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If you like Sally Field's story, you might also like:
Edward Albee,
Julie Andrews,
Carol Burnett,
Olivia de Havilland,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
Naomi Judd,
Audra McDonald,
Sidney Poitier,
Hilary Swank
and Robert Zemeckis

Sally Field can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute
Sally Field on Osteoporosis
Sally Field talks to Congress about Women's Health

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Sally Field
Sally Field
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Sally Field Biography

Two Oscars for Best Actress

Sally Field Date of birth: November 6, 1946

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  Sally Field

Sally Field was born in Pasadena, California. Her mother, known by her married name, Margaret Field, was an actress who worked intermittently in theater, film and television. Sally's father, Richard Dryden Field, was an officer in the United States Army, and later a salesman. Sally's parents divorced when she was only four; not long after, her mother married stuntman and actor Jock Mahoney.

Mahoney enjoyed a measure of success in television Westerns, as well as playing Tarzan in a series of films in the early 1960s, but while Sally was growing up, her parents were often unemployed. At that time, actors received no residual payments when their work was repeated on television. By her own account, Sally's stepfather was emotionally abusive and physically threatening, and she and her brother Richard often found themselves in conflict with him. Sally and her brother defended each other and found the strength to achieve. Richard excelled in school and became a theoretical physicist and university professor. Sally found an outlet for self-expression in acting, starting in junior high school. Losing herself in another character allowed her to escape the fears and uncertainties of her home life.

Sally Field Biography Photo
After graduation from Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley, she enrolled in a summer acting workshop at Columbia Studios. There, a casting agent invited her to audition for a new television series. Gidget, based on a popular book and movie, was set among teenage surfers in Southern California. Field was called back to read for the role numerous times before being chosen over 75 other actresses to play the title role. At 17, she was signed to star in a prime-time network television series.

Gidget immediately established Sally Field as a popular performer with television audiences, but it also created an image of her as a fun-loving, essentially frivolous teenager that made it difficult for casting agents and directors to imagine her in more serious roles. Gidget was abruptly cancelled after its first season, but performed unexpectedly well in summer repeats, and the producers offered Field the lead in a new show, The Flying Nun, a comedy-fantasy with religious overtones. Field balked at taking on such an unreal role but lacking other offers, under pressure from the producers and her stepfather, she accepted the role. She made her feature film debut in 1967 in The Way West, but the role did not establish a lasting presence for her on the big screen. The Flying Nun ran for three seasons and enjoyed healthy ratings, but Field was growing impatient with the situation comedy format. Roles in made-for-TV movies and a recurring part on the Western series Alias Smith and Jones did little to expand her range.

Sally Field Biography Photo
Field found an artistic outlet studying at the Actors Studio, the legendary workshop founded by "method acting" proponent Lee Strasberg. Many of the most admired young actors of the '50s and '60s had studied with Strasberg. A demanding teacher, he enjoyed finding the hidden depths in performers whose public careers had been more limited. Under Strasberg's tutelage, Field acquired a serious reputation among her peers. She was certain she could undertake more demanding material, but found few opportunities in Hollywood. In 1973 she found herself starring in a short-lived sitcom with another fantasy premise, The Girl With Something Extra. The show was cancelled and Field's marriage to her high-school sweetheart ended in divorce, leaving her with two young sons to care for.

Field feared, with reason, that she would be forever typecast as the cute and spunky heroine of absurd fantasies, but she had made an impression on casting director Diane Crittenden, who recommended her for a role in a more realistic film. Stay Hungry, directed by Bob Rafelson, was set in the bodybuilding subculture. The role of Mary Tate, the receptionist in a seedy gym, was far removed from Field's relentlessly wholesome television image and Rafelson was reluctant to consider her for the part, but she eventually won him over. Before the film was released, Field won a role that was to have an even more decisive impact on her career. She was cast in the television film Sybil, about a woman with multiple personality disorder. Field's ability to capture the many facets of this character, and the raw emotional honesty she brought to the role, won her an Emmy Award. The award, followed by the success of Stay Hungry, finally established Field as a serious actress.

Sally Field Biography Photo
The following year brought exposure of a different kind, as she played the romantic lead in the action comedy Smokey and the Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds. The film was one of the year's biggest successes, and Field soon appeared in a string of pictures opposite Reynolds, including The End, Hooper and a Smokey and the Bandit sequel.

Field received the most important role of her career up to that time in 1978, when she was cast as a Southern textile mill worker turned union organizer in the drama Norma Rae. Shooting the film on location in the mill town where the story was set had a powerful impact on Field. She credits the film's director, Martin Ritt, with challenging her as an actress, as well as awakening her social conscience. Norma Rae was a critical and popular success, with Field's performance winning widespread acclaim, capped with the year's Oscar for Best Actress.

Sally Field Biography Photo
With her sitcom image far behind her, Sally Field became one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood, playing opposite the film world's leading men. In Absence of Malice, Field memorably played an unscrupulous reporter hounding a businessman, played by Paul Newman. Another career highlight was her performance in 1984's Places in the Heart. Written and directed by Robert Benton, the film was set in Texas during the Great Depression. Field played a widow, struggling to keep the family farm with the help of one black farmhand and a blind man. The role solidified the image, introduced in Norma Rae, of Field as an iron-willed Southern girl, triumphing over adversity. Places in the Heart won Field a second Oscar for Best Actress. Her ebullient victory speech, much parodied by comedians in the years that followed, was a sincere expression of gratitude for the acceptance she had finally won from the motion picture community.

Apart from her more dramatic parts, Field enjoyed continued success in romantic comedies, co-starring with James Garner in Murphy's Romance. In 1988's Punchline, she played a single mother turned stand-up comedian, appearing opposite Tom Hanks, then at the beginning of his career. The following year she was cast as the mother of Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias, and essayed one of her most intense roles in Not Without My Daughter, in which she played an American woman married to an Iranian man who must flee Iran with her daughter after the Islamic revolution. Field enjoyed another large success with her role as Robin Williams's ex-wife in the popular comedy Mrs. Doubtfire.

Sally Field Biography Photo
In 1994, Field reunited with Tom Hanks in the blockbuster success Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Only ten years older than Hanks, Field played his mother throughout the film, as a young woman in the early scenes and as an older woman at the picture's end, a performance that once again showed her great range and versatility.

After a nearly 20-year absence from the small screen, Sally Field returned to television with the well-received mini-series A Woman of Independent Means, based on the bestselling novel by Elizabeth Forsythe. Having established herself as a leading actress in motion pictures, Field made her directing debut with the feature film The Christmas Tree. She later directed an episode of the television mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, in which she also appeared as an actress.

The 2000 television season brought Field another role that tested her ability to embody characters in extreme situations. On the long-running television drama ER, she played a woman who suffers from bi-polar disorder, and is the mother of one of the show's doctor characters. As in Sybil, Field found the means of experiencing and expressing a psychiatric disorder in a way that made it comprehensible to millions of viewers who might have had no previous understanding of mental illness. She was honored with a second Emmy Award for this performance, and the character returned in subsequent seasons of the program.

Although Field had appeared onstage occasionally over the course of her career, in maturity she undertook more serious forays into live theater. In 2004, she made her Broadway debut in The Goat by Edward Albee. The following year, she enjoyed an acclaimed run as Amanda Wingfield, the domineering mother in the Tennessee Williams classic, The Glass Menagerie.

Sally Field Biography Photo
In 2005, Field was diagnosed with osteoporosis, the loss of bone density experienced by many women as they grow older. She resolved to learn as much as possible about the condition, and signed on as a spokesperson for the prescription medication Boniva. She regards her work for Boniva as just one part of a multifaceted effort to raise awareness of the condition and promote its early treatment. She has been particularly critical of the American health care system and its neglect of ailments such as osteoporosis in their early stages.

Field has not shrunk from expressing herself on other matters. Her performance as the mother of a large troubled family in the series Brothers and Sisters brought her a third Emmy Award in 2007. In the series, the character of her youngest son is a young veteran, traumatized by the war in Iraq. In her Emmy acceptance speech, she noted that "if mothers ruled the world we wouldn't have any more goddamned wars." Fox Television, the network broadcasting the ceremony, cut her off in mid-speech, but her words were widely quoted and the uncensored speech circulated on the Internet. Some old fans may have been disturbed by her blunt speech, but Sally Field refused to retract a word. In life, as in her gallery of unforgettable performances, Sally Field insists on absolute honesty. Sally Field capped a memorable series of roles in 2012 with a heartbreaking performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, the troubled wife of the 16th President in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.

This page last revised on Nov 11, 2013 20:15 EDT
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