A Woman Under the Influence
A two-time Oscar nominee, the gracefully beautiful and talented star of stage, film and TV Gena Rowlands blossomed into full stardom in the motion pictures helmed by her husband, John Cassavetes. First collaborating in A Child Is Waiting (1963), the blonde, frosty-eyed actress took home Best Actress Academy Award nominations for her roles in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980). She also won a Golden Globe Award, a National Board of Review Award, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award and a San Sebastián International Film Festival Award for her performance in the first film, and a Boston Society of Film Critics Award for her work in the latter. Her partnership with Cassavetes in Faces (1968) and Opening Night (1977) also brought Rowlands strong notice, including a 1978 Silver Berlin Bear Award and a Golden Globe nomination. In a more recent time, she was handed a Lone Star Film & Television Award for her scene stealing role in the box office hit Hope Floats (1998), starring Sandra Bullock and helmed by Forest Whitaker, and a Golden Satellite Award for her supporting performance in The Notebook (2004), directed by her son, Nick. Previously, Rowlands and Nick had worked together in Unhook the Stars (1996) and She’s So Lovely (1997).
On the small screen, a frequent guest performer during the 60s, Rowlands drew attention with her starring turns in the biopic The Betty Ford Story (1987), where she nabbed an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award, and the drama film Face of a Stranger, in which she picked up her second Emmy Award. She continued to score victory by picking up her next Emmy Award in Hysterical Blindness (2002) and a Daytime Emmy Award in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie (2003). Other remarkable performances were in the television films An Early Frost (1985), Crazy in Love (1992), The Color of Love: Jacey’s Story (2000), Wild Iris (2001) and Charms for the Easy Life (2002).
Personally speaking, Rowlands had been married to the legendary filmmaker-actor John Cassavetes from 1954 until his death in 1989. She is the mother of three children, son Nick Cassavetes, a movie director, and daughters Alexandra and Zoe Cassavetes, who both are actress. Her love life was once linked to writer Robert Forrest.
Childhood and Family:
On June 19, 1930, Virginia Cathryn Rowlands, who would later be popular as Gena Rowlands, was born on Madison, Wisconsin. Her father, Edwin Merwin Rowlands, was a state senator, and her mother, Mary Allen Neal, a homemaker originally from Arkansas. As a result of her father’s occupation, the family frequently moved when Gena was young. Raised in Cambria, Wisconsin, she relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1939, then to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1942, and later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. She attended the University of Wisconsin from 1947 until 1950, when she left for New York City to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
A popular student already famous for her beauty, Gena met John Cassavetes while in college. On April 9, 1954, the two got married, and their first child, son Nicholas Cassavetes, was born on May 21, 1959, in NYC. Six years later, on June 29, 1970 in California, Gena gave birth to their second child, daughter Zoe R. Cassavetes, and on September 21, 1965, her next daughter, Alexandra Cassavetes, was born. Gena remained with his actor-filmmaker husband until he died on February 3, 1989.
The Betty Ford Story
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Gena Rowlands made her way to NYC at age 20 to pursue her acting studies at AADA, and two years later, she debuted on Broadway as understudy for the role of The Girl in the comedy “The Seven Year Itch” and later assumed the part. She went on to appear in Off-Broadway production of “Dangerous Corner” (1983) and opposite Edward G. Robinson in the original Broadway production of “Middle of the Night” (1955-1957). During this time, she also did a lot of Manhattan-based television, including a regular role in the elapsed syndicated series “Top Secret USA” (1955).
Moving to Hollywood, Rowlands had her first taste in front of the film camera as the wife of Jose Ferrer in the comedy The High Cost of Loving in 1958, which was followed by a string of TV guest appearances, most notably as the deaf-mute wife of a detective in a 1961 episode of the NBC series “87th Precinct.” After costarring with Kirk Douglas in the Western film Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Rowlands began her affiliation with husband John Cassavetes as director in A Child Is Waiting (1963), portraying an emotionally distressed mother of a mentally challenged child, but then decided to depart filmmaking to concentrate on rising her family. She kept on her presence on the industry by having occasional TV guest spots.
In 1967, Rowlands made her comeback to the cinematic industry as the wife of a millionaire who hires Frank Sinatra to discover her missing daughter in Tony Rome, and was featured as Adrienne Van Leyden, a gold-digger set to marry elderly Martin Peyton for his fortune, in the ABC nighttime soap opera “Peyton Place,” that same year. She continued with a starring role as a prostitute named Jeannie Rapp in the drama film Faces (1968), written and directed by her husband, and again they re-teamed for the comedy/romance Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), where she was cast as the lonesome middle-class gentile romanced by a Jewish hippie (Seymour Cassel). However, it was their collaboration in the 1974 film Woman Under the Influence that brought Rowlands sizeable attention and praise. As a mentally unstable housewife whose husband (Peter Falk) finally has her committed, she won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress-Drama, as well as a National Board of Review, a Kansas City Film Critics Circle and a San Sebastián International Film Festival for Best Actress. Additionally, she picked up her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Next, Rowlands delivered a brilliant starring turn as a bothered actress in Opening Night (1977), a drama directed and written by and also starring her husband. Though the film ran into distribution difficulties and only released for Oscar consideration in Los Angeles, Rowland herself took home a Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actress and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film. A regular guest performer during the 60s, the actress made her television film debut, A Question of Love, in 1978, where she starred as a lesbian combating to preserve custody of her children, and went on to give a powerful performance as Bette Davis’ alienated daughter in the CBS drama Strangers: The Story of a Mother and a Daughter (1979).
Rejoining his husband in 1980 for the crime/drama film Gloria, Rowlands picked up second Best Actress Academy Award nomination as well as a Golden Globe nod for Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama for her bright portrayal of a hard-hitting gun-moll named Gloria Swenson. The role also brought her a 1981 Boston Society of Film Critics. She then starred along side her husband in the Paul Mazursky-helmed Tempest (1982), a wobbly re-working of Shakespeare’s play, and in 1984, she made her last collaboration with husband Cassavetes in his drama film Love Streams, in which her portrayal of an unreliable woman dealing with a divorce won her a Silver Ribbon Best Actress - Foreign Film from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. 1985 saw the actress score success on TV with her role as the mother of an AIDS-stricken attorney in An Early Frost, where she was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special. She gained even more recognition for playing the former First Lady in the ABC biopic film The Betty Ford Story (1987), from which she nabbed an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special and a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. On the big screen, she acted in Paul Schrader’s Light of Day (1987) and Woody Allen’s Another Woman (1988), playing the dying mother of Michael J. Fox.
Following the death of his husband in 1989, Rowlands took a two-year hiatus from filmmaking, and made her return to portray Holly Hunter’s mother and Richard Dreyfuss’ mother-in-law in Once Around (1991). She next appeared as a taxi passenger driven by Winona Ryder in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (1991) and was featured in Bud Cort film Ted and Venus (1991). The same year, Rowlands outstandingly played an affluent widow who befriends a homeless woman in the CBS TV film Face of a Stranger, and won second Emmy Award for her performance in the film. She continued with a strong turn as one of three generations of women living on an island in the Pacific Northwest in the TNT movie Crazy in Love (1992).
After memorable starring roles in such films as The Neon Bible (1995, as a flamboyant singer) and Something to Talk About (1995, as Julia Roberts’ well-mannered mother), Rowlands teamed up with her son Nick Cassavetes in his directorial debut, Unhook the Stars (1996). For her fine performance as a woman starting a new life after the death of her husband, she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. A year later, she reunited with her son for a cameo role in She’s So Lovely, a romantic comedy starring Robin Wright Penn, and maintained her busy schedule during 1998 by working on six different projects, including the ensemble drama Playing by Heart, the CBS telepic Grace & Glorie, the comedy/drama The Mighty, and Hope Floats, where she won a Best Supporting Actress Lone Star Film & Television for her role as Sandra Bullock’s plain-speaking mother. In Brian Skeet’s The Weekend (1999), the capable actress jointly received a Seattle International Film Festival for Citation of Excellence for Ensemble Cast Performance.
Entering the new millennium, Rowlands again attracted attention with her roles as a Southern grandmother whose relationship with her granddaughter is endangered by the child’s paternal grandfather who is seeking custody in the CBS film The Color of Love: Jacey’s Story (2000) and as an arrogant mother in the television drama Wild Iris (2001). Both roles brought the actress Emmy nominations. In 2002, she stood out as Uma Thurman’s mother in the highly praised HBO film Hysterical Blindness, from which she collected her third Emmy, this time for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. This was followed by a couple of well-acted performances in otherwise usual television films, Charms for the Easy Life (2002) and The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie (2003). The latter performance even won her a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special.
Rowlands played the supporting role of Mrs. Asher in the D.J Caruso-directed thriller Taking Lives (2004), starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke, and then rejoined her son Nick for the drama/romance film The Notebook. Her effective scene-stealing role opposite James Garner, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the film earned Rowlands a 2005 Golden Satellite for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. In 2005, she worked with Kate Hudson and John Hurt in the supernatural thriller The Skeleton Key, playing Hurt’s eccentric wife, Violet.
Currently, Rowlands was featured in the comedy/romance film Broken English, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year. She is set to costar as a terminally ill woman named Melissa in the made-for-TV film What If God Were the Sun?, which due for May release, and will lend her voice for the French animated film Persepolis (2007).