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Then & Now: Mary Steenburgen

Feb. 15, 2013by: Salacious Crumb

Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Hey, how are ya'll doing? Did you have a nice Valentine's Day? If you could hop in a time-traveling Deloreon and do it again, would you? Of course not! You'd use that technology to mess with people throughout history, alternating the future so we all listen to Chumbawamba on a daily basis. Personally, I'd want to go visit gorgeous hotties from all different eras. Even hotties in the wild wild west, like Clara Clayton from BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III. I wonder whatever happened to that curly-haired damsel in distress. We've already tackled Marty McFly's mom, Lea Thompson, in the very first Then & Now column. So, at the request of Movie Fan Central user ElderPredator, let's find out what ever happened to the woman who turned Doc Brown's frown updside down, Mary Steenburgen.

Mary Steenburgen grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Her mother was a school-board secretary. Bored already? Get this: Her father was a freight-train conductor who worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. That's pretty interesting, considering one of Mary's most iconic scenes in a movie takes place on a railroad. Even with her filmography overflowing with decades-worth other terrific performances, I particularly remember her role as Clara Clayton in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III (1990) more than anything else. I don't think I'm alone there, either. But if you thought BTTFIII was her first venture back into the dirty old west, you'd be wrong. Dead wrong.

GOIN' SOUTH (1978) the second of Jack Nicholson's four directorial efforts. It's a romantic comedy sans the romance. It's f*cking brilliant. The film wasn't a huge financial or critical success when it first opened, but over time it became loved by Nicholson fans, and currently holds a 77% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still not conviced it's worth checking out? Not only does it star Steenburgen, it also stars Christopher Lloyd! "You mean Doc Brown and Clara Clayton first met 12 years before we thought??" Yes. Well, sort of (not really). Llyod portrays one of the antagonists in the film, Deputy Towfiled, whose dimwit second-hand man, Deputy Hector, is portrayed by the one and only John Belushi, of course. Oh, did I mention Danny Devito's in this movie, too? Yup.

GOIN' SOUTH was easily Steenburgen's first big break, when Nicholson noticed her in the reception room at Paramount's New York office. To give you an idea of the what it's all about, first imagine Jack Nicholson finishing production on THE SHINING, then transporting that creepy energy into the dirtiest, horniest, rapiest cowboy you've ever seen: Henry Lloyd Moon. At the top of the film, Henry is a captured convict who is about to be hanged to death for abducting a horse, an occurrence which may or may not have happened (either way, times were tough, eh?). Apparently in those days, the charges could be dropped if a woman decided to marry you on the spot, so Henry tries to play that card. Just before the execution, a sweet old lady in the crowd volunteers to marry him to save his life, but then she passes away seconds after. As Towfield puts the noose around Henry's neck, Julia Tate (Steenburgen) offers her hand in marriage (man, maybe times weren't so tough back then), and that's when this "romance" story kicks off.

If you ever meet one person (or woman, anyway) who finds this film even slightly romantic, I think it's safe to say they're on crazy pills. The next hour or so of the film basically revolves around Henry psychotically hunting down Julia with a deadly weapon, only this time instead of an axe, it's his raging hard-on. The pervy uncle way in which Henry "smooth-talks" her is far more terrifying and off-putting than any of the stooges labeled as the "villains" in the film, but for some reason it makes for a darn interesting watch. At one point, in a fit of rage, Henry ties up his new wife to the bed and leaves her (presumably) to die. However, when the two deputies catch him trying to escape, they drag him back to the house, and instead of turning him in, Julia covers for him, saying she was having "lady issues" and he left to get the doctor. You have to see it to fully understand how unsettling it is.

Another thing that makes GOIN' SOUTH fun to watch is knowing Jack Nicholson decided what unscripted moments should go in the final film.  There's one random shot of chicken trying f*ck another chicken, with no success (which is actually perfect symbolism for the film's second act). There's a great moment toward the end where Nicholson is riding a horse and completely eats shit (as in crashes). You can tell it wasn't intentional, but it's cool to know Jack thought it would be a funny take to use. Despite it not being the most memorable film of Nicholson or Steenberg's careers, the role earned Mary a Golden Globe nomination for "New Star of the Year". This would lead her to even more opportunities to wear even more big hats.

Speaking of actors who are famous for playing psychos, Malcolm McDowell was the next to star alongside Steenburgen, in yet another movie where time-travel meets the real world, TIME AFTER TIME (1979). McDowell stars as real-life British author H.G. Wells who uses a time machine to pursue Jack the Ripper who's escaped into the 20th century. Steenbergen plays a modern bank employee whom Wells enlightens to the temporal paradox that she will be murdered in 3 days. I'm as confused as you are, since I haven't seen this film, but as a McDowell fan, and a time-traveling murder-mystery fan, this seems right up my alley. Steenburgen won the Saturn Award for "Best Actress" that year, and more interestingly, got married to McDowell the very next year. They had two children, Lllly Amanda and Charles, and they divorced in 1990. What a droog.

1980 saw the release of what is a must-see for Steenbergen fans of any caliber, MELVIN AND HOWARD, which tells the (allegedly) true story of a service-station owner named Melvin Dummar (played by Paul Le Mat) who picked up a man claiming to be Howard Hughes in the middle of the desert, and later became the beneficiary of $156 million in Hughes' handwritten will. Just goes to show you how being a decent human being can pay off (except for the fact that it doesn't in the end). The beginning of the movie, when Melvin is driving Howard (who had wiped out on his dirt bike earlier) to Vegas, might be the most interesting part of the film. Melvin doesn't mention this guy he meant to anyone, including his wife, Lynda, played by Steenbergen. Actually, if there's one thing in this film that really stuck with me, it's all scenes that feature Mary Steenbergen as a stripper.

Yeah, a topless Mary Steenbergen is easily one of the better reasons to watch MELVIN AND HOWARD. Not only does she strip, but she actually does a pretty damn good job at it. There's a talent I would not have ever expected from our beloved, innocent Clara Clayton. Later in the movie, Lynda goes on a game show and transfers her exotic dancing skills into tap-dancing, and winds up winning her family a bunch of money. The second act in the film revolves around MELVIN blowing all that money on boats and sports cars, and Lynda leaving him a second time. Of course, once the word gets out about $156 million in Hughes' will, things slowly begin to patch up between them. Steenburgen played her part well, and she won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for "Best Supporting Actress", as well as many other shiny statues (and plenty more chances to try on big hats).

Mary continued to gain notice throughout the '80's, in movies like RAGTIME (1981), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEXY COMEDY (1982; pictured above), and the well-recieved CROSS CREEK (1983), in which she portrayed Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, real-life author of The Yearling. She also starred in ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (1985), MISS FIRECRACKER (1989), and PARENTHOOD (1989). While she wasn't reeling in a ton of awards at this point, she did receive plenty of nominations throughout the decade. Still, it was about time she could've used a good role to boost her career, and that's exactly what she got when she signed on for Robert Zemeckis's BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III.

This is another one of those cases where I really don't need to explain the plot, and I would probably do a terrible job explaining anyway. Growing up, a lot of my peers really didn't care for BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III, probably because it didn't have all the cool, Maroon Cartoony special effects of the first sequel. That alternative futuristic world was fun and all, but I think PART III stands strong as the closing chapter to the trilogy. At the end of PART II, Marty McFly's stranded in 1955, and he receives a note from Doc Brown from 1885 saying he's staying back in time. So it was fully intended to lead back into the concept of traveling to an untouched place in time, like the first one. Except this time, it was going to be a "yeehaw"-ing western adventure with elements of science fiction, and it's been the best attempt at that concept ever since (I'm looking at you WILD WILD WEST and COWBOYS & ALIENS). You also can't help but appreciate a western where the jamboree band is ZZ Top.

To cut to the chase, Mary Steenburgen plays Clara Clayton, a (fictional) school teacher who originally had died in an accident when her wagon plummeted into Shonash Ravine, which was renamed Clayton Ravine in her memory. Except while Doc and Marty are scoping out the train tracks, they stop the incident from happening, which Doc fears could result in something terrible in the future, like nuclear war or Nicki Minaj. But like any white-haired man with big, brown puppy dog eyes, Doc can't help but fall for Clara due to their mutual love of science, and the fact that she's the only single woman in the villiage who bathes herself. 

She also has a sexy hat that can never stay all the way on.

As weird as it may be, Mary was a perfect fit to play the love interest of the crazy man down the block who builds things in his garage, a.k.a. Doc Brown. She certainly made the part stand out, and not just seem like a waste of film like Marty's girlfriend in PART II. Or was it PART I? Wait, no. Hold on, let me start over... Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Hey everyone! Did you have a nice Valentine's Day?.... Okay, on second thought, let's not start over.

After BTTF3, Mary Steenburgen had no trouble getting work. She even managed to push her performance credibility in films like WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993) and NIXON (1995). She also partook in more oddball-type films like POWDER (1995) and CLIFFORD (1994), the movie where Martin Short plays a 10-year-old boy. Despite a few turns for the strange, Mary never seemed lose her pride and dignity, nor her figure for that matter...

In 1995, Mary got married to actor Ted Danson of "Cheers". They starred in a sitcom together called "Ink" which aired 22 episodes on CBS. They've also guest-starred together on "Curb Your Enthusiasm", giving Larry David no place to put his skewer at a party. While she obviously hasn't been hogging magazine covers this past decade (that's Kate Upton's job), I think it's fair to say most of us have a pretty good idea what Mary Steenburgen looks like these days. Still, she's well-deserving of a "Then & Now" column, plus she has one of those faces that's a bit fuzzy by memory. So, without further adieu, let's take ourselves back to the future, and see what Mary Steenburgen looks like these days....

Great Scott!! Now those are some flux capacitors I'd like to get my hands on. Sorry, I feel like I'm becoming Jack Nicholson's character in GOIN' SOUTH, and it's over 30 years later. In fact, as of February 8th, 2013, Mary is now 60-years-old and still looking like a fox. So, I guess, happy belated birthday! She also became a grandmother in January 2012, when her daughter Lilly gave birth to a girl named Clementine Mae. Dare I say, GILF?

Danson couldn't have said it better.

That's right. Though Steenburgen and Danson's show "Ink" didn't last long at all, their marriage is still running strong after 17 years. There's a Valentine's Day happy ending you rarely hear about. That aught to instill some faith in those of you debating whether or not to get hitched a second time (I'm still waiting for your call, Holmes). Mary has managed to keep up a staggering reputation in Hollywood. She's appeared in a number of successful films lately, including THE HELP and THE PROPOSAL. She starred as the mother figure to Will Ferrell's man-child character in 2008's STEP BROTHERS (after doing nearly the same thing for 2003's ELF). She's also appeared from time to time on "30 Rock", "Wilfred" and "Bored to Death". Aside from all that, Mary's an active supporter and close friend of Senator Hillary Clinton, as is her husband.

So there you have it. Mary Steenburgen is still aboard the hottie train, as it choo-choos away straight over the Clayton Ravine. Currently, she splits up time living in her multiple homes in Ojai, California and Martha's Vineyard, in addition to sharing a condominium with Danson in the River Market District of Little Rock. That's right, she's still living in the same town she grew up in. As Church Lady would say, "Isn't that special?". I'd like to thank ElderPredator for suggesting this week's "Then & Now" hottie! And thanks to Mary Steenburgen for remaining one of the hottest women of the west!

Extra Tidbit: Mary Steenburgen was the only original cast member to lend her voice to "Back to the Future: The Animated Series".

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9:11AM on 02/15/2013
Thanks Salacious, this is an AWESOME breakdown of Mary's career and hotness. She's always been a stunning and talented woman in my eyes. My lust for her reignited after seeing STEP BROTHERS.
Thanks Salacious, this is an AWESOME breakdown of Mary's career and hotness. She's always been a stunning and talented woman in my eyes. My lust for her reignited after seeing STEP BROTHERS.
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10:09AM on 02/15/2013

Can't decide if she was hotter then or hotter now, which is a good thing.
Can't decide if she was hotter then or hotter now, which is a good thing.
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10:50AM on 02/15/2013

Jeezus!

Damn, I knew she was still hot (thank you Step Brothers) but I had no idea her tits looked so good. Can you imagine a threesome with her and Jane Seymour...I can :)
Damn, I knew she was still hot (thank you Step Brothers) but I had no idea her tits looked so good. Can you imagine a threesome with her and Jane Seymour...I can :)
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10:55AM on 02/15/2013

By the way...

...Jane Seymour for the next Then & Now. We all know she's hot but it would be fun to have a whole article about her with epic pictures.
...Jane Seymour for the next Then & Now. We all know she's hot but it would be fun to have a whole article about her with epic pictures.
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1:49PM on 02/15/2013
Definitely!
Definitely!
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2:01PM on 02/15/2013
Damn. I have to go do some things for about 10... no 5... no... 8 minutes. I agree with the threesome w/ her & Jane Seymour. Aye, aye aye. I'd better remind my pants it's impolite to point.
Damn. I have to go do some things for about 10... no 5... no... 8 minutes. I agree with the threesome w/ her & Jane Seymour. Aye, aye aye. I'd better remind my pants it's impolite to point.
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6:33PM on 02/15/2013
Just look at Ted Danson alone and you know she's still hot!
Just look at Ted Danson alone and you know she's still hot!
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11:44PM on 02/15/2013
Always thought she still had some hotness in her at this age.
Always thought she still had some hotness in her at this age.
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+2
2:19PM on 02/16/2013
You forgot to mention the underrated, Dead of Winter. It's a nice little horror/ thriller. She plays two characters... Check it out!
You forgot to mention the underrated, Dead of Winter. It's a nice little horror/ thriller. She plays two characters... Check it out!
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11:07PM on 02/16/2013
Good Lord she got even hotter the older she got, look at that amazing first NOW pic, great actress & does not need to have that typical hollywood look.
Good Lord she got even hotter the older she got, look at that amazing first NOW pic, great actress & does not need to have that typical hollywood look.
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4:03PM on 02/17/2013

Age has been very kind

Me and my buddy were discussing this about a month ago while doing our yearly Back to the Future marathon. She looks good. Ted is a lucky man.
Me and my buddy were discussing this about a month ago while doing our yearly Back to the Future marathon. She looks good. Ted is a lucky man.
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10:14PM on 02/17/2013

Steenburgen doesnt Age

She is definitely underrated as an actress and a hottie. Mary Steenburgen is in a class of hotties, that continue to be hot as they age. She was cute to start with and over the years , got hotter and hotter.
She is definitely underrated as an actress and a hottie. Mary Steenburgen is in a class of hotties, that continue to be hot as they age. She was cute to start with and over the years , got hotter and hotter.
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