Martha Coolidge
Martha Patterson Coolidge

(1946-08-17) August 17, 1946 (age 75)
Alma materRhode Island School of Design, NYU Tisch School of the Arts
OccupationFilm director, film editor, film producer, screenwriter, television director
Years active1972–present
Spouse(s)Michael Backes (divorced)
James Spencer

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

Early life

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.[2] 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.[3][4]

Personal life

Coolidge was previously married to screenwriter Michael Backes, with whom she has a son, Preston, named after director Preston Sturges.[5] She is now married to production designer James Spencer.[6]



Selected filmography

See also


  1. ^ "Martha Coolidge - Member, 1983-Present". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  2. ^ Martha Coolidge profile on Archived 2014-02-02 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Faculty Profile". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  4. ^ "World War 2: The Setting for Two of our Faculty's Vastly Different Projects". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  5. ^ Weinraub, Bernard. "From Valley Girls To Sunshine Boys, A Deal on 'Yonkers'". New York Times.
  6. ^ "Martha Coolidge - Faculty Profile". Chapman University.
  7. ^ "Music, War and Love". 1 May 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018 – via
  8. ^ Maddaus, Gene (15 February 2017). "Director Martha Coolidge, Producer Wage Bitter Fight for Control of Holocaust Drama". Retrieved 1 May 2018.