For her performance in Rambling Rose (1991), actress Diane Ladd, along with daughter Laura Dern, marked the first time a mother and daughter received Oscar nominations for the same movie. Her superb acting in the 1991 film also gave Ladd an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe nomination. A year earlier, Ladd’s turn as the psychopathic obsessive mother of Dern’s character in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) earned another Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.
Embarking on her acting career on stage, Ladd was then famous for her turn as waitress Flo in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974, won a BAFTA Film Award and accepted an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination). In the 1990s, the actress collected three Emmy nominations after guest performing in such series as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” (1993-1997), “Grace Under Fire” (1994-1997) and “Touched by an Angel” (1997).
Off screen, Ladd published the nutritional health book “Spiraling Through the School of Life” (2006) and is writing “Interrupted Destiny” and the biographical novel “Two Rebels with a Cause.” She was the featured speaker at the Palm Springs Women in Film & Television event on November 11, 2006.
From her marriage with actor Bruce Dern (1960-1969), Ladd has 2 daughters, Laura Dern and the late Diane Elizabeth Dern. She was then married to William A. Shea Jr. (1969-1977) before tying the knot with Robert Charles Hunter. Ladd has two grandchildren: Ellery Walker and Jaya Harper, from Laura Dern’s marriage with musician Ben Harper.
Childhood and Family:
Diane Ladd was born Rose Diane Ladner (some say Lanier) on November 29, 1932, in Meridian, Mississippi. Laddie, her nickname, is a distant relative of playwright Tennessee Williams.
While studying at St. Aloysius Academy and then at a New Orleans finishing school, Diane performed in a community theater, as well as modeled and sang jazz and blues on weekends. Diane, who was once interested in a career in law, won a scholarship to Louisiana State University. However, she quit her Law studies and pursued her passion for performing. Diane then worked as a chorus girl at New York City’s Copacabana for three months, enrolled in the Actors Studio and joined auditions.
Diane was first married to actor Bruce Dern (1960-1969), with whom she has two daughters. Her first daughter, Diane Elizabeth Dern (born in 1961), drowned at the age of 18 months. Six years later, daughter Laura Dern was born. After her second marriage with William A. Shea Jr. (1969-1977) ended in divorce, Diane married Robert Charles Hunter (wed on February 14, 1999).
Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Diane Ladd, who made her professional stage debut in Meridian’s play “The Verdict,” was discovered by John Carradine while performing at the Galley Circle Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was soon cast in his touring production of “Tobacco Road.”
Ladd went to the Off-Broadway stage with a role in the revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Orpheus Descending” (1959), where she first met actor Bruce Dern. Almost at the same time, she landed the role of Putski in the tour of “A Hatful of Rain” (1959, alongside Ben Gazzara), which was followed by her appearance in the revue “Medium Rare” (1960).
On screen, Ladd took guest turns in “Naked City” (1958, 1959) and “Decoy” (1959), before taking a bit part in her film debut Something Wild (1961). She then became a guest actress in series like “Perry Mason” (1963), “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre” (1964) and “Daniel Boone” (1966). Ladd, who acted with Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels (1966, had a supporting role as Gaysh), also appeared in “The Big Valley” (1967), “Ironside” (1968) and “Then Came Bronson” (1969).
Amid her screen attempts, Ladd had a Broadway debut in “Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights” (1968, co-starred with Louis Gossett Jr. and Cicely Tyson) and acted with Robert De Niro in Shelley Winters’ “One Night Stands of a Noisy Passenger” (1970). She again shared the screen with husband Dern in the movie Rebel Rousers (1970) before joining the cast of the CBS soap opera “The Secret Storm” (1971-1972), as Kitty Styles. A year later, the actress did a first TV movie, with the role of Alice Shaw, in The Devil’s Daughter.
Cast by director Martin Scorsese, Ladd immediately stole critics’ hearts with her performance as Flo, the tough-talking waitress, in the romance drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), which won her a BAFTA Film award for Best Supporting Actress. In addition, she earned a first Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination. Also in 1974, Ladd played Ida Sessions in Roman Polanski’s thriller Chinatown, along with Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Bruce Glover.
While starring as Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander in Preston Jones’ Broadway play “A Texas Trilogy” (1976), Ladd also worked with actress Meredith Baxter in the TV film The November Plan (1976). She next accepted roles in the miniseries “Black Beauty” (1978, as Amelia Gordon), the TV drama Willa (1979) and the TV biopic Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980).
During 1980-1981, Ladd could be seen as Belle Dupree in the CBS sitcom “Alice,” which was based on her film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Eventually, her sitcom stint was given a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Series. On the small screen, Ladd also took part in such projects as the biopic Grace Kelly (1983), the fact-based comedy I Married a Centerfold (1984), Crime of Innocence (1985, costarred with Andy Griffith), Celebration Family (1987), Bluegrass (1988, costarred with Cheryl Ladd) and “Father Dowling Mysteries” (1989, 1 episode).
Collaborating with daughter Laura Dern, Ladd presented a fine portrayal as Marietta Fortune, the psychopathic obsessive mother of Dern’s character, in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and took home an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination. Furthermore, Ladd’s next mother-daughter performance in Martha Coolidge’s Rambling Rose (1991, played Laura Dern’s mother) garnered an Independent Spirit award and earned another Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.
Following Forever (1992, played Mabel Normand), the actress gained her first Emmy nomination for the recurring role of Charlotte Cooper in the acclaimed drama series “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” (1993-1997). The second Emmy nomination came after she appeared as Louise Burdette in the “Things Left Undone” episode of “Grace Under Fire” (2 episodes, 1994-1997).
Next, Ladd acted in Laura Dern’s directing debut The Gift (1994, TV) before making her own filmmaking attempt in the comedy drama movie Mrs. Munck (1995), which she adapted from the novel by Ella Leffland. Also starring as the title character (opposite Bruce Dern), Ladd presented the story of a wronged woman’s revenge on her wheelchair bound husband.
The actress’ performance in the self-produced Mother (1996, as Olivia Hendrix) led to an Emmy-nominated guest appearance in the “An Angel By Any Other Name” episode of “Touched by an Angel” (1997). She was also involved in screen projects like Primary Colors (1998), “Strong Medicine” (2 episodes, 2000), Daddy and Them (2001), Living with the Dead (2002, TV), Charlie’s War (2003), Gracie’s Choice (2004, TV) and The World’s Fastest Indian (2005).
In 2006, Ladd acted with Ashley Judd in Come Early Morning, re-teamed with director David Lynch in Inland Empire, appeared as Edna in When I Find the Ocean, as well as guest starred in “ER.” She is set to play Bess in the TV adaptation of Nora Roberts’ novel Montana Sky (2007) and join Faye Dunaway, Rip Torn and Nastassja Kinski in the comedy American Cowslip (2007).
- Independent Spirit: Best Supporting Female, Rambling Rose, 1992
- Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, “Alice,” tied with Valerie Bertinelli, 1981
- BAFTA Film: Best Supporting Actress, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, 1976