Press Article

Petaluma Argus-Courier, May 2002. “My Fascinating World of People” by Bill Soberanes: An Interview with Nigel Goodall.


I recently had the pleasure of meeting celebrity biographer Nigel Goodall. Goodall, an Englishman, visited Petaluma recently to retrace the places he mentioned in his book, Winona Ryder: The Biography.

Goodall has written more than a dozen biographies of show business personalities, but Winona Ryder is his favorite subject. Ryder, now 30, grew up in Petaluma and attended Kenilworth Junior High, Petaluma Junior High and Petaluma High School.

While in Petaluma, Goodall visited those campuses and chatted with some of Winona’s former teachers and classmates. He also found the house that Winona lived in, visited the Polly Klaas Foundation office and met Eve Nichol, Polly’s mother.

In his biography on Winona Ryder, Goodall talks about her involvement in the 1993 Polly Klaas case. As a child Winona had a fear of being kidnapped and she pledged $200,000 to help Polly’s safe return. She also came to Petaluma to help in the search for the abducted 12-year-old girl. She said, “This is my town. This is my junior high. What can I do? Do you need money?”

In his book, Goodall does a magnificent job of bringing out sidelights in Winona’s career and he tells how on her third day at Kenilworth Junior High School she was roughed up by a group of boys who thought, because she had short hair and wore pants, she was an effeminate boy. The attack caused fractured ribs and six stitches in her head.

Goodall also spent a few days in Hollywood. He was prominently featured in a recent documentary about Winona on the E! Entertainment channel: Winona Ryder: The E! True Hollywood Story.

While in Petaluma, Goodall was a guest on Edy Samson’s Talk of the Town show on Petaluma Community Access Television.

Goodall described Petaluma as a model American community where complete strangers greet each other on the streets. He remarked that the people he met here were very friendly. One thing that he observed was that there are no plaques or commemorations in town to indicate that Winona grew up here. Goodall is working on plans to remedy that oversight, including a Winona Ryder film festival.

Goodall’s books include Demi Moore: The Most Powerful Woman in Hollywood and Johnny Depp: The Biography. His latest book, about pop singer Kylie Minogue, is being published this month.

I found Goodall to be as fascinating in person as the stories he writes about personalities. I believe the biographies will help save the true qualities and history of celebrities from all walks of life.

Talking about Winona Ryder, Goodall said, “I think one of Winona’s most important qualities is that she is really authentic in the roles she chooses.” He said that she has extraordinary selective talent and a natural screen presence.

Goodall told me that even at 13 Ryder had a clear picture and clear vision of what kind of scripts she’d like, and her first role in the movie Lucas was that of an off-beat teenager. He quoted director David Seltzer, “She had the kind of presence I had never seen, an inner life.” Ten years later, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed Winona in Alien Resurrection, said she has “an instinctual way of working, a rare quality usually found only in children.”

Goodall said he was fascinated by the fact that Winona’s parents, Michael and Cindy Horowitz, were connected to the literary and intellectual part of the 1960s counterculture movement and were friends with the likes of Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlingetti and Aldous Huxley. Leary, in fact, was Winona’s godfather.

I learned a lot about how Goodall writes his biographies. He puts in tremendous time, many months of research. He told me he loves being a celebrity biographer, who is already a celebrity in his own field. I’m looking forward to his future biographies, and I feel that they will include some of the world’s best known people.