Jill Clayburgh in Griffin and Phoenix (1976)
|Born||April 30, 1944|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||November 5, 2010 (aged 66)|
Lakeville, Connecticut, U.S.
|Education||Sarah Lawrence College|
(m. 1979; her death 2010)
Jill Clayburgh (April 30, 1944 – November 5, 2010) was an American actress known for her work in theater, television, and cinema. She won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1978 film An Unmarried Woman. She would receive a second Best Actress Academy Award nomination for the 1979 film Starting Over as well as four Golden Globe nominations for her film performances.
Clayburgh made her Broadway debut in 1968 and starred in the original Broadway productions of the musicals The Rothschilds (1970) and Pippin (1972), and returned in 1984 for the revival of the play Design for Living. On television, she appeared in episodes of Medical Center, Maude, and The Rockford Files, before starring in the 1975 TV film Hustling, which earned her the first of two Emmy Award nominations. She received a second Emmy nomination for her 2004 guest role in the drama series Nip/Tuck, and went on to star in the drama series Dirty Sexy Money (2007–09). Her film roles included Gable and Lombard (1976), Silver Streak (1976), Semi-Tough (1977), La Luna (1979), First Monday in October (1981), Hanna K. (1983), Shy People (1987), Fools Rush In (1997), Running With Scissors (2006) and Bridesmaids (2011).
Clayburgh was born in New York City, the daughter of Julia Louise (née Dorr; 1910–1975), an actress and theatrical production secretary for producer David Merrick, and Albert Henry "Bill" Clayburgh, a manufacturing executive. Her paternal grandmother was concert and opera singer Alma Lachenbruch Clayburgh.
Clayburgh's mother was Protestant and her father was Jewish, though she reportedly never talked about her religious background and was raised in no faith. Clayburgh never got along with her parents and began therapy at an early age: "I was very rebellious as a teenager, aside from having an unhappy, neurotic childhood. But I just can't go into it. I think I had a lot of energy and undirected need so I just kind of rebelled in a general fashion. I got myself in terrible, very personal trouble. Therapy has helped me a lot in my life."
As a child, Clayburgh was inspired to become an actor when she saw Jean Arthur as Peter Pan on Broadway in 1950. She was raised on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where she attended the Brearley School. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied religion, philosophy and literature, but ultimately decided to be an actress. She received her acting training at HB Studio.
Clayburgh began acting as a student in summer stock and, after graduating, joined the Charles Street Repertory Theater in Boston, where she met another up-and-coming actor and future Academy Award-winning star, Al Pacino, in 1967. They met after starring in Jean-Claude Van Itallie's play America, Hurrah. They had a five-year romance and moved back together to New York City.
In 1968, Clayburgh debuted off-Broadway in the double bill of Israel Horovitz's The Indian Wants the Bronx and It's Called the Sugar Plum, also starring Pacino. Clayburgh and Pacino were cast in "Deadly Circle of Violence", an episode of the ABC television series NYPD, premiering November 12, 1968. Clayburgh at the time was also appearing on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, playing the role of Grace Bolton. Her father would send the couple money each month to help with finances.
She eventually made her Broadway debut in 1968 in The Sudden and Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson, co-starring Jack Klugman, which ran for 5 performances. In 1969, she starred in an off-Broadway production of the Henry Bloomstein play Calling in Crazy, at the Andy Warhol owned Fortune theatre. She was in a TV pilot that did not sell, The Choice (1969) and appeared off Broadway in The Nest (1970).
In 1969, Clayburgh made her screen debut in The Wedding Party, written and directed by Brian De Palma. The Wedding Party was filmed in 1963 (during which Clayburgh was at Sarah Lawrence) but not released until six years later. The film focuses on a soon-to-be groom and his interactions with various relatives of his fiancée and members of the wedding party; Clayburgh played the bride-to-be. Her co-stars included Robert De Niro, in one of his early film roles, and Jennifer Salt. In his review from The New York Times, Howard Thompson wrote, "As the harassed engaged couple, two newcomers, Charles Pfluger and Jill Clayburgh, are as appealing as they can be."
Clayburgh attracted attention when she appeared in the Broadway musical The Rothschilds (1970–72) which ran for 502 performances. She then went on to play Desdemona opposite James Earl Jones in the 1971 production of Othello in Los Angeles, and had another Broadway success with Pippin (1972–75), which ran for 1944 performances. Clive Barnes of The New York Times found Clayburgh to be "all sweet connivance as the widow out to get her man."
During this time, Clayburgh had a string of brief character parts in film and television. Some of these include a small role in The Telephone Book (1971) and Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Tiger on a Chain (1973), Shock-a-bye, Baby (1973) and 1974's The Terminal Man, opposite George Segal.
After guest-starring on an episode of The Snoop Sisters, Clayburgh played Ryan O'Neal's ex wife in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973) and starred in a TV pilot that was not picked up, Going Places (1973). She also guest starred on Medical Centre, Maude, and The Rockford Files. She later returned to Broadway for Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, which ran for 48 performances.
Clayburgh was praised for her performances in the TV movies Hustling (1975), where she played a prostitute, and The Art of Crime (1975). Hustling was a departure for her: "Before I did Hustling I was always cast as a nice wife. I wasn't very good at it. Then with Hustling, it was a nice role and it was a departure. People saw a different dimension." Her performance in the TV film eventually earned her an Emmy nomination; she later said it revitalised her career. "It changed my career,” Clayburgh said. “It was a part that I did well, and suddenly people wanted me. Sidney Furie saw me, and wanted me for Gable and Lombard."
An Unmarried Woman and film stardom
Clayburgh first came to prominence when cast as Carole Lombard in the 1976 biopic Gable and Lombard with James Brolin as Clark Gable. Critical reaction was mostly mixed, but Clayburgh received some praise for her performance. Variety called it a film with many major assets, not the least of which is the stunning and smashing performance of Jill Clayburgh as Carole Lombard" and Time Out London felt she "produced a very modern version of the Lombard larkishness." Vincent Canby of the New York Times suggested that Clayburgh's performance "comes off better" than Brolin's Gable, as "she appears to be creating a character whenever the fearfully bad screenplay allows it." Despite this, he felt both actors were miscast as the famous couple, writing further, "Miss Clayburgh could be an interesting actress, but there are always problems when small performers try to portray the kind of giant legends that Gable and Lombard were. Because both Gable and Lombard are still very much alive in their films on television and in repertory theaters, there is difficulty in responding to Mr. Brolin and Miss Clayburgh in any serious way."
She starred in the acclaimed TV movie Griffin and Phoenix (1976) co-starring with Peter Falk. It tells the story of two ill-fated middle-aged characters who both face a terminal cancer diagnosis and have months left to live. Notably, Clayburgh developed the same type of cancer her character had in this film, succumbing to it in 2010. Also in 1976, she had her first big box office success playing the love interest of Gene Wilder's character in the comedy-mystery Silver Streak, also starring Richard Pryor. Critics felt Clayburgh had little to do in Silver Streak, and The New York Times called her "an actress of too much intelligence to be able to fake identification with a role that is essentially that of a liberated ingenue."
In 1977, she had another hit with Semi-Tough, a comedy set in the world of American professional football, which also starred Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. Clayburgh played Barbara Jane Bookman, who has a subtle love triangle relationship with both Reynolds and Kristofferson's characters. Vincent Canby liked her performance, writing, "Miss Clayburgh, who's been asked to play zany heroines in Gable and Lombard and Silver Streak by people who failed to provide her with material, has much better luck this time. She's charming," and The Washington Post enjoyed her chemistry with Reynolds: "Reynolds and Clayburgh look wonderful together. They seem to harmonize in a way that would only be more apparent - and make their eventual recognition of being in love seem more appropriate." Both Semi Tough and Silver Streak earned her a reputation "as a popular modern stylist of screwball comedy."
Clayburgh's breakthrough came in 1978 when she received the first of her two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman. In what would be her career-defining role, Clayburgh was cast as Erica, the courageous abandoned wife who struggles with her new 'single' identity after her stockbroker husband leaves her for a younger woman. Upon release, An Unmarried Woman drew praise and was popular at the box office, briefly making Clayburgh, at 34, a star. Clayburgh's performance garnered some of the best reviews of her career: Roger Ebert called the film "a journey that Mazursky makes into one of the funniest, truest, sometimes most heartbreaking movies I've ever seen. And so much of what's best is because of Jill Clayburgh, whose performance is, quite simply, luminous. We know that almost from the beginning", and commented further, "Clayburgh takes chances in this movie. She's out on an emotional limb. She's letting us see and experience things that many actresses simply couldn't reveal." The New York Times wrote, "Miss Clayburgh is nothing less than extraordinary in what is the performance of the year to date. In her we see intelligence battling feeling – reason backed against the wall by pushy needs," and Pauline Kael in The New Yorker noted, "Jill Clayburgh has a cracked, warbly voice -- a modern polluted-city huskiness. And her trembling, near-beautiful prettiness suggests a lot of pressure. When Erica's life falls apart and her reactions go out of control, Clayburgh's floating, not-quite-sure, not-quite-here quality is just right. And she knows how to use it: she isn't afraid to get puffy-eyed from crying, or to let her face go slack. No other film has made such a sensitive, empathic case for a modern woman's need to call her soul her own." Clayburgh also earned her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, which she tied with Isabelle Huppert.
During this time, she turned down the lead in Norma Rae, a film that brought Sally Field her first Oscar. Still, in 1979, Clayburgh had a career peak after starring in two movies that garnered her widespread acclaim. The first was Bernardo Bertolucci's La Luna (1979), which she made in Italy. The film presents an incestuous relationship between a mother and her drug-addicted son, and was poorly received at the time. Clayburgh agreed to star in this film because she felt that "most great roles explore something that is socially taboo.” Bertolucci was especially impressed with her work, having complimented her ability "to move from one extreme to the other in the same shot, be funny and dramatic within the same scene." Despite the film's controversy, Clayburgh's performance as a manipulative opera singer was generally praised: Critic Richard Brody called it "her most extravagant role" and a review in the New York Times felt she was "extraordinary under impossible circumstances." Also, in the London Review of Books, Angela Carter wrote, "Jill Clayburgh, seizing by the throat the opportunity of working with a great European director, gives a bravura performance: she is like the life force in person". Her second and last film of 1979 was Alan J. Pakula's Starting Over, a romantic comedy with Burt Reynolds and Candice Bergen. Pakula hired her because, “the extraordinary thing is that she’s so many people. In a Jill Clayburgh movie you don’t know what you’re going to get." As a nursery-school teacher who falls reluctantly in love with Reynold's divorced character, Clayburgh's performance was lauded by The New York Times: "Miss Clayburgh delivers a particularly sharp characterization that's letter-perfect during the first part of the story and unconvincing in the second, through no fault of her own." Starting Over also earned her a second Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a row. Also that year, she later returned to the stage with In the Boom Boom Room as a go-go dancer. Clayburgh had wanted to play this role since 1972, but she lost the role to Madeline Kahn. Although she wasn't cast in David Rabe's play, she later married him in 1979.
Her back-to-back success with An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over led writer Mel Gussow to suggest that Clayburgh was one of the few "stars for the 80's fresh, natural anti‐ingenues" alongside Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, adding, "These are stage actresses who have become movie stars on their own terms, free of “glamour,” ready to clown as well as to play heroines." In 1980, she was cast opposite Michael Douglas in a romantic comedy, It's My Turn, in which she teaches the proof of the snake lemma. Novelist Eleanor Bergstein, who had written the screenplay, was delighted with Clayburgh's casting. “To me,” says Bergstein. “Jill is one of the few actresses who looks like she has imagined her life, made her life happen. I think that divides women in a way, women whose intelligence animates their faces. They have willed themselves to be beautiful, to be exactly who they are. Their minds in form their faces. I think Jill is like that. Lots of actresses are just the opposite.” Clayburgh herself was attracted to the part because “Kate is the closest person to myself that I have ever played. People always say, ‘Oh, An Unmarried Woman, that’s you.' But really, of course, it’s not.” The following year, she was a conservative Supreme Court justice in First Monday in October, a comedy with Walter Matthau. Her performance was praised and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.
By the late 1980s, Clayburgh appeared in fewer and less successful films, despite turning to more dramatic material. She was a valium addict and documentarist in I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1981), written by David Rabe, her husband. "I guess people look at me and they think I'm a ladylike character," said Clayburgh, "but it's not what I do best. I do best with characters who are coming apart at the seams." The film received negative reviews, but Janet Maslin of The New York Times liked Clayburgh's performance and wrote that she played her high-powered career woman "earnestly and vigorously." In Hanna K. (1983) she was a court-appointed Israeli-American lawyer assigned to defend a Palestinian man for director Costa Gravas. The film was a box office failure and hurt Clayburgh's career. Although Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader called the film "predictably dire", he felt Clayburgh "still has her mysterious power, left over from An Unmarried Woman, to make every man she comes into contact with melt with undying passion." Clayburgh returned to Broadway for a revival of Design For Living (1984–85), directed by George C. Scott, which ran for 245 performances.
Gradually Clayburgh shifted into being more of a supporting player: Trial: The Price of Passion (1992), Whispers in the Dark (1992), Rich in Love (1992), Le Grand Pardon II (1992), Lincoln (1992), Firestorm: 72 Hours in Oakland (1993), Naked in New York (1993), Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders (1993), For the Love of Nancy (1994), and The Face on the Milk Carton (1995).
Clayburgh was in My Little Assassin (1999), and The Only Living Boy in New York (2000).
She returned to off-Broadway for a role in The Exonerated (2002–04).
In 2005 she returned to Broadway in A Naked Girl on the Appian Way which ran for 69 performances. More successful was The Busy World is Hushed (2005–06) on off Broadway.
In 2006, she appeared on Broadway in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park with Patrick Wilson and Amanda Peet; she played Peet's mother, a role originated by Mildred Natwick. It ran for 109 performances.
She returned to the screen as a therapist's eccentric wife in the all-star ensemble dramedy Running With Scissors, an autobiographical tale of teenage angst and dysfunction based on the book by Augusten Burroughs.
She did one last play, The Clean House (2006–07).
Clayburgh had chronic lymphocytic leukemia for more than 20 years and dealt with it privately before dying from the disease at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut, on November 5, 2010. The movie Love & Other Drugs was dedicated to her memory. The 2011 film Bridesmaids was Clayburgh's final film appearance.
In 2012, friend and fellow actor Frank Langella wrote about their friendship (which spanned more than forty years) in a chapter of his book Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. Her close friend and playwright Richard Greenberg wrote about her last days in a chapter of his book Rules for Others to Live By: Comments and Self-Contradictions, released in 2016.
Clayburgh married screenwriter and playwright David Rabe in 1979. They had one son, Michael Rabe, and one daughter, actress Lily Rabe. Prior to this, she had dated actor Al Pacino for five years (and briefly appeared with him in a November 1968 N.Y.P.D. episode, "Deadly Circle of Violence").
|1968||N.Y.P.D.||Woman in park||Episode: "Deadly Circle of Violence"|
|1969||Search for Tomorrow||Grace Bolton||Portrayed biological mother of child fathered by Len Whiting, adopted by him and his wife Patti|
|1969||The Wedding Party||Josephine|
|1971||The Telephone Book||Eyemask|
|1972||The Snoop Sisters||Mary Nero||Episode: "The Female Instinct"|
|1973||The Thief Who Came to Dinner||Jackie|
|1974||The Terminal Man||Angela Black|
|1974||Medical Center||Beverly||Episode: "Choice of Evils"|
|1974||Maude||Adele||Episode: "Walter's Heart Attack"|
|1974||The Rockford Files||Marilyn Polonski||Episode: "The Big Ripoff"|
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
|1976||Gable and Lombard||Carole Lombard|
|1976||Griffin and Phoenix||Sarah Phoenix||Television movie|
|1976||Silver Streak||Hilly Burns|
|1977||Semi-Tough||Barbara Jane Bookman|
|1978||An Unmarried Woman||Erica||Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award|
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
|1979||La Luna||Caterina Silveri||Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama|
|1979||Starting Over||Marilyn Holmberg||Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress|
Nominated — American Movie Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
|1980||It's My Turn||Kate Gunzinger|
|1981||First Monday in October||Ruth Loomis||Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
|1982||I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can||Barbara Gordon|
|1983||Hanna K.||Hanna Kaufman|
|1986||Miles To Go||Moira Browning||Television movie|
|1986||Where Are the Children?||Nancy Holder Eldridge|
|1987||Shy People||Diana Sullivan|
|1989||Fear Stalk||Alexandra Maynard||Television movie|
|1990||Oltre l'oceano||Ellen||a.k.a. Beyond the Ocean (USA)|
|1991||Pretty Hattie's Baby||Unknown|
|1991||Reason For Living: The Jill Ireland Story||Jill Ireland||Television movie|
|1992||Whispers in the Dark||Sarah Green|
|1992||Rich in Love||Helen Odom|
|1992||Le grand pardon II||Sally White||a.k.a. Day of Atonement|
|1993||Naked in New York||Shirley, Jake's mother|
|1994||For the Love of Nancy||Sally Walsh||Television movie|
|1995||The Face on the Milk Carton||Miranda Jessmon||Television movie|
|1997||Going All the Way||Alma Burns|
|1997||When Innocence Is Lost||Susan French|
|1997||Fools Rush In||Nan Whitman|
|1998||Law & Order||Sheila Atkins||Episode: "Divorce"|
|1998||Frasier||Marie||Episode: "The Perfect Guy"|
|1998||Trinity||Eileen McCallister||3 episodes|
|1999||Everything's Relative||Mickey Gorelick||4 episodes|
|1999–2001||Ally McBeal||Jeannie McBeal||4 episodes|
|2002||Leap of Faith||Cricket Wardwell||6 episodes|
|2004||The Practice||Victoria Stewart||3 episodes|
|2004||Nip/Tuck||Bobbi Broderick||2 episodes|
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
|2006||Running with Scissors||Agnes Finch|
|2007–2009||Dirty Sexy Money||Letitia Darling||23 episodes|
|2010||Love & Other Drugs||Mrs. Randall||Posthumous release|
|2011||Bridesmaids||Judy Walker||Posthumous release|
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Acting Ensemble
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Nominated — Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Nominated — Central Ohio Film Critics Association for Best Ensemble
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