Mary Steenburgen

Mary Steenburgen
Mary Steenburgen

Steenburgen in December 2009 at the ceremony for Steenburgen to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Born Mary Nell Steenburgen
February 8, 1953 (1953-02-08) (age 58)
Newport, Arkansas,
Occupation Actress
Years active 1978–present
Notable works Lynda Dummar in Melvin and Howard
Spouse Malcolm McDowell (1980-1990) (divorced) 2 children
Ted Danson (1995-present)

Mary Nell Steenburgen[1] (born February 8, 1953) is an American actress. She is best known for playing the role of Lynda Dummar in Jonathan Demme's Melvin and Howard, which earned her an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.


Early life

Steenburgen was born in Newport, Arkansas, the daughter of Nellie Mae (née Wall), a school-board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad.[2][3][4][5] Steenburgen grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas.


Steenburgen moved to New York City in 1972, working at Doubleday's while studying acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse under Will Esper.[6] Her break came when she was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount's New York office and was cast as the lead in his second directorial effort, the 1978 Western Goin' South.[6] In only her third film, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1980 film Melvin and Howard, playing the wife of a man who claims to have befriended reclusive eccentric Howard Hughes.

She had a leading role in the 1979 film Time After Time as a modern woman who falls in love with author H. G. Wells, played by her then-husband-to-be Malcolm McDowell.

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 notable film appearances came in the well-received 1983 film Cross Creek, her performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape as a woman who is having an affair with the main character Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), her role as Hannah Nixon in the Oliver Stone biopic Nixon, and as a woman who discovers her husband is the father of a North Pole elf in the Will Ferrell holiday comedy Elf. She appeared in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, another film starring Will Ferrell, playing the mother of Ferrell's character.

In The Butcher's Wife, also starring Demi Moore and Jeff Daniels, Steenburgen plays a lead role in which she also sings. Film critic Charles Taylor, in The New York Times, said Steenburgen's "slow-drip voice comes to your ears like honey arriving on a moonbeam". She also acted in the film Life as a House.

She has starred in the sitcom Ink with her current husband Ted Danson, had a regular role in the CBS drama Joan of Arcadia and starred in the television miniseries of Gulliver's Travels with Danson. She appeared as herself alongside Danson in the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2002, she played Grace Rinato in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, in the episode "Denial".

Steenburgen in December 2000

In recent years, she has been in the comedy films Four Christmases opposite Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, Step Brothers opposite Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly and The Proposal opposite Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

According to a written note owned by Garry Marshall, Steenburgen was the first choice to play the lead in the 1990 film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts.[citation needed]

Steenburgen received the 2,395th star on Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2009.

It was announced in June 2010 that Steenburgen would star in a new FX pilot, Outlaw Country.[7]

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, starring opposite Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Personal life

Steenburgen married Malcolm McDowell in 1980 and they had two children together: Lilly Amanda (now Lilly McDowell Walton), born January 31, 1981, and Charles Malcolm, born July 10, 1983. Charlie, who runs a popular blog and twitter feed titled "Dear Girls Above Me" recently had his website, which details the many vapid and airheaded things his upstair neighbors can be overheard saying, optioned for a movie produced by Ashton Kutcher. Steenburgen and McDowell divorced in 1990, and Steenburgen has been married to actor Ted Danson since 1995.

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.[8] An alumna of Hendrix College, Steenburgen received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989.[9] In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.[10]

She is a close friend of Secretary of State and former Senator Hillary Clinton, and supported Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign along with her husband.[11]

She splits her time living in Ojai, California and Martha's Vineyard, in addition to sharing a condominium with Danson in the River Market District of Little Rock.[citation needed]


Year Film Role Other notes
1978 Goin' South Julia Tate/Moon Nominated for Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Acting Debut – Female
1979 Time After Time Amy Robbins Saturn Award for Best Actress
1980 Melvin and Howard Lynda Dummar Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
•Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
1981 Ragtime Mother Nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1982 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy Adrian
1983 Faerie Tale Theatre Mary / Little Red Riding Hood Little Red Riding Hood
Cross Creek Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Romantic Comedy Phoebe Craddock
1985 One Magic Christmas Ginny Hanks Grainger Nominated for Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Tender Is the Night Nicole Warren Diver TV mini-series
Nominated for British Academy Television Award for Best Actress
Nominated for CableACE Award for Actress in a Movie or Miniseries
1987 The Whales of August Young Sarah
Dead of Winter Julie Rose/Katie McGovern/Evelyn
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Miep Gies Television movie
Nominated for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
End of the Line Rose Pickett
1989 Parenthood Karen Buckman
Miss Firecracker Elain Rutledge
1990 The Long Walk Home Narrator voice
Back to the Future Part III Clara Clayton Nominated for Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1991 The Butcher's Wife Stella Keefover
Back to the Future: The Animated Series Clara Clayton-Brown (voice)
1993 Philadelphia Belinda Conine
What's Eating Gilbert Grape Betty Carver
1994 Pontiac Moon Katherine Bellamy
The Gift TV
It Runs in the Family Mrs. Parker (Mother)
Clifford Sarah Davis
1995 Nixon Hannah Nixon Nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Grass Harp Sister Ida
My Family Gloria
Powder Jesse
1996 Gulliver's Travels Mary Gulliver TV
Ink Kate Montgomery TV Series
1998 About Sarah Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey TV
Nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
1999 Noah's Ark Naamah TV
2000 Curb Your Enthusiasm Herself 4 episodes
Picnic Rosemary Sydney TV
2001 I Am Sam Dr. Blake
Life as a House Colleen Beck
The Trumpet of the Swan Mother Voice
Nobody's Baby Estelle
2002 Wish You Were Dead Sally Rider Nominated for DVD Premiere Award for Best Supporting Actress
Sunshine State Francine Pinkney
Talking to Heaven / Living with the Dead Detective Karen Condrin TV
2003–2005 Joan of Arcadia Helen Girardi TV Series – 45 episodes
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Television Series
2003 Elf Emily Hobbs
Casa de los Babys Gayle
Hope Springs Joanie Fisher
2004 Capital City Elaine Summer TV
It Must Be Love Clem Gazelle TV
2005 Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School Marienne Hotchkiss
2006 The Dead Girl Beverley, Leah's Mother
Inland Empire Visitor #2
2007 Reinventing the Wheelers Claire Wheeler TV
Elvis and Anabelle Geneva
Numb Dr. Cheryl Blaine
Nobel Son Sarah Michaelson
The Brave One Carol
Honeydripper Amanda Winship
2008 Step Brothers Nancy Huff
Four Christmases Marilyn
2009 In the Electric Mist Bootsie Robicheaux
The Open Road Katherine
The Proposal Grace Paxton
Did You Hear About the Morgans? Emma Wheeler
2010 Dirty Girl Peggy
2011 The Help Elain Stein
2011 Wilfred Ryan's Mother Katherine TV


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Mary Steenburgen Biography (1953-)". Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  3. ^ "Mary Steenburgen Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  4. ^ "Stony Reception in Little Rock; Film by Mary Steenburgen Draws Cries of Foul in Arkansas - The Washington Post | HighBeam Research - FREE trial". 1988-04-03. Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  5. ^ "Mary Nell Steenburgen (1953â€")". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  6. ^ a b Mary Steenburgen: Biography. TV
  7. ^ "Mary Steenburgen Saddles Into Outlaw Country Pilot". 
  8. ^ "The Clinton School Speaker Series - Inspiring Ideas and Action". Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  9. ^ "Hendrix College". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2010-09-07. 
  10. ^ "Acclaimed actress, Arkansas native to receive honorary Lyon degree". Lyon College Newsletter. 2 October 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 
  11. ^ "Danson to Hit the Road for Clinton Again". The Washington Post. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2010. 

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