Oscar Actors: Winger, Debra (Nominee)–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage, Emmy Nom)

Research in Progress (Feb 2, 2021)
Debra Winger Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Nationality: US

Social Class: Middle; father meat packer, mother office manager

Race/Ethnicity/Religion: Jewish




Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut:

Breakthrough Role: Urban Cowboy, 1980; aged 25

Oscar Role: Officer and Gentleman, 1982; aged 27

Other Noms: 3 Best Actress noms

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image:

Last Film:

Career Output:

Film Career Span:



Death: NA


Debra Lynn Winger (born May 16, 1955) is an American actress, who starred in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), and Shadowlands (1993), each of which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

She won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Terms of Endearment, and the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress for A Dangerous Woman (1993).

Her other film roles include Urban Cowboy (1980), Legal Eagles (1986), Black Widow (1987), Betrayed (1988), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Forget Paris (1995), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). In 2012, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of the David Mamet play The Anarchist.

In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Transilvania Film Fest.

She starred as a series regular in the Netflix original TV series The Ranch (2016–2020).

Winger was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, into an Orthodox Jewish family, to Robert Winger, a meat packer, and Ruth (née Felder), an office manager.

Over the years, she told many interviewers that she volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz, but in a 2008 interview she said she was merely on a typical youth tour that visited the kibbutz.

At the age of 18, after returning to the US, she was involved in car accident and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; as a result, she was left partially paralyzed and blind for 10 months. With time on her hands to think about her life, she decided that, if she recovered, she would move to California and become an actress.

Winger’s first acting role was as “Debbie” in the 1976 sexploitation film Slumber Party ’57.

Her next role was as Diana Prince’s younger sister Drusilla (Wonder Girl) in three episodes of ABC’s TV series, Wonder Woman. The producers had wanted her to appear more often, but she refused, fearing that the role would hurt her fledgling career.

This was followed by a guest role in Season 4 of the TV drama Police Woman in 1978. Played a supporting role in William Huyck’s iconic “students in Paris” film “French Postcards” 1979.

Her first starring role was in Thank God It’s Friday, followed by performance in Urban Cowboy in 1980 with John Travolta, for which she received a BAFTA nomination and a pair of Golden Globe nominations (Best Performance by an Actress and Best New Star).

In 1982 she co-starred with Nick Nolte in Cannery Row and with Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress twice more: for Terms of Endearment in 1983 (which was awarded to her co-star, Shirley MacLaine, who played her mother in the film) and for Shadowlands in 1993, for which she also received her second BAFTA nomination. Her performance in A Dangerous Woman earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.

Over the years Winger acquired a reputation for being outspoken and difficult to work with. She has expressed her dislike of An Officer and a Gentleman (and her costar Richard Gere), for which she refused to do any publicity, and several other of her films, and has been dismissive of some of her co-stars and directors.

When Barbara Walters interviewed Bette Davis in 1986, Davis said “I see a great deal of myself in Debra Winger.”

Winger was going to play Peggy Sue in Peggy Sue Got Married but was forced to back out just before production began when she injured her back in a bicycle accident. The injury affected her ability to work for several months.

She was cast in the lead role in A League of Their Own but dropped out and was replaced by Geena Davis.  The main reason Winger chose to leave the film was her refusal to work with singer/actress Madonna.

Other starring roles during this period included Legal Eagles, Made in Heaven, Everybody Wins, The Sheltering Sky, Leap of Faith, Black Widow, Betrayed, Wilder Napalm and A Dangerous Woman.

In 1995 Winger decided to take a hiatus from acting. In 2002 she said, “I wanted out for years. I got sick of hearing myself say I wanted to quit. It’s like opening an interview with ‘I hate interviews!’ Well, get out! I stopped reading scripts and stopped caring. People said, ‘We miss you so much.’ But in the last six years, tell me a film that I should have been in. The few I can think of, the actress was so perfect”.

After making Forget Paris in 1995 she was absent from the screen for 6 years before returning in 2001 with Big Bad Love, written and directed by her husband, Arliss Howard, and also marking Winger’s debut as a producer.

During her film hiatus, Winger had the female lead in the American Repertory Theater’s production of Anton Chekhov’s play Ivanov from November 1999 to January 2000.

In 2001 a critically acclaimed documentary film titled Searching for Debra Winger was made by Rosanna Arquette and released in 2002 after Winger returned to film acting.

She subsequently starred in the films Radio, Eulogy, Sometimes in April and received positive reviews for portraying Anne Hathaway’s estranged mother in Rachel Getting Married.

She earned an Emmy Award nomination for her title role in the television film Dawn Anna in 2005, directed by Arliss Howard. In 2010 she returned to television, making a guest appearance as a high school principal in an episode of Law & Order. She also joined the cast of HBO’s In Treatment as one of the three patients featured in the third season.[20]

In 2013 she starred in three episodes of In the Woods,[21] the first installment of Jennifer Elster’s multimedia, experimental film series The Being Experience, also including: Terrence Howard, Dave Matthews, Rufus Wainwright, Karen Black, Will Shortz, Liya Kebede, Questlove, Famke Janssen, Moby, Gale Harold, Paz de la Huerta, Jorgen Leth, Rosie Perez, Aubrey de Grey, and Alan Cumming.[22]

Since 2016, Winger stars opposite Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher in the Netflix multi-cam comedy The Ranch as Maggie.

In 2017, she had a cameo as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in the TV miniseries When We Rise.[23] The same year, she starred in her first romantic lead after many years in The Lovers.[24] She has continued to acquire roles in other feature films, such as Tiger City, scheduled for release in 2018.[25]

Other pursuits
In 1995 Winger performed in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True a television musical performance of the popular 1939 MGM film at Lincoln Center to benefit the Children’s Defense Fund. Her roles in that television special were the “Cyclone” narrator and the Wicked Witch of the West. It was originally broadcast on both TBS and TNT.

During her hiatus from the film industry, Winger spent a semester as a teaching fellow at Harvard University.[26] In 2008 Winger wrote a book based on her personal recollections titled Undiscovered.[27] She has shown her support for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel by visiting the bilingual Hand in Hand schools (Galilee Jewish-Arab School, Gesher al HaWadi School) where, in 2008, she stated she would “dedicate the next bit of my life to these schools”.[28]

As 2009 president of the Zurich Film Festival jury, Winger joined other members of the Hollywood film community to speak out against the arrest and prosecution of director Roman Polanski who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, criticizing Switzerland’s government for “philistine collusion” in arresting him so many years later, as he was en route to attend the Zurich festival.[29]

In 2010 Debra Winger was co-executive producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Gasland. She was also the executive producer of the 2012 documentary Bel Borba Aqui about the life and works of Brazilian graphic artist Bel Borba.

Winger’s three-year relationship with actor Andrew Rubin ended in 1980. From 1983 to 1985 Winger dated Bob Kerrey, then Governor of Nebraska, whom she met while filming Terms of Endearment in Lincoln, Nebraska. Winger has also dated her Cannery Row and Everybody Wins co-star Nick Nolte.

From 1986 to 1990 she was married to actor Timothy Hutton with whom she had a son, Noah Hutton, a documentary filmmaker born in 1987. The marriage ended in divorce.

In 1996 she married actor-director Arliss Howard, whom she met on the set of the film Wilder Napalm. Their son, Gideon Babe Ruth Howard (known as Babe), was born in 1997. She is stepmother to Sam Howard, Arliss’s son from his prior marriage.


1976 Slumber Party ’57 Debbie
1978 Thank God It’s Friday Jennifer
1979 French Postcards Melanie
1980 Urban Cowboy Sissy Nominated—BAFTA, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
1982 Cannery Row Suzy DeSoto
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Halloween Zombie—Nurse with poodle[38] Uncredited
1982 An Officer and a Gentleman Paula Pokrifki Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1983 Terms of Endearment Emma Horton National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
1984 Mike’s Murder Betty Parrish
1986 Legal Eagles Laura J. Kelly
1987 Black Widow Alexandra ‘Alex’ Barnes
1987 Made in Heaven Emmett Humbird (credited as “Emmett” himself)
1988 Betrayed FBI Agent Cathy Weaver / Katie Philips
1990 Everybody Wins Angela Crispini Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
1990 The Sheltering Sky Kit Moresby
1992 Leap of Faith Jane Larson
1993 Wilder Napalm Vida Foudroyant
1993 A Dangerous Woman Martha Horgan Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1993 Shadowlands Joy Gresham Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1995 Forget Paris Ellen Andrews Gordon
2001 Big Bad Love Marilyn
2002 Searching for Debra Winger Herself
2003 Radio Linda
2004 Eulogy Alice Collins
2008 Rachel Getting Married Abby Nominated—Broadcast Film Critics for Best Cast
Nominated—Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Ensemble Performance
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Shared with co-star Rosemarie DeWitt)
2012 Lola Versus Robin
2014 Boychoir Ms. Steel
2017 The Lovers Mary
2020 Kajillionaire Theresa Dyne

1976–1977 Wonder Woman Drusilla / Wonder Girl 3 episodes: “The Feminum Mystique” (Parts 1 & 2), “Wonder Woman in Hollywood”
1977 Szysznyk Jenny Episode: “Run, Jenny, Run”
Tattletales Herself 5 episodes
1978 Special Olympics Sherrie Hensley TV movie
Police Woman Phyllis Baxter Episode: “Battered Teachers”
James at 16 Alicia Episode: “Hunter Country”
2005 Dawn Anna Dawn Anna TV movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Sometimes in April Prudence Bushnell TV movie
2010 Law & Order Mrs. Woodside Episode: “Boy on Fire”
In Treatment Frances 7 episodes
2014 The Red Tent Rebecca 2 episodes
2016–2020 The Ranch Maggie Bennett Main role
2018 Patriot Bernice Tavner Main role (season 2)