An Entitled Path From 'Laugh-In' To Break-In

By Donna Britt
Friday, May 20, 2005

You've had a long day at work, a hellish commute and finally have arrived home. Stepping inside, you notice instantly that a previously closed window is ajar. You know:

Someone is inside your house. Hearing footsteps upstairs, you recklessly decide not to phone the police, instead grabbing a baseball bat. Slowly ascending, you burst into a bedroom, discovering:

A blond, blue-eyed and bubbly Hollywood star.

That crazy scene never happened at the cozy Takoma Park duplex where Goldie Hawn grew up -- but it could have. During a recent Washington visit to promote her new book, "Goldie: A Lotus Grows in the Mud," the Oscar-winning actress recently acknowledged that she so adores her red-brick childhood home and its attendant memories that she once climbed, uninvited, through an unlocked window to reminisce while its owner was away.

Before we get to "Is this woman insane?" I must confess: Very few celebrities spark the knuckleheaded belief in me that if I knew them, we'd be buddies. But Goldie's one of them.

She's so . . . likable. So warm. So gifted that her acting chops might actually be underrated -- bringing genuine pathos to such broad comedies as "The First Wives Club" is no snap. She comes off as Jay Leno recently described her: "The nicest person in Hollywood."

So why has Hawn repeatedly appeared unannounced at -- and once even entered uninvited -- a near-stranger's home?

People's homes are extensions of them. They are intimate and sacred spaces, as anyone who has been burglarized can attest. The stunning cluelessness demonstrated by Hawn's intrusions reminded me of basketball star Latrell Sprewell's insulted reaction last year to a contract offer reportedly worth between $27 million and $30 million for three seasons. "I've got my family to feed," Spre said disgustedly.

Do the little Sprewells eat hundred-dollar bills at every meal?

Each day and in every way, the public tells the rich, famous and gifted that they're more important and entitled than the rest of us. We suggest that inconvenient rules that apply to everyday schlubs need not apply to them.

Why are we surprised when they believe it?

If strangers constantly approached you gushing, "I feel like I know you!" how long would it be before you started believing they did know you -- at least well enough for you to take advantage of them?

Hawn's behavior, reported in Saturday's Post, had folks racking their brains to come up with non-relatives whose homes they'd feel comfortable entering -- through a window! -- without an invite. It had me mentally flipping through childhood memories of the Gary, Ind., ranch home that my bricklayer dad built with his own hands.

Although I occasionally visit Gary, where my column appeared for years, I have no doubt that if I climbed through anyone's unlocked window to reminisce, I would be smacked, arrested or shot.

Years ago, Kensington family therapist Kathy Rushing -- a dear friend whose home I tried hard to imagine entering uninvited -- stopped by the Illinois house that decades earlier belonged to her great-grandparents. In her hands was a gift for its current owners: a photo from the early 1900s of her forebears posed before the house.

The photo, Kathy admits, was "an excuse to get into the house" where she'd played with cousins and had seen great-grandparents "laid out" in the living room after their deaths.

Still, "It took a lot for me to knock on the door with this picture in my hand," Kathy says. Invited inside, "I felt a piece of me and my family in there. Going back to a place where you've been happy or even sad connects you with who you were. . . .

"There was still a sense of ownership."

The owner of Hawn's former Takoma Park home for 20 years is weary of the whole thing. An attorney and advocate for children with special needs, Donna Wulkan has more vital issues to deal with than a celebrity's childhood fixation. Her career daily demands what she offered the star: an empathetic connection to people unlike herself.

Hawn's unannounced drop-bys have indeed been frustrating. But Wulkan believes the actress must feel "real sentimental attachment to the house." She recalls a "miserable" Sunday a few years back. Sick with a cold, she had "Kleenex everywhere, I was walking around in my pink fuzzies," Wulkan recalls. "I didn't want to see anyone ."

A limo appeared outside. Opening her front door, Wulkan encountered Hawn and Kurt Russell, Hawn's longtime partner.

Russell "was incredibly sweet," Wulkan recalls, apologizing for imposing, commenting on how much she resembled a framed photo of her daughter. Hawn hardly addressed her, tearfully taking Russell from room to room, reminiscing.

Wulkan doesn't want to be "judgmental" -- she has, after all, become a reluctant "participant" in Hawn's personal drama -- so she won't say what seems clear:

Hawn's attitude -- like that of an inordinate number of non-stars and never-celebrities -- is, "It's all about me."

Like it or not, most of us must leave childhood behind. Certainly the home Hawn left is a lovely, welcoming space. Plopped among azaleas, it sits beneath a canopy of sheltering trees amid a near-constant bird chorus. Next door, an adolescent boy rocks in a porch swing, a dog yawning at his feet.

It's a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

You could almost understand why a sentimental, self-centered celebrity might decide that "you can't go home again" is a lovely thought.

That just doesn't apply to her.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company