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Clara's Heart is a 1988 American drama film based on Joseph Olshan's 1985 acclaimed novel of the same name.

It was directed by Robert Mulligan & written by Mark Medoff, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris (in his film debut), Michael Ontkean and Kathleen Quinlan.


The film tells the story of a family in crisis.

The mother Leona (Kathleen Quinlan), escapes to Jamaica to grieve the loss of her baby daughter, Edith, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. While there, Leona meets a kindly housekeeper named Clara Mayfield (Whoopi Goldberg). Clara pulls Leona out of her depression with a blunt, no-nonsense style.

Leona is so taken with Clara that she brings her back to their home in Baltimore to be the housekeeper and nanny to young son David (Harris). At first, David is resistant and sees Clara as an intruder, but as the parents are completely wrapped up in their own grief and dissolving marriage, David comes to trust Clara and to depend on her.

Clara harbors her own dark secret (which when revealed) serves to firm the bond between these two very different, but loving, characters.


  • Whoopi Goldberg as Clara Mayfield
  • Michael Ontkean as Bill Hart
  • Kathleen Quinlan as Leona Hart
  • Neil Patrick Harris as David Hart
  • Spaulding Gray as Peter Epstein
  • Beverly Todd as Dora
  • Hattie Winston as Blanche Loudon


The movie was filmed in 1986, but it wasn't released until two years later.

The film also marked a return to the director's chair for Robert Mulligan, who had not made a film in six years after the critical and commercial failure of Kiss Me Goodbye.

Film editor Sid Levin describes Mulligan as being "a bit aloof" during their first meeting but coming across as "a caring, sensitive, decent man."

Mulligan was tense during the shooting period and grew angry when Levin expressed his concerns over the scenes involving actor Spalding Gray.

It wasn't until the principal photography was finished that was Mulligan willing to discuss alternative ideas with Levin in the editing room. They wound up finding common ground over one of the crucial scenes towards the end of the film in which Clara confesses to David the truth about her son.

When Mulligan realized that actress Whoopi Goldberg had improvised the sequence too negatively, Levin was able to edit the sequence in such a way to make it feel less dark.

The filming included several locations in Talbot County, Maryland.

The opening scene, a funeral, was filmed at the historic Oxford Cemetery in Oxford, Maryland. The mansion home of Bill, Leona and David Hart is located on Old Country Club Road, (adjacent to Maryland State Route 33) near Easton, Maryland.

Other locations that were filmed included Saint Michaels, Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, New York and Port Antonio, Jamaica.


Box Office

"Clara's Heart" opened in theaters on October 7, 1988 and grossed $588,869 during its opening weekend. It closed in theaters on December 1, 1988.

Critical Reception

"Clara's Heart" had a chilly reception with critics.

Roger Ebert, (who gave the film a 1 1/2-star review for the Chicago Sun Times) praised Whoopi Goldberg's performance but panned the film itself, writing, "Goldberg is magnificent. The character belongs in a different film, even a different universe, from the rest of the ludicrous plot."


Young Artist Awards

  • Neil Patrick Harris: Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture (nominated)
  • Best Family Motion Picture- Drama (nominated)

1989 Golden Globes

  • Neil Patrick Harris: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (nominated)

Theatrical Trailer


Clara's Heart Movie Trailer