Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Whoopi Goldberg chose her first name for her flatulence'

Saturday 15 October 2011 00:00

Who knew that Whoopi Goldberg was once a bricklayer? "Well," she explains, "I needed the money and I needed to work. So I figured I would rather lay bricks than lay men for money." She is history's second unlikeliest bricklayer, after Winston Churchill, who used to build walls to counteract depression. With Ms Goldberg, however, the laying of bricks didn't just earn her money, it helped build her reputation for being unconventional.

It isn't easy to picture the teenage Keira Knightley slathering cement. And while Keira isn't a christian name name often encountered, Whoopi is surely unique. You will, I am sure, be startled to learn that it is not the one with which her father, a minister in New York, christened her some 55 years ago. And while the young Caryn Johnson plumped for the Goldberg bit on her mother's advice that Johnson wasn't sufficiently Jewish for a career in Hollywood, Whoopi was her own idea and she chose it for her flatulence. "If you get a little gassy," she explains, "you've got to let it go. So people used to say to me, 'You're like a whoopee cushion.'"

If the perpetual wind-passing seems in keeping with her early job on a building site, she remains loyal to her roots. The intervening years have been studded with Golden Globes, Oscars and even a stint in Star Trek: The Next Generation as the USS Enterprise barkeeper – a treat for her since she was inspired to act by Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura in the original. "Momma, there's a black lady on TV," she exclaimed, "and she ain't no maid!"

Yet, while you can take the girl out of bricklaying and festoon her with Hollywood glory, you cannot take the mores of bricklaying out of the girl. Earlier this year, she sent Barbara Walters, her co-host on the lively all-woman US daytime chat show The View, scurrying along the studio sofa in search of clean air after living up to her adopted first name.

Goldberg, a grandmother at 36, has had a rich romantic life including three former husbands. But it is for the man she never married that she will be remembered. If only she had met and wed Peter Cushing, going that extra mile in honour of her farting by becoming Whoopi Cushing.

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