamin.

Foul Play’s home run with audiences allowed her to call the shots on her next and most successful starring vehicle, for which she acted as executive producer (a title she would retain for several more movies, theatrically and for TV, for two decades). Widowed on her wedding night when her husband (Albert Brooks) drops dead, none-too-bright Judy Benjamin is drafted into the Army, where she locks horns with a disapproving captain (Eileen Brennan, whose reactions to Hawn’s basic training antics are priceless) and discovers an inner strength she never knew she had. The movie’s empowerment messages—Benjamin ultimately rejects a handsome French doctor (Armand Assante) to go it alone—struck a chord, and promoted Private Benjamin to the sixth highest grossing movie of the year. It also earned Hawn, Brennan, and screenwriters Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller Oscar nominations. 

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Goldie Hawn Meryl Streep Photo

Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her (1992).

“She was a homebreaker. She was a maneater. And she was a bad actress.” Hawn spent much of the next decade dishing up cinematic comfort food, while cultivating an enduring domestic partnership with Kurt Russell, whom she met on the set of Swing Shift (1984) and costarred with again in the comedy Overboard (1987). With offscreen BFF Meryl Streep at her side—and at her throat—she shook things up with this wild black comedy, as “Hel,” a spiteful writer who avenges herself on her life-long frenemy, “Mad,” by killing her. The plan goes wrong, though, when both realize they’ve taken the same eternal youth drug, and need Mad’s plastic surgeon husband (Bruce Willis) to hold them together, literally. Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) is at the helm and Oscar-winning special effects are at their disposal, so things fall apart quite spectacularly. “I can see right through you!” Streep hisses as she shoots a hole through the undead Hawn’s tummy. (Earlier Hawn wears a massive fat suit, in her only role that required such transformation.) 

The First Wives Club (1996)

Bette Midler Goldie Hawn Diane Keaton Photo

Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton in The First Wives Club (1996).

Hawn hasn’t made a movie since The Banger Sisters (2002), but occasionally makes public appearances, notably at the 2014 Oscars—44 years after she couldn’t make it to the ceremony to win her own. In her last and biggest hit (to date) she spoofs herself a bit, as a one-time Oscar winner, alcoholic and chain-smoking, who allies herself with long-time college friends Bette Midler and Diane Keaton to wreak havoc on the ex-husbands who dumped them. “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood—babe, district attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy,” Hawn wisecracks. Maybe a rumored First Wives Club sequel will inaugurate another Goldie age.