If there's one thing the last 40 or 50 years have proven, it's that Sally Field is always going to be around. She's just one of those people no one wants to see go anywhere. It started when she was the plucky teen surfer girl and airborne wife of Jesus, stuck around through her multiple personality experiences, solidified during her time as Burt Reynolds' hot arm candy, became the stuff of legend when the Academy chose to her as the one they liked the best and finally has made her one of cinema's most beloved mommies. Sure our reasons for loving Sally may have evolved over the years, we still love it when she shows up.
A total California girl from day one, Sally got her start in Pasadena, CA on Nov. 6, 1946, the daughter of a U.S. Army Captain and a Paramount contract player known for cult movies and bit parts in episodic TV shows. Her parents split when Sally was 3, her mom remarrying to famed stunt man Jock Mahoney a short time later. Sally did not get along with her new step father, frequently clashing with him throughout her teen years. However rocky their relationship, he knew from his experience as an actor that her ambitions to do the same needed to be encouraged and developed properly. Thus her embarkation on a summer acting workshop at Columbia Pictures, where she was discovered by ABC casting agents. At 18, she was getting offered her first lead role. It wouldn't be her last.
This leading role based on the popular Gidget book and movies proved to be an innovative approach to teen television shows and a harbinger of things to come. Revolving around the fun-loving SoCal girl spending her days surfing and having adventures, Gidget routinely turned to the camera and spoke to the audience as she went about getting into and out of trouble - an approach that became all too common later on. There was trouble for Sally even before the show started. The producers required their Gidget to have some proficiency at surfing. Despite being born and raised a California girl, Sally had zero experience at surfing. But like many a deficient actor hungry for a role, she swore she had it anyway. Fortunately for her, they had already moved into the production phase by the time anyone realized she needed lessons just to stand on a surfboard before a rear-projection screen. Their little surfer girl would just have to remain anything but in real life.
Unfortunately for the show and Sally, Gidget's decidedly teen-oriented target audience was not making the viewing decisions in most households in 1965, causing the show to literally be buried in the ratings by its primetime competition, The Beverly Hillbillies. Gidget's parent network, ABC, had an opportunity to innovate the following summer when Gidget's ratings and Sally's popularity skyrocketed among young viewers watching summer reruns. ABC failed to see the potential there and the show was cancelled soon thereafter.
Sally continued on, making her movie debut alongside Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum in THE WAY WEST in 1967. With fresh memories of her appeal to young audiences and Gidget's lost potential in mind, ABC offered Sally a new series that same year. Revolving around the inane idea of a nun who helps the unfortunate by taking flight thanks to a petite frame and an oversized habit, The Flying Nun took several critical skewerings throughout its 3-year run. The show was nonetheless a hit with viewers, thanks mostly to Sally's irresistible appeal. Good for ABC, but not helpful to Sally, who earned a reputation as a lightweight comic actress for some time afterward. The show also became a pop culture joke for years following its cancellation, making Sally's desire for serious parts even more difficult. Not surprisingly, Sally turned down flat an inexplicable offer from ABC to do an updated TV movie based on The Flying Nun during the early 80s.
In 1968 Sally married her first husband Steven Craig, with whom she had two sons. As an actress in the early 70s, Sally was pretty much all about the TV movies and series. Her 1971 counterculture movie of the week Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring saw her play a former drug addict struggling to come to terms with her conservative family. The 1972 TV movie Home for the Holidays was a suspense thriller with Sally as the youngest of 3 sisters stalked by killers after their inheritance. She returned briefly to comedy with the ESP-themed series The Girl with Something Extra in 1973, playing a newlywed with psychic powers, but the show went nowhere. Two years later she divorced her husband and set out to reinvent herself as a dramatic actress.
One of her first roles in this second era of her career was the bizarrely cast and mostly forgotten 1976 film STAY HUNGRY, playing the romantic interest to "The Dude" himself Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people. The film was quickly and understandably forgotten, though it did produce Sally's one and only nude scene. Sally's real debut as a player on the drama scene was her performance in the 1976 miniseries Sybil, playing a graduate student with an abusive childhood that produces within her 16 different personalities. Her watershed performance won Sally her first Emmy and plenty of new street cred with the dramatic community. The flying nun was now permanently grounded.
Shortly after her success with Sybil, Sally met and became romantically involved with 70s hairy heart throb Burt Reynolds. Together they enjoyed massive box office success with their redneck car chase epic SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, which earned over $100 million at the box office that year, right behind STAR WARS. Wanting to keep a good thing going, Sally and Burt reunited for more movies through the end of the 70s, among them THE END, HOOPER and the sequel to BANDIT in 1980. Yet before the close of the 70s, she had one more role to play. Sally's 1979 role as a determined garment factory worker willing to give up everything for the right to unionize in the labor love letter NORMA RAE proved to be a ticket to the big time. Her performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar and an invitation to the A-list. Sadly for Burt, her new success meant being his arm candy, both on and off screen, was no longer an option for shooting star Sally. By the early 80s, their relationship was over. Reynolds later praised Sally as the true love of his life.
On her own and with a bevvy of juicy roles on her docket, Sally spent the next few years scoring one dramatic hit after another. The first was her role alongside Paul Newman in the 1981 drama ABSENCE OF MALICE, playing a journalist whose articles expose the private life of the son of a local crime boss. Another dramatic role in the May-December love story MURPHY'S ROMANCE saw Sally playing a divorced mother in a small town who finds love from an unlikely local. In a real life dose of love, Sally married in 1984 to her second husband, producer Alan Greisman with whom she had one more child. That year also saw Sally score her second Oscar with her performance in PLACES IN THE HEART, playing a depression-era window trying to make a go of her cotton farm along with a group of unlikely helpers. Sally's gushing acceptance speech went on to become one of the great moments in Oscar history and a frequent reason to poke fun at Sally for many a late night comic for some time to follow:
I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!
Sally had a few more memorable roles in late 80s sleepers PUNCHLINE and STEEL MAGNOLIAS, as well as a few 90s hits with MRS. DOUBTFIRE and her memorable role as Momma Gump in 1994's FORREST GUMP. Yet by the mid 90s it was clear her career had begun to cool off from its previous lava like temps back in the early 80s. Her second marriage also cooled off around this time, ending with a divorce in 1993. Recalling past TV success, Sally returned to the boob tube throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, doing recurring roles on shows like The Larry Sanders Show and ER, the later earning her a second primetime Emmy win in 2001. During the 90s and 2000s Sally began working behind the camera as well, directing and starring in the TV movie A Woman of Independent Means. She directed an episode of long time friend and co-star Tom Hanks' HBO space race saga From The Earth To The Moon in 1998. Her feature film directorial debut came in 2000 with the film BEAUTIFUL starring Minnie Driver.
Though quite capable behind the scenes, it's in front of the camera where Sally has always shined the brightest. More TV and film work followed throughout the 2000s, including a 3rd Emmy for her performance as a widow who does her best to keep the family together following the death of her husband on the ABC show Brothers & Sisters, a show that brought Sally home in a number of ways. Not only was it a homecoming with the network who gave Sally her first big break 40 years earlier, but also in the location of the show, which takes place in her native Pasadena. Her Emmy win for Brothers & Sisters gave her another opportunity to give a memorable acceptance speech, where she chided the destructive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, remarking to the audience "Let's face it - if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamned wars in the first place."
Following Brothers & Sisters cancellation, Sally once again made a celebrated return to the big screen with her Oscar-nominated role as the troubled wife of the assassinated 16th President in Steven Spielberg's epic biopic LINCOLN. For her fantastic performance, she earned her 3rd Oscar nomination and 11th Golden Globe nom. Playing The First Lady to one of the greatest US Presidents was a nice cherry on top of her almost 50-year career. No doubt there were many ready to write her off back in the beginning when she was seen as little more than a cute face on a silly TV show. Boy did she show them. Now literally bathed in awards, respect and memorable roles in all kinds of TV and movie productions, Sally has truly become the one everyone really, really likes.