This weekend, the mother-daughter comedy Snatched will open in theaters, marking not only Amy Schumer‘s follow-up to Trainwreck but, far more importantly, our first look at Goldie Hawn, comedic legend and generally underappreciated celebrity, on the big screen in almost a decade-and-a-half. (Her last movie role was 2002’s The Banger Sisters.) This might not seem like such a big deal to the younger movie fans among us, but Hawn, 71, has in addition to being Kate Hudson‘s mother established herself among our greatest living movie stars and a comedienne with enough range and charm to sell every unlikely character, from a high school football coach to an Army recruit to, well, a spoiled movie star. (There is currently a retrospective of her illustrious filmography at the Quad Cinema in New York.) Let’s review and revel in her long and varied career.
Painting the Ditz on Thick
A classically-trained dancer, the beautiful young Hawn wound up a go-go girl in New York, where she eventually got cast on the short-lived CBS sitcom Good Morning, World. However, it was in 1968 when she got her big break, putting her go-go skills to use on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, a prime-time sketch comedy show with a liberal bent. (Hawn was often seen dancing between sketches, her mostly naked body painted with flowers.) But she gained notoriety after playing a ditzy blonde character who could never remember her lines and giggled unstoppably. Her most famous sketches were those in which she would nonsensically explain certain things like overpopulation or time zones. Ah, the things that were funny then.
An Oscar Win!
Hawn’s path to respectability really began in 1969 when she won an Academy Award playing Walter Matthau’s suicidal girlfriend in the movie Cactus Flower—proof that the ditz from Laugh-In was actually a brilliant character of her own creation. Following her Best Supporting Actress win, Hawn went on to star in a number of now classics, and usually dramas with a comedic spin. She played the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold alongside Warren Beatty in the 1971 caper $, the girlfriend of a blind man in 1972’s Butterflies Are Free, and opposite Beatty again in the great 1975 L.A. satire Shampoo. Not all of her movies were smashes, but she diversified herself with successful TV specials and a country album, of all things.
The Golden 80’s
Hawn got her second of two Oscar nominations in 1980 for the box office smash Private Benjamin, where she plays a woman who enlists in the Army. It was her most popular movie to date, and confirmed her as a truly bankable star. Hawn also served as a producer on the movie and started creating her own hits throughout the decade, including the political satire Protocol and the screwball football comedy Wildcats. Most importantly, though, she reconnected with Kurt Russell on the set of the drama Swing Shift in 1983. The couple, though never married, has been together ever since. They also costarred in the famous 1987 comedy Overboard, in which Hawn stars as a bitchy socialite with amnesia who ends up helping Russell raise his family in a shack. No one has looked at an oak closet quite the same way since.
Commercial, Not Critical, Success
Work was very different for Hawn in the ‘90s, after she and Russell moved away from Hollywood to raise their children in Colorado. She didn’t work nearly as much, but almost all of her movies were giant hits, even if critics loathed them. Bird on a Wire, her 1990 road movie with Mel Gibson, debuted at number one at the box office, but was hated by the same Academy members who gave her an Oscar nomination a decade earlier. Death Becomes Her, which has subsequently become a cultural touchstone—Hawn and Meryl Streep face off as divas on the quest for eternal life—also debuted at number one in 1992. Critics also hated 1992’s Housesitter, with Steve Martin, though it performed well for a modest-sized comedy.
It would not be until 1996 for both box-office and critical success to converge in The First Wives Club, which was a cultural phenomenon for which Hawn teamed up with fellow older actresses Diane Keaton and Bette Midler to take wonderful revenge on the men who dumped them (and a young Sarah Jessica Parker). That and Death Becomes Her are probably her most well-remembered roles today.
The Hits Dry Up
Hollywood is never hospitable to women of a certain age, and after two high-profile bombs, Hawn’s career started to struggle. In 1999, The Out-of-Towners, a reunion with Steve Martin, was drubbed by critics and ignored by fans. In 2001, Town & Country, another collaboration with Beatty and Keaton, was also a flop. The small comedy The Banger Sisters, where Hawn and Susan Sarandon play high school BFFs who went on very divergent paths, was a quiet success, even if it did not reach the heights of some of Hawn’s early work.
A Very Long Hiatus
With the roles not as plentiful, Hawn decided to step away from the spotlight and focus on other pursuits. “I’d been making movies for a long time. As a woman gets older, her choices are less,” she explained recently. “I wanted to do things that interested me, not just work to work.” Mostly Hawn has focused her energies on the Hawn Foundation, which provides one million kids around the world mindfulness practices and other skills that help the learning process.
But now—finally—she’s back. Her fans would hope Snatched will lead to a reappraisal, even revival, of Hawn’s career. Outside of her sparring partner Meryl Streep, it’s rare for a Hollywood actress to be lauded both her for comedic timing as well as her ability to sell the deep emotions beneath the funny façade. Goldie Hawn is not an empty ditz, even though she played one on TV. She’s so much more, and her genius should finally gets its due.
Watch Amy Adams, Greta Gerwig, and Michelle Williams recreate scenes from Shampoo: