Martha Coolidge
Coolidge interviewed in 2009
Martha Patterson Coolidge

(1946-08-17) August 17, 1946 (age 77)
Alma materRhode Island School of Design, NYU Tisch School of the Arts
Occupation(s)Film director, film editor, film producer, screenwriter, television director
Years active1972–present
Spouse(s)Michael Backes (divorced)
James Spencer

Martha Coolidge (born August 17, 1946)[1] is an American film director and former President of the Directors Guild of America.[2] She has directed such films as Valley Girl, Real Genius and Rambling Rose.

Early life

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Coolidge was born in New Haven, Connecticut. She is a granddaughter of Arthur W. Coolidge, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, who was a fourth cousin of President Calvin Coolidge.

Coolidge studied illustration at Rhode Island School of Design, but changed majors, becoming the first film major at the school. She earned her MFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Later in Los Angeles, she studied acting and other aspects of her craft with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Joanne Baron, and David Craig.


Coolidge first made her reputation by directing many award-winning documentaries in New York City. While in New York, she helped found the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) and the IFP.

She moved to Hollywood in 1976 and spent several years as a part of the Zoetrope Studio created by Francis Ford Coppola. Her feature-length directorial debut, Not a Pretty Picture, was based on a date rape she suffered at age 16.[3] Her breakthrough film was the independently produced Valley Girl (1983), which is best remembered for launching the career of Nicolas Cage. It also helped the popularity of the British band Modern English's hit song "I Melt with You". Her film Rambling Rose (1991) won three IFP Independent Spirit Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress for Diane Ladd and earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Ladd and Laura Dern (Best Actress). Rambling Rose was well reviewed and made many top 10 lists for the year. Despite a limited release hampered by economic problems suffered by the production company, the film played for months without advertising and earned many honors.

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999) for HBO was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards, winning five, including Best Actress for its star Halle Berry, and earned Coolidge an Emmy and DGA (Directors Guild of America) nominations for Best Director.

From 2002 to 2003 she was the Directors Guild of America's first female president.

She taught at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.[4][5]

Personal life

Coolidge was previously married to screenwriter Michael Backes, with whom she has a son, Preston, named for director Preston Sturges.[6] She is now married to production designer James Spencer.[7]





Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1976 Not a Pretty Picture Yes Yes Yes
1983 Valley Girl Yes No No
1984 City Girl Yes Story Yes
Joy of Sex Yes No No
1985 Real Genius Yes No No
1988 Plain Clothes Yes No No
1991 Rambling Rose Yes No No
1993 Lost in Yonkers Yes No No
1994 Angie Yes No No
1995 Three Wishes Yes No No
1997 Out to Sea Yes No No
2004 The Prince & Me Yes No No
2006 Material Girls Yes No No
2009 An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong Yes No No TV movie (HBO)
2019 I'll Find You[8] Yes No No


Year Title Episodes
1986 Sledge Hammer! "Under the Gun"
The Twilight Zone "Night of the Meek"
"Shelter Skelter"
2001 Leap Years "Pilot"
2002 Sex and the City "A Vogue Idea" and "I Heart New York"
2003 Hidden Hills "The Concert"
2005 Huff "All the Kings Horses"
2006 Related "Not Without My Daughter"
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation "Living Legend"
"Take my life Please"
"Maid Man"
2007 Shark "Porn Free"
Weeds "Shit Highway"
Psych "Truer Lies"
2013 Cult "The Good Fight"
The Glades "Glade-iators!"
2014 Killer Women "Warrior"
The Night Shift "Blood Brothers"
Madam Secretary "Passage"
2016 Angie Tribeca "The Famous Ventriloquist Did It"
2018 Siren "Showdown"

TV movies

Year Title Notes
1989 Trenchcoat in Paradise
1991 Bare Essentials
1992 Crazy in Love
1999 Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
2000 If These Walls Could Talk 2 Segment "1972"
2001 The Flamingo Rising
Masterpiece "The Ponder Heart"
2004 The 12 Days of Christmas Eve
2009 Tribute

See also


  1. ^ Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Martha Coolidge". Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date, Accessed 1 June 2023.
  2. ^ "Martha Coolidge - Member, 1983-Present". Archived from the original on September 7, 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  3. ^ Martha Coolidge profile on Archived 2014-02-02 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Faculty Profile". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  5. ^ "World War 2: The Setting for Two of our Faculty's Vastly Different Projects". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  6. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (26 April 1993). "From Valley Girls To Sunshine Boys, A Deal on 'Yonkers'". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Martha Coolidge - Faculty Profile". Chapman University.
  8. ^ Maddaus, Gene (15 February 2017). "Director Martha Coolidge, Producer Wage Bitter Fight for Control of Holocaust Drama". Retrieved 1 May 2018.