Mary Nell Steenburgen
February 8, 1953
Newport, Arkansas, U.S.
|Children||2, including Charlie McDowell|
|Awards||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Mary Nell Steenburgen (//) (born February 8, 1953) is an American actress, comedian, singer, and songwriter. After studying at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse in the 1970s, she made her professional acting debut in 1978 Western comedy film Goin' South. Steenburgen went on to earn critical acclaim for her role in Jonathan Demme's 1980 comedy-drama film Melvin and Howard, for which she received the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Steenburgen also received nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Miloš Forman's drama film Ragtime (1981), a BAFTA TV Award for the drama miniseries Tender Is the Night (1985), and a Primetime Emmy Award for the television film The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank (1988). Her other film appearances include Time After Time (1979), Cross Creek (1983), Parenthood (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Philadelphia (1993), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Nixon (1995), Elf (2003), The Brave One (2007), Step Brothers (2008), The Proposal (2009), The Help (2011), A Walk in the Woods (2015), Book Club (2018), Happiest Season (2020), and Nightmare Alley (2021).
Steenburgen appeared in television series such as Back to the Future (1991–1992), Gulliver's Travels (1996), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000–2017), Joan of Arcadia (2003–2005), Wilfred (2011–2013), 30 Rock (2012), Justified (2014–2015), Orange Is the New Black (2015–2017), The Last Man on Earth (2015–2018), Bless the Harts (2019–2021), and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (2020–2021). She also worked as a singer-songwriter for numerous films, some of which she starred in. For her song "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)", which was featured in the musical film Wild Rose (2018), she received the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Song.
Steenburgen was born February 8, 1953, in Newport, Arkansas, to Nellie Mae (née Wall; 1923–2010), a school-board secretary, and Maurice Hoffman Steenburgen (1914–1989), a freight-train conductor who worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. She has a sister, Nancy Kelly (née Steenburgen), a teacher. Her ancestry includes Dutch, English, Scottish, and Welsh.
In 1971, she enrolled at Hendrix College to study drama. She subsequently traveled to Dallas at the suggestion of her drama teacher where she successfully auditioned for New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse.
Steenburgen moved to Manhattan in 1972 after the Neighborhood Playhouse offered her an opportunity to study acting. She worked as a server at The Magic Pan and for Doubleday while studying under William Esper.
Steenburgen's break came when she was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount's New York office and was cast as the female lead in his second directorial work, the 1978 Western Goin' South.
Steenburgen had a leading role, for which she won the Saturn Award for Best Actress, in the 1979 film Time After Time, as a modern woman who falls in love with author H. G. Wells, played by Malcolm McDowell, whom she married the following year.
In her third film, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1980 film Melvin and Howard, playing Lynda Dummar, the wife of Melvin Dummar, then a trucker and aspiring singer, who claimed to have befriended reclusive eccentric Howard Hughes. Another notable film appearance came in the well-received 1983 film Cross Creek, portraying Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. In 1985, she also starred in the movie One Magic Christmas as a mother and wife who falls on devastating times at Christmas only to rely on a Christmas miracle to save her family. In 1989, she played Karen Buckman in Parenthood. In Back to the Future Part III (1990), Steenburgen played Clara Clayton, a school teacher who falls in love with Doc Brown. She was persuaded to play the role by her children, as well as by fans of the Back to the Future films, and reprised the role by providing the character's voice in Back to the Future: The Animated Series.
Other performances have been: in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), as a woman who is having an affair with the title character; My Summer Story (1994), as the mother of Ralphie Parker (the sequel to A Christmas Story); the role of Hannah Nixon in the Oliver Stone biopic, Nixon (1995); and the Will Ferrell 2003 comedy Elf, as a woman who discovers that her husband is the father of one of Santa's elves.
She has appeared in the comedy films Step Brothers (2008), playing the mother of Will Ferrell's character; Four Christmases (2008); and The Proposal (2009).
Dirty Girl, which featured Steenburgen, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2010. She also appeared in the critically acclaimed film The Help (2011) and had a featured role as a lounge singer, who is the romantic interest in a love triangle, in the 2013 comedy Last Vegas.
She had a small part in the 2015 film A Walk in the Woods as Jeannie. In 2018, Steenburgen starred in the romantic comedy film Book Club.
In television, Steenburgen appeared as Kate Montgomery in Ink (1996) and co-starred as Mary Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels (1996). She has a recurring role as herself in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Steenburgen co-starred as Helen Girardi, the mother of Amber Tamblyn's title character in Joan of Arcadia. In 2011, she had a recurring role as Josephine in the HBO sitcom Bored to Death. Steenburgen starred as Anastasia Lee in the 2011 FX pilot, Outlaw Country, but it was passed by the network. She appeared in the dark sitcom Wilfred from 2011 through 2013 as Catherine Newman, the title character's eccentric and mentally ill mother. Steenburgen had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock from 2012 to 2013 where she played Diana Jessup.
In 2014, she began a recurring role as former Dixie Mafia boss Katherine Hale in the fifth and sixth seasons of Justified.
From 2015 to 2018, she starred as Gail Klosterman on the comedy series The Last Man on Earth.
From 2020 to 2021, she played the role of Maggie Clarke in the NBC musical comedy-drama series Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist for two seasons. She reprised the role for The Roku Channel television film Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas.
In 2007, Steenburgen underwent minor surgery on her arm, which required a general anesthetic; shortly thereafter, she began experiencing "music (...) playing in her head day and night". She subsequently took music lessons so that she could write down what she was hearing, and by 2013 had almost 50 songwriting credits. She has collaborated with musicians from Nashville and was also signed to Universal Music as a songwriter. In Last Vegas, Steenburgen plays a lounge singer and even performs one of her original compositions on screen.
In 2018, her composition "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)" as performed by Jessie Buckley featured as the climactic musical moment in the film Wild Rose and won Steenburgen several awards, including Critics Choice Award. On October 30, 2020, Steenburgen signed a global publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group.
In 1978, Steenburgen met and began dating actor Malcolm McDowell while both were co-starring in Time After Time. They married and had two children together, including son Charlie McDowell. They later divorced. On October 7, 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson, whom she had met on the set of the film Pontiac Moon, and became the stepmother to Danson's two daughters from his previous marriage to producer Cassandra Coates. Steenburgen resides in the Los Angeles area with her family. An alumna of Hendrix College, she received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989. In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. In September 2005, she and Danson gave a guest lecture for students at the Clinton School of Public Service where they discussed their roles in public service as well as the foundations and causes in which they are involved.
Steenburgen is a friend of former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and supported, along with Danson, Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Steenburgen also is involved with various groups ranging from human rights to environmental causes.
Since 2014, Steenburgen's son Charlie McDowell has had a running joke at her expense, claiming on numerous occasions on social media that his mother is actress Andie MacDowell.
|1978||Goin' South||Julia Tate Moon|
|1979||Time After Time||Amy Robbins|
|1980||Melvin and Howard||Lynda West Dummar|
|1982||A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy||Adrian|
|1983||Cross Creek||Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings|
|1983||Romantic Comedy||Phoebe Craddock|
|1985||One Magic Christmas||Ginny Grainger|
|1987||Dead of Winter||Julie Rose / Katie McGovern / Evelyn|
|1987||The Whales of August||Young Sarah|
|1987||End of the Line||Rose Pickett|
|1989||Miss Firecracker||Elaine Rutledge|
|1990||Back to the Future Part III||Clara Clayton|
|1990||The Long Walk Home||Narrator (voice)|
|1991||The Butcher's Wife||Stella Keefover|
|1993||What's Eating Gilbert Grape||Betty Carver|
|1994||Clifford||Sarah Davis Daniels|
|1994||Pontiac Moon||Katherine Bellamy|
|1994||It Runs in the Family||Mrs. Parker (mother)|
|1995||The Grass Harp||Sister Ida|
|1995||Nixon||Hannah Milhous Nixon|
|2001||The Trumpet of the Swan||Mother (voice)|
|2001||Life as a House||Colleen Beck|
|2001||I Am Sam||Dr. Blake|
|2002||Sunshine State||Francine Pinkney|
|2002||Wish You Were Dead||Sally Rider|
|2003||Hope Springs||Joanie Fisher|
|2003||Casa de los Babys||Gayle|
|2005||Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School||Marienne Hotchkiss|
|2006||The Dead Girl||Leah's mother|
|2006||Inland Empire||Visitor #2|
|2007||Elvis and Anabelle||Geneva|
|2007||Nobel Son||Sarah Michaelson|
|2007||The Brave One||Carol|
|2008||Step Brothers||Nancy Huff|
|2009||In the Electric Mist||Bootsie Robicheaux|
|2009||The Proposal||Grace Paxton|
|2009||The Open Road||Katherine|
|2009||Did You Hear About the Morgans?||Emma Wheeler|
|2011||Keepin' It Real Estate||Claire||Short film|
|2011||The Help||Elaine Stein|
|2012||Mrs. Pilgrim Goes to Hollywood||Mary|
|2013||Last Vegas||Diana Boyle|
|2013||Brahmin Bulls||Helen West|
|2013||The Tale of the Princess Kaguya||The Bamboo Cutter's Wife (voice)|
|2015||A Walk in the Woods||Jeannie|
|2016||The Book of Love||Julia|
|2016||Katie Says Goodbye||Maybelle|
|2017||I Do... Until I Don't||Cybil Burger|
|2020||Happiest Season||Tipper Caldwell|
|2021||Nightmare Alley||Mrs. Kimball|
|1983||Faerie Tale Theatre||Mary / Little Red Riding Hood||Episode: "Little Red Riding Hood"|
|1985||Tender Is the Night||Nicole Warren Diver||Miniseries|
|1988||The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank||Miep Gies||Television film|
|1991–1992||Back to the Future||Clara Clayton (voice)||Main role|
|1994||The Gift||Catherine||Television short film|
|1995||Frasier||Marjorie (voice)||Episode: "Retirement Is Murder"|
|1996||Gulliver's Travels||Mary Gulliver||Miniseries|
|1996–1997||Ink||Kate Montgomery||Main role|
|1998||About Sarah||Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey||Television film|
|1999||Noah's Ark||Naamah||Television film|
|2000||Picnic||Rosemary Sydney||Television film|
|2000–2017||Curb Your Enthusiasm||Mary Steenburgen||6 episodes|
|2002||Living with the Dead||Det. Karen Condrin||Television film|
|2002||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Grace Rinato||Episode: "Denial"|
|2003–2005||Joan of Arcadia||Helen Girardi||Main role|
|2004||It Must Be Love||Clem Gazelle||Television film|
|2004||Capital City||Elaine Summer||Television film|
|2007||Reinventing the Wheelers||Claire Wheeler||Television film|
|2009||Happiness Isn't Everything||Audrey Veil||Television film|
|2010||Southern Discomfort||Mary Lou Dobson||Television film|
|2011–2013||Wilfred||Catherine Newman||4 episodes|
|2011||Robot Chicken||Athena (voice)||Episode: "The Core, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover"|
|2011||Bored to Death||Josephine||4 episodes|
|2012||30 Rock||Diana Jessup||5 episodes|
|2012||Outlaw Country||Anastasia Lee||Television film|
|2014–2015||Justified||Katherine Hale||13 episodes|
|2015–2017||Orange Is the New Black||Delia Powell||6 episodes|
|2015–2018||The Last Man on Earth||Gail Klosterman||Main role|
|2015||7 Days in Hell||Louisa Poole||Television film|
|2015||Turkey Hollow||Aunt Cly||Television film|
|2016||Blunt Talk||Margaret Rudolph||4 episodes|
|2017||Finding Your Roots||Herself||Episode: "Puritans and Pioneers"|
|2018||The Conners||Marcy Bellinger||Episode: "Keep on Truckin'"|
|2019–2021||Bless the Harts||Crystalynn Poole (voice)||7 episodes|
|2019||On Becoming a God in Central Florida||Ellen Joy Bonar||5 episodes|
|2020–2021||Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist||Maggie Clarke||Main role|
|2020||Grace and Frankie||Miriam||2 episodes|
|2020||The Good Place||Music Teacher||Episode: "Whenever You're Ready"|
|2021||Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas||Maggie Clarke||Television film|
|1978||Golden Globe Awards||New Star of the Year – Actress||Goin' South||Nominated|
|1979||Saturn Awards||Best Actress||Time After Time||Won|
|1980||Academy Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|Boston Society of Film Critics||Best Supporting Actress||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|Los Angeles Film Critics Association||Best Supporting Actress||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|New York Film Critics Circle||Best Supporting Actress||Melvin and Howard||Won|
|1981||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture||Ragtime||Nominated|
|1985||Genie Awards||Actress in a Leading Role||One Magic Christmas||Nominated|
|1985||British Academy Television Awards||Best Actress||Tender Is the Night||Nominated|
|1988||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie||The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank||Nominated|
|1989||Chicago Film Critics Association||Best Supporting Actress||Miss Firecracker||Nominated|
|1990||Saturn Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Back to the Future Part III||Nominated|
|1995||Screen Actors Guild||Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture||Nixon||Nominated|
|1998||Screen Actors Guild||Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie||About Sarah||Nominated|
|2004||Satellite Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Television Series||Joan of Arcadia||Won|
|2011||Screen Actors Guild||Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture||The Help||Won|
|2019||Critics' Choice Movie Awards||Best Song||Wild Rose
for "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)"
|Hollywood Critics Association||Best Original Song||Wild Rose
for "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)"
|Houston Film Critics Society||Best Original Song||Wild Rose
for "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)"
In addition to these recognitions, Steenburgen received the 1,337th star on Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2009.