Put the “Gidget,” “The Flying Nun” and “you really like me” jokes aside and you’ve got the real Sally Field – an uncommon actress who managed to do a very uncommon thing – rise above television typecasting to become an Oscar winner.
In fact, Fields’ story has all the makings of a Hollywood movie in and of itself: a little girl grows up in the shadow of the Hollywood sign with an actress mother (B-movie regular Margaret Field) and a stuntman stepfather (Jock Mahoney), is chosen from 150 unknowns to make her acting debut in her own TV series (“Gidget”), overcomes years of typecasting and disappointment to win an Emmy for a television-changing performance (“Sybil”) and then goes on to win not one, but two, of the film industry’s highest awards. Not bad for a 5’2″ little girl from Pasadena.
Field was 19 years old when she found fame as the always perky TV teen “Gidget” in 1965. It would be a decade before she could leave her impossibly lighthearted television persona behind with a vehicle worthy of her talent. Field’s 1976 performance in Sybil as a woman with suffering from multiple personality disorder was a television milestone and Field could easily have reaped the benefits of her electrifying performance.
Instead she chose supporting roles in a series of frothy boxoffice smashes alongside then boyfriend Burt Reynolds, including Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The End (1978), and Hooper (1978). When the relationship ended, Field finally began to establish herself as one of the most talented actresses of the decade, winning her first Academy Award® for her performance as a gutsy union organizer in Norma Rae (1979) and going on to bring a second Oscar home five years later for her role as the depression-era widow desperate to keep her family and farm intact in Places in the Heart (1985).
In between she gave a memorable performance alongside Paul Newman in Absence of Malice (1981) and went on to further box office success with Murphy’s Romance (1985), Punchline (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989), Not Without My Daughter (1991) the extremely funny but overlooked Soapdish (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and Forrest Gump (1994).
Having ventured occasionally onto the other side of the camera, Field has acted as star and producer of the TV miniseries “A Woman of Independent Means,” (1995), directed an episode of the Emmy-winning miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (produced by old friend Tom Hanks) and served as director of the Minnie Driver film Beautiful (2000). In the last few years Field has returned to acting for the medium that first gave rise to her initial fame four decades earlier with a lead in the short-lived series “The Court” and a recurring role on the long-time hit “E.R.” In 2007 Field won an Emmy for her work on ABC drama Brothers and Sisters. Her most recent roles have been as Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies and a role as Mary Todd Lincoln in the Lincoln biography alongside Daniel Day Lewis.
Sally Field was awarded a star on the Hollywood Hall of Fame in 2014.