Field, Sally (1946—)

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Field, Sally (1946—)

From perky, surf-loving Gidget in 1965 to gray-haired, frumpy Mrs. Gump in 1994, Academy award-winning actress Sally Field has exhibited a wide range of talent and an enduring likability in a profession that too often ignores women over the age of 40. If her roles have a common theme, it is that women are intelligent, strong, and capable of heroic deeds. Born in Pasadena, California, on November 6, 1946, Field was brought up by her actress mother and her step-father Jock Mahoney. At 17, while most young women were deciding whether to go to college or to get married, Field won the starring role in the television show Gidget (1965-66), a role originally played by Sandra Dee in the hit movie of the same name. Gidget epitomized the typical teenager of the early 1960s, and Field was ideal for the role, establishing herself as a television star that gave young women a positive role model: enthusiastic and slightly goofy, but always inherently obedient and moralistic. The role of Gidget was followed by the even more endearing role of Sister Bertrille in The Flying Nun (1967-70). Ironically, Field was pregnant with her son Peter while flying through the air around the convent. She had married her high school sweetheart Steve Craig in 1968. Field gave birth to a second son, Eli, but the couple divorced in 1975. Field's last series, The Girl Was Something Extra (1973-74), told the story of a young newlywed who had extra-sensory perception (ESP).

The breakout performance of Field's early career came with the role of Sybil in 1976. Playing a young woman with multiple-personality disorder, Sally Field sealed her place in American television history and won an Emmy for her efforts. Sybil was as different from Gidget as it was possible to be. Bound up in her mental illness, Sybil took no pains with her appearance and had very few people skills—traits that were the essence of Gidget. While she met the challenges of this difficult role with apparent ease, Field paid a price for playing against type. She was no longer perceived as an attractive leading lady. In 1977 she took on a different type of challenge with the role of young, attractive, fun-loving Carrie who accepts a ride from trucker Burt Reynolds while fleeing her wedding in Smokey and the Bandit (1977, 1980, 1983). With their seven-year alliance, the two became constant fodder for tabloids. However, while Field was entering her prime as an actress, Reynolds entered a period of decline, and the romance ended.

In 1979, Sally Field won her first of two Academy awards as Best Actress for her role in Norma Rae, the story of an Alabama textile worker who fought for unionization. When Field, as Norma Rae, stood up, holding her placard for union rights, and faced down irate mill owners, no one thought of Gidget. It was a moment that cemented the maturity of Sally Field as an actress and illustrated the gains made by women in American film. Unlike earlier female stars who had become known mostly for romantic and maternal roles, women of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s were allowed to become heroes by standing up for what they thought was right. Field's second Academy Award for Best Actress came with 1984's Places in the Heart. Playing Edna Spaulding, a Depression-era widow and the mother of two who fought to save her farm with only the help of a black man and a blind man, Field demonstrated that heroes could be more traditional than Norma Rae and still be memorable. Field said in a 1984 interview that Edna was her favorite role because she identi-fied with her fierce love for her children and her strong will to survive. It was when accepting this Academy award that Field won a unique place in the award's history. Accepting the honor as proof that she had surpassed the roles of Gidget and Sister Bertrille, Field effused: "You like me—You really like me!" Rather than being accepted as the words of a woman who had matured from being a little girl struggling to please her absent father to a mature actress accepted by her peers, critics, and comedians had a "field" day with her acceptance speech.

Throughout her career, Sally Field has demonstrated versatility as an actress. In 1984's Absence of Malice with Paul Newman, Field played a reporter determined to get her story even at the cost of destroying innocent people. In 1985, Field played the much-younger love interest of veteran actor James Garner. Even though the movie was a romantic comedy, Field managed to strike a blow for women's rights with the role of a single-mother trying to raise her son by boarding horses. In 1989, Field led an all-star cast in Steel Magnolias, a fact-based story of six southern women who hang out at a beauty shop, loving and supporting one another and remaining strong even when death claims one of their group.

Continuing to take chances, Sally Field played the stable wife of a forever-youthful Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), the voice of Sassy the cat in the two Homeward Bound (1993, 1996) movies, and justice-seeking mothers of an abducted daughter in Not without My Daughter (1991) and of a slain daughter in Eye for an Eye (1996). She again became involved in an Academy award-winning movie in 1994 when she accepted the role of Mrs. Gump in Forrest Gump. Ironically, Field played the mother of Tom Hanks, who had played opposite her six years before in Punchline. In 1998, Field continued to hold her own in the world of entertainment. She directed and starred in a segment of Tom Hank's phenomenal From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and remains active in improving the image of women in the entertainment industry and in a number of charitable works.

—Elizabeth Purdy

Further Reading:

Bandler, Michael J. "Sally Field: Sweetness and Might." Ladies Home Journal. 1 July 1991, 73-76.

Craig, Peter. The Martini Shot. New York, William Morrow, 1998.

Hallett, Lisa. "Field Day." Emmy. 1 January 1995, 18.

Sachs, Aviva. "Spunky Sally Field." McCall's. November 1989, 10.