The Broadway Show That Launched Whoopi Goldberg’s Career

When Barbara Walters launched The View, she wanted smart, successful women gathering to talk about issues of the day. Since it’s TV, being a charismatic individual with a big following didn’t hurt, either. Whoopi Goldberg, who came aboard as moderator in 2007, checked all the boxes.

Some 12 years later, Whoopi still directs traffic at The View and in many ways is the show’s one indispensable cast member. But when she was getting her start in show business, it might have been the last place she expected to land.

Long before Hollywood Squares and The View (and before she won her Oscar for Ghost), Whoopi was a theater performer and comedian looking for her break on the screen. Reviewers at the time compared her to Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin.

In 1984, while performing her one-woman act The Spook Show, she grabbed the attention of the top theater critics and built up buzz around her. Before long, she would take take the show to Broadway and land her role in The Color Purple.

The buzz around Whoopi’s ‘Spook Show’ led the way to Broadway.

Actors Sidney Poitier (L), Liza Minnelli (2L) and Whoopi Goldberg (R) w. singer Harry Belafonte (2R). | Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

If you want to take a trip back in time, scroll through Whoopi’s July ’84 Vanity Fair profile. Writing for the magazine, Janet Coleman described the hype long before the curtains rose at Whoopi’s Spook Show.

At that time, she was performing at Chelsea’s Dance Theater Workshop, but luminaries including director Mike Nichols and Alice Walker had already caught the play and raved about it. (Walker had seen the show when Whoopi performed it in Northern California.)

Eventually, Nichols helped Whoopi get the show to Broadway later in ’84. As for Walker, she suggested to Steven Spielberg that he audition Whoopi for his upcoming adaptation of Walker’s The Color Purple (1985). He did, and she got the part — and her first Oscar nomination along with it.

But Whoopi’s Broadway show wasn’t just a stepping stone. The act she based on The Spook Show became a hit in its own right.

Whoopi’s Grammy win for her Broadway show came next.

Director Mike Nichols and actress Whoopi Goldberg at the after-party for her 1984 Broadway debut | Time Life Pictures/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The party following Whoopi’s Broadway debut speaks volumes about her popularity at the time. Calvin Klein, Jack Nicholson, and Nichols were jsut a few of the A-list figures in attendance that night.

Whoopi used several characters (including Fontaine) from The Spook Show for her Broadway show. It turned out that larger audiences responded the same way to the material. In 1986, she won a Grammy for a recording of that show.

With that award and the Oscar nomination under her belt, Whoopi began a run of major feature films. By the early ’90s, her roles in Sister Act and Ghost made her one of the best-paid stars in the industry.

These days, she may not command the same types of salaries for film appearances, but she’s definitely getting paid the most at The View. And you can watch her without buying a ticket.

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