Steenburgen at the 2009 ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
|Born||Mary Nell Steenburgen
(1953-02-08)February 8, 1953 (age 64)
Newport, Arkansas, U.S.
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Hendrix College|
|Children||2; including Charlie McDowell|
|Awards||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress:
Melvin and Howard (1980)
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture:
Melvin and Howard (1980)
Mary Nell Steenburgen (born February 8, 1953) is an American actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing the role of Lynda Dummar in Jonathan Demme‘s 1980 film Melvin and Howard.
Steenburgen, who studied at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse in the 1970s, also received a Golden Globe nomination for the 1981 film Ragtime, a BAFTA TV Award nomination for the 1985 TV miniseries Tender is the Night and an Emmy Award nomination for the 1988 TV film The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank. Her other film appearances include Cross Creek (1983), Parenthood (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Philadelphia (1993), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Elf (2003), The Brave One (2007), Step Brothers (2008), The Proposal (2009), and The Help (2011).
Steenburgen is also an active humanitarian who is involved with various groups ranging from human rights to environmental causes.
Steenburgen was born in Newport, Arkansas, to Nellie Mae (née Wall; 1923–2010), a school-board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen (1914–1989), a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad. She has a sister, Nancy (Steenburgen) Kelly, a teacher. After graduating from high school, Steenburgen enrolled at Hendrix College to study drama. She subsequently traveled to Dallas, Texas at the suggestion of her drama teacher to audition for a slot in New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse, which she won.
Steenburgen moved to Manhattan, New York City in 1972 after being selected by the Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting. She worked as a server at Magic Pan and for Doubleday while studying under Will Esper.
Steenburgen’s big break came when she was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount‘s New York office and was cast as the female lead in his second directorial effort, the 1978 Western Goin’ South.
In only her third film, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1980 film Melvin and Howard, playing Lynda Dummar, the wife of Melvin Dummar, then a trucker and aspiring singer, who claimed to have befriended reclusive eccentric Howard Hughes. Another notable film appearance came in the well-received 1983 film Cross Creek, in which she played Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling.
In Back to the Future Part III (1990), Steenburgen played Clara Clayton, a school teacher who falls in love with Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd. She was persuaded to play the role by her children, as well as by fans of the Back to the Future films, and reprised the role by providing the character’s voice in Back to the Future: The Animated Series.
Other performances have been: in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), as a woman who is having an affair with the title character (played by Johnny Depp); the role of Hannah Nixon in the Oliver Stone biopic, Nixon (1995); and in the Will Ferrell 2003 comedy Elf, as a woman who discovers that her husband is the father of one of Santa’s elves.
In recent years, she has been in the comedy films, Step Brothers (2008), starring Will Ferrell, playing the mother of Ferrell’s character; Four Christmases (2008) opposite Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon; and The Proposal (2009) opposite Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
Dirty Girl, which features Steenburgen along with Juno Temple, Milla Jovovich and William H. Macy, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12, 2010. She also appeared in the critically acclaimed film The Help (2011), starring alongside Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard, and had a featured role as a lounge singer, who is the romantic interest in a love triangle, in the 2013 comedy Last Vegas.
She had a small part in A Walk in the Woods as Jeannie.
In television, Steenburgen starred as Kate Montgomery in the CBS sitcom Ink (1996) with her husband, Ted Danson, and co-starred with Danson as Mary Gulliver in the NBC miniseries Gulliver’s Travels (1996). She has a recurring role as herself with Danson in the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. Steenburgen co-starred as Helen Girardi, the mother of Amber Tamblyn‘s title character in the CBS fantasy/family drama Joan of Arcadia. In 2011, she had a recurring role as Josephine in the HBO sitcom Bored to Death with Danson again. Steenburgen starred as Anastasia Lee in the 2011 FX pilot, Outlaw Country, but it was passed by the network. She finally appeared on FX in the dark sitcom Wilfred from 2011 through 2013 as Catherine Newman, the title character’s eccentric and mentally ill mother. Steenburgen had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock from 2012 to 2013 where she played Diana Jessup.
In 2014, she began a recurring role as former Dixie Mafia boss Katherine Hale in the fifth and sixth seasons of the FX crime drama Justified.
Currently, she plays Gail Klosterman on The Last Man on Earth.
In 1978, Steenburgen met and began dating actor Malcolm McDowell while both were co-starring in Time After Time. They married in 1980 and had two children together, daughter Lilly and son Charlie McDowell. Steenburgen and McDowell separated in 1989 and divorced in 1990.
On October 7, 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson, whom she met on the set of the film Pontiac Moon in 1993, and became the stepmother to Danson’s daughters Kate and Alexis from his previous marriage to producer Cassandra Coates. Steenburgen currently resides in the Los Angeles area with her family.
An alumna of Hendrix College, Steenburgen received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989. In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. In September 2005, she and Danson gave a guest lecture for students at the Clinton School of Public Service where they discussed their roles in public service as well as the foundations and causes in which they are involved.
Steenburgen is a close friend of former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and supported Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign along with Danson. She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
|1978||Goin’ South||Julia Tate Moon|
|1979||Time After Time||Amy|
|1980||Melvin and Howard||Lynda West Dummar|
|1982||Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, AA Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy||Adrian|
|1983||Cross Creek||Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings|
|1983||Romantic Comedy||Phoebe Craddock|
|1985||One Magic Christmas||Ginny Grainger|
|1987||Dead of Winter||Julie Rose / Katie McGovern / Evelyn|
|1987||Whales of August, TheThe Whales of August||Young Sarah|
|1987||End of the Line||Rose Pickett|
|1989||Miss Firecracker||Elain Rutledge|
|1990||Back to the Future Part III||Clara Clayton Brown|
|1990||Long Walk Home, TheThe Long Walk Home||Narrator (voice)|
|1991||Butcher’s Wife, TheThe Butcher’s Wife||Stella Keefover|
|1993||What’s Eating Gilbert Grape||Betty Carver|
|1994||Pontiac Moon||Katherine Bellamy|
|1994||It Runs in the Family||Mrs. Parker (Mother)|
|1995||Grass Harp, TheThe Grass Harp||Sister Ida|
|1995||Nixon||Hannah Milhous Nixon|
|2001||Trumpet of the Swan, TheThe Trumpet of the Swan||Mother (voice)|
|2001||Life as a House||Colleen Beck|
|2001||I Am Sam||Dr. Blake|
|2002||Sunshine State||Francine Pinkney|
|2002||Wish You Were Dead||Sally Rider|
|2003||Hope Springs||Joanie Fisher|
|2003||Casa de los Babys||Gayle|
|2005||Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School||Marienne Hotchkiss|
|2006||Dead Girl, TheThe Dead Girl||Leah’s Mother|
|2007||Elvis and Annabelle||Geneva|
|2007||Nobel Son||Sarah Michaelson|
|2007||Brave One, TheThe Brave One||Carol|
|2008||Step Brothers||Nancy Huff|
|2009||In the Electric Mist||Bootsie Robicheaux|
|2009||Proposal, TheThe Proposal||Grace Paxton|
|2009||Open Road, TheThe Open Road||Katherine|
|2009||Did You Hear About the Morgans?||Emma Wheeler|
|2011||Keepin’ It Real Estate||Claire||Short film|
|2011||Help, TheThe Help||Elain Stein|
|2012||Mrs. Pilgrim Goes to Hollywood||Mary|
|2013||Brahmin Bulls||Helen West|
|2013||The Tale of the Princess Kaguya||The Bamboo Cutter’s Wife||Voice role|
|2015||A Walk in the Woods||Jeannie|
|2016||The Book of Love||Julia|
|2016||Katie Says Goodbye||Maybelle|
|2017||What’s the Point?||Cybil||Post-production|
|1983||Faerie Tale Theatre||Mary / Little Red Riding Hood||Episode: “Little Red Riding Hood“|
|1985||Tender Is the Night||Nicole Warren Diver||Television miniseries|
|1988||Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank, TheThe Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank||Miep Gies||Television film|
|1991–92||Back to the Future||Clara Clayton (voice)||Main role (26 episodes)|
|1994||Gift, TheThe Gift||Catherine||Television short film|
|1995||Frasier||Marjorie (voice)||Episode: “Retirement Is Murder”|
|1996||Gulliver’s Travels||Mary Gulliver||Television miniseries|
|1996–97||Ink||Kate Montgomery||Main role (22 episodes)|
|1998||About Sarah||Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey||Television film|
|1999||Noah’s Ark||Naamah||Television film|
|2000||Picnic||Rosemary Sydney||Television film|
|2000–||Curb Your Enthusiasm||Mary Steenburgen||5 episodes|
|2002||Living with the Dead||Det. Karen Condrin||Television film|
|2002||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Grace Rinato||Episode: “Denial”|
|2003–05||Joan of Arcadia||Helen Girardi||Main role (45 episodes)|
|2004||It Must Be Love||Clem Gazelle||Television film|
|2004||Capital City||Elaine Summer||Television film|
|2007||Reinventing the Wheelers||Claire Wheeler||Television film|
|2009||Happiness Isn’t Everything||Audrey Veill||Television film|
|2010||Southern Discomfort||Television film|
|2011–13||Wilfred||Catherine Newman||4 episodes|
|2011||Robot Chicken||Athena (voice)||Episode: “The Core, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover”|
|2011||Bored to Death||Josephine||4 episodes|
|2012||30 Rock||Diana Jessup||5 episodes|
|2012||Outlaw Country||Anastasia Lee||Television film|
|2014–15||Justified||Katherine Hale||13 episodes|
|2015||Orange Is the New Black||Delia Powell||5 episodes|
|2015–present||The Last Man on Earth||Gail Klosterman||Main role (39 episodes)|
|2015||7 Days in Hell||Louisa Poole||Television film|
|2015||Turkey Hollow||Aunt Cly||Television film|
|2016||Blunt Talk||Margaret Rudolph||4 episodes|
Awards and nominations
In addition to these recognitions, Steenburgen received the 1,337th star on Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2009.