Oscar Actors: Field, Sally

Sally Field is one of the luckiest performers in Oscar's history. She has won two Best Actress Oscars within five years: The first, deservedly, for Norma Rae (1979), the second, undeservedly, for Places in the Heart (1984). Along with Vivien Leigh and Hilary Swank, Field is the only actress to have won two Oscars out of two nominations! When critics wish to put down the Oscars as merit awards, they use Field as a target. Field is the recipient of two Oscars, and the great Garbo and Stanwyck none (See Garbo and Stanwyck entries).

Field is best-known for her 1984 acceptance speech, which has been imitated and parodied to death. Field said: “I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. And I can't deny the fact that you like me. Your really like me!” Other speeches that made Field notorious is her reaction to winning the Gotham Award for Norma Rae: “The New York critics award is more important than anything except my children.”

Born in Pasadena, California, in 1946, Field is the daughter of actress Margaret Field and the stepdaughter of actor Jock Mahoney. In her early twenties, she made her mark on TV with Gidget and The Flying Nun, popular series that she later tried to live down, if not forget. Talking to the New York Times, Field explained that her response was overly emotional due to her “unorthodox career.” “The first 10 years of my career were in television and it wasn't the finest television. It's taking me a while to get over that feeling.”

Field's range as an actress is limited, but she's effective at portraying perky, stubborn, saucy heroines. Norma Rae's protagonist would have been an unlikely heroine in Hollywood of yesteryear, yet director Martin Ritt made an uplifting movie, inspired by the real-life of a Southern hillbilly, who gains political consciousness by organizing a union in small dormant town after meeting a Jewish labor-organizer from New York (Ron Liebman). For Norma Rae, Field swept all the critics awards: The New York, Los Angeles, National Society, and Golden Globe. Field's role in Places in the Heart is based on director Robert Benton's memories of his Texas great grandmother.

Before her big-screen career took off, Field benefited from her offscreen romance with Burt Reynolds, with whom she made a number of fluffy but commercial hits, such as Smokey and the Bandit. She specialized in playing rural, often Southern women, such as her Oscar roles, as well as Murphy's Romance (1985, for which James Garner received his only Best Actor nomination).

Field received a number of Emmys, including one for Sybil (1976), in which she played a schizoid with multiple personalities. She produced several high-profile pictures, including Dying Young (1991), starring Julia Roberts. Field appeared with Tom Hanks, America's favorite son, twice: In Punchline (1988), as his romantic interest, and in the Oscar-winner Forrest Gump (1994), as his mother, uttering another memorable line: “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

Pushing 60, Field has hard time finding worthy film projects, hence her return to TV. It's doubtful she'll ever be nominated again.