SANTA BARBARA — As he stood in the lobby observing the almost completely white audience enter the Granada Theater for the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s tribute to Whoopi Goldberg, Bruce Vilanch made the droll comment that “honoring Whoopi in Santa Barbara is kind of like honoring Babe in Israel.”
Perhaps it’s a case of opposites attracting, but both the star and the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the evening that began with remarks from Vilanch who said Goldberg “made the world safe for an unusual person. She’s not a movie star from any kind of cookie cutter.”
(Vilanch strayed a bit from the focus of the evening when he said he was “sorry the gay marriage thing passed because I was looking forward to gay divorce. I want to soak some old queen. I already look like Anna Nicole Smith, why can’t I act like her?”)
Vilanch went on to introduce “a fine hunk of interviewer,” E!’s Steve Kmetko who announced the clips selected by Fagen Prods. and spoke with Goldberg as they watched them from the stage.
Among the films chosen were Goldberg’s debut, “The Color Purple,” (“I felt like a baby on the set. I had no clue.”); “Clara’s Heart” and “Soap Dish” in which she plays the harried writer of a daytime soap opera who’s told to reintroduce a character who was intentionally decapitated the previous season. (“This was a good comedy.”)
Goldberg watched a schoolroom scene from “Sarafina” and remarked that the apartheid-themed film, which did poorly at the box office, was “released the day the L.A. riots broke out. People didn’t want to see any more angry black people.”
As for “Sister Act,” she noted that the film “was Bette Midler’s movie. She turned it down,” and then laughed loudly.
Clips were shown from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Boys on the Side,” “The Player,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Girl, Interrupted” and “Ghost,” for which she won a supporting actress Oscar. (“The only reason I got the job is Patrick Swayze said he wouldn’t make the movie without me.”)
“There’s a body of work there. There’s actually a body of work there,” Goldberg said late in the evening. “You know, I was supposed to be a flash in the pan. I’m the longest flash Hollywood’s ever seen.”
In presenting the Ruby Award, festival director Renee Missel said Goldberg has “followed her bliss with tenacity and wit.”
Goldberg, who stars on “Hollywood Squares,” accepted by saying the award “came at a very good time for me. I need to be reminded of what I do. I am an actor. Looking at some of these things, I was proud of myself.”