” … her godfather was the late L.S.D. guru, Dr. Timothy Leary (Winona’s father, Michael, formerly served as Leary’s archivist and ran a bookstore called Flashback Books) … “
Winona Ryder Detailed Biography
THE daughter of free-lovin’, counterculture types who named her after the Minnesota town in which she was born (and she’s the lucky one – her siblings are named Yuri, Sunyata, and Jubal), Winona Horowitz enjoyed what you’d call an unorthodox childhood – the Horowitz clan’s idea of family bonding was a good-and-rowdy protest against Agent Orange. It will come as no surprise then, that her godfather was the late L.S.D. guru, Dr. Timothy Leary (Winona’s father, Michael, formerly served as Leary’s archivist and ran a bookstore called Flashback Books – need we say more?), or that Beat poet Allen Ginsberg rounded out her parents’ circle of friends. Winona hastens to explain when asked about her rather nontraditional upbringing that her parents are politically active intellectuals, and not acid-dropping, Grateful Dead-dogging clichés.
Leary himself summed them up as ”hippie intellectuals and psychedelic scholars,” a judgment bolstered by the fact that the couple collaborated on a book detailing Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic experiences, and then co-authored a book alleging that Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women while dosed up on opium. Growing up in a house where a high value was placed on reading, Winona’s bible became J.D. Salinger’s coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye. With a world view shaped by such iconoclastic parents and an idol the likes of Holden Caulfield, it’s little wonder that Winona would one day prove so deft at portraying offbeat characters.
When she was 7 years old, Winona’s family repaired to an upscale commune located on a 300-acre plot of land in the northern California town of Elk, where they coexisted with seven other families and a bunch of horses. The kids obviously didn’t have televisions (after all, they had no electricity in their homes), but Winona’s mother operated a movie theatre in an old barn, where she screened the classic films that provided her enthralled daughter with the key to her future.
After a year of living in the sticks, the family moved back to the relative civilization of Petaluma, California. During her first week at her new school, Winona, a fresh-off-the-commune tomboy, was jumped by a gang of pubescent thugs who proceeded to trounce her good for being such an obvious wuss. (”They thought I was a gay boy,” she has offered by way of explanation.) The unfortunate thrashing yielded fortunate results: Ryder earned a stint of home study, but more importantly, her parents let her enroll in acting classes at the prestigious American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, where bullies were few and far between.
Talent scouts spotted her on the A.C.T. stage and had her test for the role of Jon Voight’s daughter in Desert Bloom. She didn’t get the part, but her audition was impressive enough to gain her representation by Triad Artists, which set her up with a role as a poetry-loving teen in Lucas (1986). When the credits rolled, Winona Horowitz officially became Winona Ryder; her new surname was inspired by a Mitch Ryder album belonging to her father. …