It turns out there was some razzle dazzle before the razzle dazzle.
Back in 2003, “Chicago” rolled through the awards season on its way to that year’s best picture Oscar. But there’s a little-known subplot in the development of the Miramax film. Some 15 years before Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones shared the screen in the iconic movie adaptation of the Broadway musical, Harvey Weinstein had been developing a precursor version with Goldie Hawn and Madonna. Hawn was set to produce and star as the fame-chasing murderess Velma Kelly, while Madonna was on board to play Roxie Hart, the upstart killer threatening to steal Velma’s thunder. But Weinstein decided to go in a different direction despite having deals in place.
“Harvey basically undermined me and Madonna,” Hawn tells Variety in a cover story about her legendary career. The dancer-turned-comedy star was quietly working on the film in the late ’80s with pop superstar Madonna when Weinstein commissioned a new script in which Velma was 23 years old, two decades younger than Hawn was at the time. “I said, ‘Don’t fuck with me. Because I know just what you’re doing. We’ve made a deal,’” she recalls.
The project languished into the new millennium before it was overhauled yet again, this time with the Velma Kelly character returning to a more mature heroine. But Hawn and Madonna had already moved on. (Zeta-Jones, who won the supporting actress Oscar for playing the film’s antagonist, was in her thirties at the time of production.) But much to her surprise, Weinstein eventually paid Hawn for her work. “You stand up to a bully. And sometimes, you win,” she says. “I said to him afterwards, ‘You know what the best part of you paying me is? Not the money. You restored my faith in dignity and ethics.’ Little did I know,” she adds. As for Madonna, Hawn continues: “I really don’t know how she felt about it. You know, she just went with the tide.”
Madonna didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Weinstein sent along a statement from prison, where he will likely spend the rest of his life after being convicted of sexual crimes in both New York and Los Angeles. “Acting roles were always chosen based on what was best for the project, artistically and financially,” Weinstein says. “We felt we did the best we could on ‘Chicago’ and I’m proud of it, and I am so elated that Goldie’s experience was a positive one, and that she has the fortitude to say that in this environment. I would simply say, ‘thank you.’”
Though Hawn never got her chance to star in “Chicago,” she did enjoy a unique vantage on the material back as it was beginning to cause a sensation on Broadway. The “Private Benjamin” star remembers being pregnant with her oldest child, actor Oliver Hudson, in early 1976 when her friend Liza Minnelli stopped by to show off some moves from the stage musical.
“I was in bed with morning sickness, and she came in and did a whole dance from this new show,” Hawn says. “I thought it was fantastic.”
A few years later, the two women teamed up for the 1980 primetime variety special “Goldie and Liza Together,” which was nominated for four Emmy Awards.
“Liza is very vulnerable, and you want to wrap your arms around her every day, 10 times a day,” Hawn adds. “She had an energy that was just beyond, and being around her and working with her was really exciting because we both sang. We both danced. We just had a great time. It was my favorite special. Liza is a very talented, extraordinary, wonderful, well-meaning person.”