Heart of Gould

reported by Lina Das The Daily Mail Weekend, December 31st 2005

Elliott Gould is quite intense. During our two-hour chat he discusses life, love, childhood, a tempestuous marriage to Barbra Streisand, fame and his obsessive compulsive tendencies with such wholeheartedness that one’s head is left swimming by the end of it. We are having tea at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Gould polishes off three scones. They are not very big and neither, come to that, is Gould, having recently lost four stones, but this minor indulgence seems to cause him no end of worry.

‘I got a little out of control there,’ he apologizes, ‘and I probably shouldn’t have eaten all that. I feel much happier with myself having lost the weight and not having to use food to fuel any emptiness.’ He stops and then adds, ‘I tend to worry about everything.’

Channelling such intensity into his work in films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, for which he won an Oscar nomination, and M*A*S*H, made him one of the biggest stars of the early 1970′s, but, in his private life, it has, even he would concede, made for some difficulties. A testing relationship with his parents and a fiery marriage to Streisand, which segued into a turbulent, on-again off-again relationship with second wife Jenny Bogart, has left him looking a little relationship weary. ‘I’m not with anyone now,’ he says. ‘I’ve had several relationships, but none of them can ever be as deep as the one I have with my family.’

Two years after his Oscar nomination, however, Gould’s career went into a decline when he was forced to undergo a humiliating psychiatric examination before being allowed to work on his next film project. Now 67, though he looks younger, Gould is still instantly recognizable. Though he has worked steadily and to acclaim over the intervening years, most notably in films such as Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve, and in his recurring role as Monica and Ross’s father in Friends, he has never quite regained the heights of those early years.

In stark contrast, the career of his former, Ms. Streisand, continues to be stratospheric. While she lives in seeming domestic bliss with second husband James Brolin in their gated Malibu estate, Gould is content to be alone in his one-bedroom flat in West LA. ‘I’m quite happy, ‘he says. ‘I don’t want to live for someone else and I don’t want to be beholden to anyone. It’s taken me a long time to accept my solitude, but I believe I’m centered now, even though it’s been a long time coming.

Gould’s eight-year marriage to Streisand (during which time they had a son, Jason, now 38) was a passionate one _ ‘a bed of lava’ (sic) as he once described it began after they met at an audition for a Broadway musical. Gould was twenty-three and Streisand was his first lover. ‘Barbra was this little girl with a brilliant heart, and mind and voice,’ he says, ‘I really loved her and I insisted that we got married. Someone once said to me, “It was you who made her beautiful,” which was a lovely thing to hear. I don’t think I was always a good husband, because I was too selfish, and I like being alone. And it was difficult, too, to be married to someone who was married to their success.’

In 1969, six years after their wedding, they had a trial separation, during which period Gould, then 31, embarked on a relationship with 18-year-old Jenny Bogart. ‘Jenny was so young and beautiful, and I think I was probably in love with both of them at the same time. In the meantime, Streisand decided she wanted to get back together with Gould and flew to Stockholm where he was filming The Touch. ‘I sent Jenny back home, which wasn’t an honest thing to do,’ he says. ‘Barbra and I nearly got back together again and I think we both felt that we wanted to, but I told her, “You have to be patient and have faith. I can’t just discard this new woman like that.” ‘That was a period when I really wasn’t good,’ he says slowly.

But, instead of getting back together with Streisand, Gould remained with Bogart and they had two children, Molly, 34, and Sam, 33. The couple divorced, remarried again, then separated a year after that, with Gould moving back into the family home and staying there until 1989 when they once again separated. Although he no longer lived with Bogart, they have not yet divorced.

While his private life was in turmoil during the 1970s, Gould’s professional life was threatening to derail, too. His starring roles, particularly in anti-war films such as M*A*S*H, meant that Gould became the poster boy for the Vietnam era with his shaggy haired anti-authoritarian cool so much that Time magazine put him on the cover as ‘the standard bearer for the Western world’s hung-up generation’.

Just a year later, however, in a sign of how quickly one’s star in Hollywood can fall, Gould became involved in A Glimpse of Tiger, which went so badly wrong that filming was halted after just four days. He didn’t work for two years until a psychiatric examination confirmed his sanity. ‘That was a catastrophic experience for me,’ he says now. ‘I had no judgement and I was completely incapable of compromise. I was not professional. There was no one around to guide me and I could have done with that. People said that I was crazy and on drugs, but I never had a drug problem; I had a problem with reality. People also said that I’d had a breakdown, which I hadn’t, but it was a very difficult time. I suffered financially, too. It was painful and brutal to see that, no matter how long it took me to succeed in Hollywood it could just as easily be taken away from me. But I’m not bitter about it.’

Nowadays, Gould appears to be more sanguine about the vagaries of his life, but then years of therapy have probably enabled him to be so. ‘One of my greatest fears is of being misunderstood,’ he says, ‘and I think, before, I would be frightened but would act outrageously to cover up for that. Now I’m able to be much more honest with myself.’

Born Elliott Goldstein in Brooklyn, New York, in 1938, Gould was the only child of Lucille, an ambitious stage mother, and Bernie, a textile buyer. ‘Mother was very strong and she would say to me, “I am your severest critic and you only have to please me.” I was scared of Mother and didn’t want to disappoint her,’ His parents lived to witness their son’s success: his father died in 1988, and his mother ten years later. ‘My parents had difficult lives. Mother’s father, who was a gambler, left when she was two. I used to gamble, that was part of my obsessive compulsive streak, and Mother told me it was in my blood. Before I was conceived, my father’s family had been on welfare, which the family was also in denial about. To have money and then lose it means that you grow up knowing that fame and fortune mean very little.’

Despite that blip in the early 1970s, he has always worked hard. His latest role is opposite David Suchet in the Poirot TV movie, The Mystery of the Blue Train. And after all the turmoil of the past, Gould is eager to find the balance in everything’.

He says he no longer has a relationship with Streisand, but amends that to ‘when somebody has been a part of your life, they are always your family. She’s doing fine now, after her cancer scare, and I had a very kind note from her on my birthday. I’ll talk to Barbra occasionally and when Jason’s here, we’ll all go out for dinner. Barbra did want to get back together again in 1994, but I said that everything needed to come to the surface if the relationship was to work. But there is no bitterness.’

So has Gould now found the balance he has been searching for all his life? ‘I think I’m getting there,’ he grins. ‘It would be lovely to have a partner to help keep the balance within me and, just because my marriages didn’t work out, doesn’t mean I don’t still believe in it. But then who knows?’ he adds, only half-joking, ‘Maybe I’ll end up remarrying one of my two wives.’