Saturday, May 14, 2005
Every year or two Goldie Hawn drives back to the brick duplex on the dead-end street in Takoma Park where she grew up. Sometimes she comes alone and sometimes with her sister Patti, or her old friend from childhood Jean Lynn, or her partner of 20 years, Kurt Russell. If there's no one home she finds a neighbor to let her in; once there was no neighbor around, so she sneaked in through a front window the owner had left unlocked, and then wandered around, through the kitchen where the family used to hang out, down to the basement, up to her old bedroom.
That someone else lives there and has for 23 years does not hinder this journey of self-discovery. In her new book, Hawn calls the current occupant "the nice lady I know who bought the house from Mom." And in an interview this week, she called her "Judy." Her name is actually Donna Wulkan. (Judy lives next door). Wulkan recently did a major renovation on the kitchen but she's afraid to break the news to Hawn, should she stop by again. "I think she would like it to look exactly like it always looked," Wulkan says.
Hawn was in town again this week to promote her book, "Goldie: A Lotus Grows in the Mud," and, although it may sound that way, Takoma Park is definitely not "the Mud" in the title. The book, which she insists is not a biography but a series of snapshots, could be seen as a love song to Takoma Park, her childhood sweetheart, the thing she needs to keep frozen in time so as not to lose the purity of her inner child.
Through her ugliest moments trying to make it, through two husbands and three children and dozens of houses somewhere out West, Takoma Park, and more specifically 9 Cleveland Ave., has remained "the Holy Grail of my Mind," she writes. Like all young loves, eventually it betrayed her, but even then she keeps going back.
Many Hollywood stars try in vain to reclaim a time before they were famous, when they could just casually walk to the store and buy a candy bar, when they knew for certain whom they could trust, who they were. For Hawn, holding on to her innocent youth is an urgent task on many levels.
To many of her fans Hawn is frozen as the teenage ding-a-ling she played throughout the '60s on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," a go-go dancer in a pixie haircut who was always flubbing her lines but still somehow seemed cooler than just a mere ditz. "Oh, she's so adorable," the women who come to her book reading at Olsson's downtown coo when she arrives. She still has those wide blue eyes that seem backlit and way too big for her tiny face; that same smudge of a mouth that stretches into a rectangle when she smiles; that same luminous shaggy blond hair falling down past her shoulders; that same big hoarse laugh she can summon whenever.
She still looks like a bohemian in a flowery camisole and long flowing skirt she wears to an interview, so that when you peek under the table you expect her to be barefoot (in fact she is wearing lime green polka dot flip-flops). But at 59, freckles spread, skin gets papery, and when people see her all they want to know is, does she look her age, whatever that means, and then the follow-up that only an anonymous caller to Diane Rehm's radio show had the guts to ask: Has she had any work done? (She said she hadn't.)
Hawn sits for an interview in a corner of the restaurant at the downtown Ritz-Carlton, where she is staying. Russell is upstairs resting; he has the flu and she doesn't want to catch it. Hawn remembers the days she took care of her children when they got sick; she is nostalgic for those times when the kids, now grown, looked up at her adoringly every time she walked through the door, and for other little pleasures of normal life, too.
She says she is enjoying the book tour "because I like being connected with people, feeling their energy. In the movie business you're always roped off, escorted everywhere. With this I can feel people. . . . I've never liked that feeling of being apart." This week in Washington was particularly fun because she was home and would see some of her relatives at the book signings, although she wouldn't have time to go back to her street this time around.
Just the mention of it, however, sends her straight back. She remembers the azalea and hydrangea bushes her mother planted, the dogwood trees she loved, now in full bloom in the front garden. "Spring is a nostalgic time for me," she says. She remembers the wild violets she picked on Mother's Day every year from the hill sloping down behind the house, "the biggest bunch I could get in my little hands. For days I smelled like violets," she says. "Nothing smells anymore."
She remembers the "cast of eccentrics," the guy in the neighborhood she and her friends used to call the child molester because he looked so creepy. The blue house on the corner that didn't quite fit in, that always had junk in the back yard (it still does). At Blair High School "I wasn't one of the girls in the 'A' crowd," she recalls; her social life revolved around the kids on her block who all went to different schools: Jimmy Fisher with the two sets of teeth, "who I still connect with," and Jean Lynn, "the one girlfriend who was my heart and soul," who now lives in Florida but is still her best friend.
The street is still much the same, or at least recognizable; as with many in Takoma Park, each house displays the owner's particular pride. The blue one has a row of mismatched pots out front and the flatbed of a truck piled with stuff; another is neat with a white picket fence and a pagoda-like entrance. Hawn's old house is the only semi-detached on the block, set back behind a full garden; the houses on either side of it have "War is Not the Answer" signs stuck in the front lawns; across the street hangs an old tire swing, bumping up against an SUV.
"I don't always go in," she says. "Sometimes I just drive by and look and cry."
The first time she goes back is in the mid-'60's, after she had just landed a spot on the sitcom "Good Morning World," after the first time she's confronted a group of fans screaming for her autograph, photographers blinding her. "The yellow taxi turns into my dead-end street and I finally exhale," she writes. "Cleveland Avenue, Takoma Park. My childhood home."
She lets herself in but no one is home. The stuffed pheasant is no longer on the mantelpiece; she finds it in a cupboard, its feathers eaten by moths. She notices that her parents have started to sleep in separate beds; soon they will separate. Eventually her neighbors and relatives show up, but they all want her autograph. "I can't go back, and I don't want to move forward," she writes. "The fear is choking me."
During the recent kitchen renovation, Wulkan ripped down the wallpaper and discovered something: Scribbled on the wall were the messages the Hawns used to leave for each other, phone numbers, errand requests. Wulkan asked this reporter to pass on this news to Hawn along with her phone number. "I just want her to call me next time she wants to come visit," says Wulkan. "I mean, I'm not ready to call the U.S. attorney's office and say this entitled star is breaking into my house, but it would be nice if she called."
When Hawn heard the news about the message wall she was ecstatic; she framed her little face in her hands and screamed, flashing her widest rectangle smile. But she wasn't interested in the phone number, or any other current news about the house.