Mary Steenburgen
Birth Date:
February 8, 1953
Birth Place:
Newport, Arkansas, USA
5' 8
Famous for:
Oscar win for 'Melvin and Howard' (1980)
North Little Rock High School, North Little Rock, Arkansas
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''Melvin and Howard'' Lady


Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen garnered universal rave reviews for her outstanding portrayal of Lynda Dummar, the caring, flustered first wife of Paul Le Mat's Melvin and an alleged heir to Howard Hughes’ estate, in Jonathan Demme's drama/comedy film "Melvin and Howard" (1980). The actress, who was ''discovered'' by Jack Nicholson and made her film debut in his western-comedy "Goin' South" (1978), has starred in such films as "Time After Time" (1979), "Ragtime" (1981), "End of the Line" (1987), "The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank" (1988; TV), "Back to the Future Part III" (1990), "Life as a House" (2001), "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School" (2005), "Nobel Son" (2007), "The Brave One" (2007) and "Honeydripper" (2007). She will next be seen with Tommy Lee Jones in the upcoming film "In the Electric Mist" and with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in "Step Brothers."

On television, the soft-spoken appealing actress was popular among TV viewers as the title role's mother on CBS' television fantasy/family drama ''Joan of Arcadia'' (2003-2005) and as part of a newspaper journalist duo, with real-life husband Ted Danson, in the CBS sitcom "Ink" (1996-1997).

More personally, the 5' 8" curly haired actress was married to Malcolm McDowell from 1980 to 1990. She has been married to actor Ted Danson since 1995.

Dutch-American Heritage

Childhood and Family:

In Newport, Arkansas, Mary N. Steenburgen was born on February 8, 1953, into a family of Dutch-American heritage. Her father, Maurice Steenburgen (died of lung cancer at age 74 in 1989), was a freight-train conductor and her mother, Nell Steenburgen (born in 1923), was a school-board secretary. She has one sister named Nancy Kelley.

Young Steenburgen attended North Little Rock High School, in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Hendrix College, in Conway, Arkansas. She was fond of art and literature and was active in her school drama class. She moved to New York in 1972 to study acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of The Theatre, in New York, New York.

On September 29, 1980, Steenburgen married actor Malcolm McDowell (born on June 13, 1943) and they have two children: Charlie McDowell (director/producer; born on July 10, 1983) and Lilly McDowell (actress; born on January 21, 1981). Steenburgen and McDowell divorced in 1990 and five years later, on October 7, 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson (born on December 29, 1947).

Steenburgen, a close personal friend of former first lady Hillary Clinton, is also an active supporter of humanitarian causes. In April 2002, she returned to her old high school in North Little Rock to teach drama workshops to students, fulfilling a promise made to the parents of teenager Thea Leopoulos, who was killed in a traffic accident in 2001. In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.

Time After Time


Born and raised in Arkansas, Mary Steenburgen, who was bitten by the acting bug after seeing "The Music Man" on stage at age 8 and a production of "South Pacific" in Memphis a few years later, moved to New York in 1972 to study acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of The Theatre, in New York. During her studies there, she supported herself by selling books at Doubleday's.

Along with four other Playhouse graduates, Steenburgen co-founded Cracked Tokens, an improvisational comedy troupe. She also performed with them for the NYC Bureau of Alcoholism halfway houses (they later became a resident company of the Manhattan Theater Club).

In 1978, the aspiring actress was ''discovered'' by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount's New York office and was cast in his second directorial effort, the western-comedy "Goin' South," alongside Christopher Lloyd, John Belushi (movie debut), Richard Bradford, Veronica Cartwright, Danny DeVito and Ed Begley Jr. In her film debut, Steenburgen played the female lead role of Julia Tate, the headstrong, but genteel, Southern virgin who weds Nicholson's character. Nicholson’s first film work received rave reviews and Mary was nominated for a Best Motion Picture Acting Debut - Female award at the Golden Globes.

Steenburgen followed it up with the movie ''Time After Time'' (1979), Nicholas Meyer's film adaptation of the science fiction novel by Karl Alexander in which she played Amy Robbins, a free-spirited Frisco girl and the love interest of a time traveler (played by Malcolm McDowell).

The following year proved to even brighter for Steenburgen when she snagged the role of Lynda Dummar, the overwhelmed and excitable first wife of Melvin Dummar (played by Paul Le Mat) and an alleged heir to Howard Hughes’ (played by Jason Robards) estate, in Jonathan Demme's drama/comedy film "Melvin and Howard" (1980). Her performance garnered universal critical acclaim and won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role.

After her Oscar win, Steenburgen was nominated for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role at the Golden Globes for her role in director Miloš Forman's film adaptation of the acclaimed and popular historical novel by E. L. Doctorow, "Ragtime" (1981; with James Cagney and Brad Dourif). She subsequently starred in Woody Allen's romantic comedy "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (1982; also with Mia Farrow), which was loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night," Arthur Hiller's film version of Bernard Slade's play, "Romantic Comedy" (1983; opposite Dudley Moore), and Martin Ritt's Oscar-nominated adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' 1942 memoir, "Cross Creek" (1983), in which she starred as "The Yearling" author.

"I got to be a leading lady some those first four or five years. My first six films, I was the definite leading lady in all of them." Mary Steenburgen

In the mid 1980s, Steenburgen made her TV debut in a starring role in “Tender Is the Night," a Showtime miniseries scripted by Dennis Potter in which she portrayed Nicole Warren Diver, the patient and wife of promising young psychoanalyst Dick Diver (played by Peter Strauss). She was nominated for Best Actress at the BAFTA Awards for her role.

Steenburgen made her London stage debut in 1987 in the play "Holiday" at the Old Vic, which was directed by Lindsay Anderson. She also made her debut as executive producer in Jay Russell's independent drama film "End of the Line" (1988), in which she also acted opposite Wilford Brimley and Levon Helm. That same year, she delivered the Emmy-nominated portrayal of Miep Gies, one of the Dutch citizens who hid Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis during World War II, in the made-for-television movie "The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank."

Entering the new decade, Steenburgen played Clara Clayton, a schoolteacher and the love interest of a time traveler's (played by Christopher Lloyd) past, in Robert Zemeckis' science fiction western comedy film, "Back to the Future Part III" (1990). During the subsequent years, she recreated the role of Clara Clayton for the CBS Saturday morning cartoon version of "Back to the Future" (1991-1992).

As for her stage work, Steenburgen made her Broadway debut as "Candida" in a 1993 play with the same name and made her Los Angeles stage debut in the next year's "Marvin's Room." She spent the rest of the 1990s co-starring with husband Ted Danson in the CBS sitcom "Ink" (1996-1997), which was also produced by the couple. The show was eventually axed after one season due to low ratings. Afterward, Steenburgen was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her title role in the stellar TV movie ''About Sarah'' (1998).

The new millennium saw Steenburgen appear with husband Ted Danson in several seasons of Larry David's HBO sitcom, "Curb Your Enthusiasm." She also returned to the New York City stage in the play "The Beginning of August” and appeared in Irwin Winkler's drama "Life as a House" (2001; starring Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen). She was then cast in the Jon Favreau Christmas-themed comedy film "Elf" (2003; starring Will Ferrell).

From 2003 to 2005, TV viewers watched Steenburgen play the title role's (played by Amber Tamblyn) mother on CBS' television fantasy/family drama ''Joan of Arcadia'' (2003-2005). For her performance in the show, she won a Satellite award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Drama, in 2004.

Meanwhile, Steenburgen continued her film work and starred as the title role in writer/director Randall Miller's offbeat ensemble musical, "Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School" (2005), which was based on a 1990 short film by the same name. When asked the reason why she took the role, Steenburgen said, ''I don’t recall knowing who was going to be in it. I got it from my agent late one night and it was just this long title, which struck me. I started thumbing through it and by the time I was a third of the way into it I knew I was going to do it, just on the strength of the writing. Each character, no matter how tiny, was compelling and very specific. They jumped off the page and I knew they would attract good actors.''

In 2006, Steenburgen starred in writer/director David Lynch's mystery/drama "Inland Empire" and Karen Moncrieff's drama/thriller "The Dead Girl," playing the mother of Rose Byrne's character. She also starred in an un-picked WB TV series titled "Reinventing the Wheelers."

More recently, Steenburgen could be seen in writer/director Will Geiger's "Elvis and Anabelle," Randall Miller's roller coaster thriller "Nobel Son,” Harris Goldberg's drama/comedy "Numb" starring Matthew Perry, and writer/director John Sayles' musical drama "Honeydripper" starring Danny Glover and Lisa Gay Hamilton. She also co-starred with Jodie Foster in Neil Jordan's crime drama "The Brave One."

Currently, Steenburgen is working on her upcoming film projects, "In the Electric Mist," Bertrand Tavernier's adaptation of James Lee Burke's novel in which she will co-star with Tommy Lee Jones, and Adam McKay's comedy "Step Brothers," which will star Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.


  • Satellite: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Drama, ''Joan of Arcadia,'' 2004

  • Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1981

  • Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Supporting Actress, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1981

  • Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1981

  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1981

  • National Society of Film Critics: Best Supporting Actress, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1981

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Actress, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1980

  • New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, ''Melvin and Howard,'' 1980

  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Best Actress, ''Time After Time,'' 1980

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