Oscar Actors: Steenburgen, Mary–Background, Career, Awards, Cumulative Advantage (Emmy)

Mary Steenburgen was born February 8, 1953 in Newport, Arkansas, to Nellie Mae, a school-board secretary, and Maurice Hoffman Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

She has a sister, Nancy Kelly, a teacher. Her ancestry includes Dutch, English, Scottish, and Welsh.

Hendrix College

In 1971, she enrolled at Hendrix College to study drama. She then traveled to Dallas at the suggestion of her drama teacher where she auditioned for New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse.

Neighborhood Playhouse

Steenburgen moved to Manhattan in 1972 after being selected by the Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting. She worked as a server at The Magic Pan and for Doubleday while studying under William Esper.

Spotted by Jack Nicholson
Steenburgen’s break came when she was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount’s New York office, and was cast as the female lead in his second directorial work, the 1978 Western “Goin’ South.”

Steenburgen 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 Malcolm McDowell, whom she married the following year.

In 1980, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her third film, Melvin and Howard, playing Lynda Dummar, the wife of Melvin Dummar, a trucker and aspiring singer, who claimed to have befriended eccentric Howard Hughes.

Another notable film appearance came in the 1983 biopic “Cross Creek,” in which she played Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “The Yearling.”

In 1985, she starred in the movie One Magic Christmas as a mother and wife who falls on devastating times at Christmas only to rely on a Christmas miracle to save her family. In 1989, she played Karen Buckman in Parenthood.

In Back to the Future Part III (1990), Steenburgen played Clara Clayton, a school teacher who falls in love with Doc Brown. She reprised the role by providing the character’s voice in Back to the Future: The Animated Series.

She appeared in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993); My Summer Story (1994), as the mother of Ralphie Parker (the sequel to A Christmas Story); as Hannah Nixon in Oliver Stone biopic, Nixon (1995).

In the Will Ferrell 2003 comedy “Elf,” she played a woman who discovers that her husband is the father of one of Santa’s elves.

She has appeared in the comedy films Step Brothers (2008), playing the mother of Will Ferrell’s character; Four Christmases (2008); and The Proposal (2009).

She also appeared in the critically acclaimed film The Help (2011) and had a featured role as a lounge singer, who is the romantic interest in a love triangle, in the 2013 comedy Last Vegas.

In 2018, Steenburgen starred in the romantic comedy “Book Club.”

Other Awards

She also received a Golden Globe nomination for the 1981 film “Ragtime,” a BAFTA TV Award nomination for the 1985 miniseries {Tender Is the Night,” and Emmy Award nomination for the 1988 TV film, “The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank.”

Marriages: two actors

In 1978, Steenburgen began dating actor Malcolm McDowell while both were co-starring in Time After Time. They married and had two children together, but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson, whom she had met on the set of Pontiac Moon, and became the stepmother to Danson’s daughters from previous marriage to producer Cassandra Coates.