EXCLUSIVE Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg has never been asked to host “Saturday Night Live,” Tom Leonardis, the president of Goldberg’s production company Whoop Inc., told me last night at the afterparty at Sylvia’s for the documentary “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley.” The documentary was screened at the Apollo Theater, where Mabley was the first woman comic to perform.
Other boldface names at the screening included “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” producer George Schlatter, Rain Pryor, Kathy Griffin, Margo Bingham, Phylicia Rashad, Shawn Cornelius, Dick Cavett and Jerry Stiller.
Leonardis, who is also executive producer of the Moms Mabley documentary, makes its debut on HBO Monday, Nov. 18. He has worked with the Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner for 19 years. He told me even before their partnership, when Goldberg was very young, Lorne Michaels never invited the most famous female black comedian to guest host.
Think of it: Whoopi Goldberg has an Oscar, she’s hosted the Oscars, she performs with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, she runs The View, she has a Tony Award for her acclaimed Broadway one woman show directed by Mike Nichols.
But never Saturday Night Live.
But on the red carpet questions were not about Lorne Michaels but about the Sharon Osborne kerfluffle. The other day Osborne blased all the women on “The View” except for Barbara Walters and said, “They can go f–k themselves.” (Osborne has since apologized.)
Back to the shenanigans on the red carpet, where a hapless reporter made the mistake of asking Whoopi a question about Jenny McCarthy.“Are you seriously asking me this shit while you’re at my premiere?” Whoopi fumed.
“Let me take care of this,” Kathy Griffin said. “What’s the question? I’ll do this for her.”
The reporter tried again: “Has the dynamic changed since Jenny is on the show?”
“The dynamic’s wonderful. It’s like a family. We go in and there are new topics we get to enjoy together,” Griffin continued in the same vein.
“Wait. I thought they were going to ask you about shoes and trends and nail polish,” Griffin pouted.
“All the things I know,” Goldberg cracked.
The next reporter was not to be deterred. She got as far as “Sharon Osborne” when Whoopi cut her off.
“I’m going to stop you guys right here,” Goldberg said. “I don’t give a shit about any of that stuff. This is my premiere, my documentary, and that’s all I’m talking about.”
I bravely asked Whoopi about the Lorne Michaels’ flack.
“Look! These folks are 15 years late on this question,” Goldberg told me emphatically. “Saturday Night Live has looked like this for 15, 16 years. I don’t understand? Why is everyone up in arms? Didn’t anybody see it before? Clearly not!”
Then Goldberg turned around and apologized to the reporter who asked the first question about Osborne. “I just wanted to – you now, cause I know people are asking me all kinds of crazy questions – so I just thought I would settle it and I didn’t want to direct it at you,” Goldberg told her. “I’m sorry.”
Jerry Stiller told me on the red carpet he hadn’t been following the goings on at “SNL.” He also broke some sort of record and managed to use the word meshuggah about five times in our two-minute exchange. “There hasn’t been black female comic on the show? I’m surprised,” Stiller told me. “How can they be so meshuggahed out? I don’t understand,” he sighed.
Rain Pryor, daughter of Richard Pryor, whose one-woman show, “Fried Chicken and Latkes” has gotten rave reviews, told me on the red carpet that she hasn’t even been allowed to audition for SNL. “And I’ve tried four or five times,” she said. “Who knows what that’s about? But I think now it’s kind of out there so maybe in that aspect things will change and maybe by showing this documentary it will add a little more history and context to why it is that way and that can change it as well, so that’s what we have to look forward too, right?”
At the after party I spotted Whoopi, who is very down to earth, stand in the buffet line holding a plate of fried chicken and mac and cheese like everyone else.
She told a small group of people some of the difficulties in making the film. “We didn’t have any money. It was an eye opener. I didn’t know you’d have to pay for pictures. They’d want 70 grand (for a photograph). I’d ask them, ‘Who was the last person who asked for these pictures?’ I don’t have it.”
Goldberg mentioned the scene in the documentary where Mabley sings “Abraham, Martin and John,” at the Playboy Mansion for the television show “Playboy After Dark.” In the clip Sammy Davis Jr. has tears in his eyes as “Moms” performed the tribute to the assassinated leaders. Goldberg then went on to praise Hefner for giving her permission to use the clip.
The prices for the archival photographs and material eventually came down when people she contacted realized they were for the documentary she was doing on Moms Mabley. “I was so glad,” Goldberg said. “I’m a happy girl. Now I’m going to eat some chicken,” she told us, and managed to travel two feet when someone else approached her.
By 10:30 p.m. Whoopi was on her way out the door. She said she had to get up at 4 A.M. to catch an early flight to Washington D.C. to meet with Michelle Obama.
This reminded me of scenes in the documentary where Mabley also was a guest at the White House. In the film there’s a photograph of “Moms” sitting with President Jimmy Carter; she’s wearing a pantsuit instead of her usual frumpy housecoat. In another clip, where we only hear her voice, Mabley says President Kennedy has called her to the White House to help solve the problems of the world and to travel with Mrs. Kennedy as her chaperone.
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