As a child, Elliott Gould modeled and appeared on local TV variety shows. In 1962, he starred opposite Barbra Streisand, and they married a year later (divorcing in 1971). Gould was the original Trapper John in the M*A*S*H movie, and starred in Ingmar Bergman's first English-language film. After a career lull, a role on TV's Friends led to further parts, including the Ocean's Eleven films.
Actor Elliott Gould was born Elliott Goldstein on August 29, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Gould's parents, Bernard and Lucille Goldstein, were Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and Gould's father worked in the garment industry. In 1943, when Gould was only 5 years old, his father was drafted into the army for service in World War II; in order to support the family, Elliott's mother took up work selling artificial flowers to local beauty shops. With his father away, Gould developed into a shy, and somewhat troubled, child. He recalls feeling "a degree of vulnerability, of not wanting to make a fool of myself. I didn't feel abnormal, but I certainly didn't feel normal."
Thinking that elocution lessons might help her son break out of his childhood shell, Gould's mother signed him up for Charlie Lowe's show business school for kids, where Gould studied acting, singing and dancing. Gould excelled—particularly at tap dancing—and his mother soon transformed into an overbearing stage mother, dragging him around the city for small performances and fashion shows. "I thought he liked it," Lucille Goldstein later said, "but maybe it took too much out of him emotionally." Nevertheless, she insisted that all of her overzealous parenting "was done out of love. I wouldn't leave any stone unturned as far as this child went. I'd cut off my arm for this child."
Gould was a successful child model for several years, but, according to his mother, "by twelve he was a has-been. He was too old to be cute." But just as his modeling career was winding down, Gould began performing on local television variety shows, and it was at this point that his mother and Charlie Lowe decided to change his stage name from Goldstein to Gould. Although Gould claims that he was never happy as a child performer, he never rebelled against his mother or Lowe. "I didn't know then that there was a choice, that there could be another kind of life," he explains.
Gould's mother enrolled him in the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, and during his teenage years Gould spent his summers performing dance and comedy routines at hotels in the Catskills. His father recalls, "When an entertainer needed a stooge, Elliott would be the one they'd choose. He could do a dozen dialects—German, Italian, Jewish, all of them."
As a teenager, Gould also developed into an impressively talented impersonator. He sat next to strangers at restaurants, knocked on neighbors' doors and called up relatives pretending to be a different person each time. In fact, it was Gould's flair for impersonation that landed him his first big break as an actor. In 1957, at the age of 18, Gould phoned a Broadway producer and impersonated an agent singing the praises of some kid named Elliott Gould. Miraculously the ploy worked, and soon after Gould received a call from the producer offering him a spot in the chorus of the Broadway musical Rumple.
After Rumple, Gould hung around the fringes of Broadway, but failed to find consistent acting work. He developed a gambling addiction and worked odd jobs—as a nighttime elevator man and rug cleaner salesman—in order to pay off his debts. Then, in 1962, Gould landed the leading role opposite rising star Barbra Streisand in the Broadway musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale. The two quickly fell in love and married a year later, in 1963. The pair welcomed a son, Jason, in December 1966. "Marriage to Barbra was a fantastic experience," Gould recalls. "It had a lot of chocolate soufflé and things like that, but it was also like a bath of lava."
But while Streisand's career skyrocketed, Gould's stagnated. He struggled with depression and self-esteem issues as he was often referred to in the press as "Mr. Streisand." "It must have been very difficult for him," Streisand says. "Marriages between people who are self-involved is hard. It's safer for actors not to be married to one another." Gould and Streisand separated in 1969, and divorced in 1971. By that time, Gould had already begun a new relationship with a young woman named Jennifer Bogart. Gould and Bogart had two children, Molly and Samuel Gould, before marrying in 1974. However, Gould's relationship with Bogart ultimately proved as volatile as his previous marriage to Streisand. Gould and Bogart divorced in 1976, remarried in 1978 and split ways again in 1979.
On the Silver Screen
At about the time Gould's relationship with Streisand began to deteriorate in the late 1960s, his professional career finally began to take off. Gould's breakthrough performance came as a swinger and philanderer in the 1969 free-love comedy, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Boosted by that role, he landed a leading role in the iconic 1970 film, M*A*S*H. Gould's character, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre—an irreverent medic in the Korean War. Gould received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
He followed M*A*S*H with roles as a sexually unsatisfied husband in I Love My Wife (1970) and as a radical graduate student in Getting Straight (1970), catapulting Gould to national celebrity and solidifying his status as an icon of the youth counterculture.
In 1971, Gould starred in Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's first English-language film, The Touch, and in 1973 he delivered what may be his defining performance as Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's famous novel of the same name. Gould continued to act throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but none of his later performances could match those he turned in during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and he gradually faded back toward Hollywood anonymity.
Two decades later, in 1994, Gould experienced a sudden career resurgence when he landed the part of Jack Geller, the father of Ross and Monica, on the wildly popular NBC sitcom Friends. Spurred on by Friends, Gould landed notable film roles in American History X (1998) and in the popular trilogy of heist films, Ocean's Eleven (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). Recently, he has tackled a number of TV projects. Gould has appeared in the drama Ray Donovan in a recurring role since the show's debut in 2013. He was also part of the cast of the short-lived sitcom Mulaney starring comedian John Mulaney.
Now something of an elder statesman in Hollywood, enjoying a resurgent career, Gould is happier, more stable and more productive than ever. The one-time icon of 1960s youth culture is now a grandfather who is taking well to life as a senior citizen. "I've always been interested in participating and functioning as an older person," Gould says. "The idea is to continue to work. The work is the life. It's how I learned about the world."
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