Mary Nell Steenburgen[1] (born February 8, 1953) is an American actress. She won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for playing the role of Lynda Dummar in Jonathan Demme's 1980 film Melvin and Howard.


 [hide*1 Early life

Early life[edit]Edit

Steenburgen was born in Newport, Arkansas, the daughter of Nellie Mae (née Wall), a school-board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad.[2][3][4]

Steenburgen grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansas]].[citation needed]


Early career[edit]Edit

Steenburgen moved to Manhattan in 1972, waitressing at Magic Pan and later working at Doubleday while studying acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse under Will Esper.[5]

Film career[edit]Edit

Steenburgen's big 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 effort, the 1978 Western Goin' South.[5]

Steenburgen had a leading role in the 1979 film Time After Time as a modern woman who falls in love with author H. G. Wells, played by her first husband-to-be Malcolm McDowell.

In only 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, in which she playedMarjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling.

In Back to the Future Part III (1990), Steenburgen played Clara Clayton, a school teacher who falls in love with Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd. 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 (played by Johnny Depp); the role of Hannah Nixon in the Oliver Stone biopic, Nixon (1995); and in the Will Ferrell 2003 comedy Elf, as a woman who discovers that her husband is the father of one of Santa's elves.

[1][2]Steenburgen in December 2000

In recent years, she has been in the comedy films, Step Brothers (2008), starring Will Ferrell, playing the mother of Ferrell's character; Four Christmases (2008) opposite Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon; and The Proposal (2009) opposite Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

Dirty Girl, which features Steenburgen along with Juno TempleMilla Jovovich and William H. Macy, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12, 2010. She also appeared in the critically acclaimed film The Help (2011), starring alongside Emma StoneViola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard. And she had a featured role as a lounge singer who is the romantic interest in a love triangle in the 2013 comedy Last Vegas.

Television career[edit]Edit

In television, Steenburgen starred in the sitcom Ink (1996) with her husband, Ted Danson, and co-starred in the television miniseries Gulliver's Travels (1996) with Danson. She appeared as herself, alongside Danson, in the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. She played the mother of the title character in the CBS drama series Joan of Arcadia. In 2011, she made guest appearances in Bored to Death, again alongside Danson. She starred in the 2011 FX pilot, Outlaw Country,[6] but FX decided against making a series.[7]

Personal life[edit]Edit

Steenburgen married actor Malcolm McDowell in 1980 and they had two children together: Lilly Amanda (now Lilly McDowell Walton), born January 31, 1981, and Charles Malcolm, born July 10, 1983. Steenburgen and McDowell divorced in 1990.[citation needed]

On October 7, 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson. 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.[8] An alumna of Hendrix College, Steenburgen received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989.[9] In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.[10]

She is a close friend of former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and supported Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign along with Danson.[11]

In January 2012, Steenburgen became a grandmother when her daughter Lilly gave birth to a daughter Clementine Mae.[citation needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Goin' South Julia Tate Moon
1979 Time After Time Amy
1980 Melvin and Howard Lynda Dummar
1981 Ragtime Mother
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 Elain Rutledge
1989 Parenthood Karen Buckman
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
1993 Philadelphia Belinda Conine
1994 Clifford Sarah Davis
1994 Pontiac Moon Katherine Bellamy
1995 My Family Gloria
1995 The Grass Harp Sister Ida
1995 Powder Jessie Caldwell
1995 Nixon Hannah Milhous Nixon
2001 Nobody's Baby Estelle
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
2003 Elf Emily
2005 Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School Marienne Hotchkiss
2006 The Dead Girl Leah's Mother
2007 Elvis and Annabelle Geneva
2007 Nobel Son Sarah Michaelson
2007 Numb Dr. Blaine
2007 The Brave One Carol
2007 Honeydripper Amanda Winship
2008 Step Brothers Nancy Huff
2008 Four Christmases Marilyn
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
2010 Dirty Girl Peggy
2011 Keepin' It Real Estate Claire Video short
2011 The Help Elain Stein
2012 Mrs. Pilgrim Goes to Hollywood Mary
2013 Last Vegas Diana
2013 Brahmin Bulls Helen West
2014 Song One In post-production


Year Title Role Notes
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 Movie
1991–92 Back to the Future Clara Clayton (voice) Main role (26 episodes)
1994 The Gift Catherine TV short
1995 Frasier Marjorie (voice) Episode: "Retirement Is Murder"
1996 Gulliver's Travels Mary Gulliver Miniseries
1996–97 Ink Kate Montgomery Main role (22 episodes)
1998 About Sarah Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey Movie
1999 Noah's Ark Naamah Movie
2000 Picnic Rosemary Sydney Movie
2000/07/09 Curb Your Enthusiasm Mary Steenburgen 5 episodes
2002 Living with the Dead Det. Karen Condrin Movie
2002 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Grace Rinato Episode: "Denial"
2003–05 Joan of Arcadia Helen Girardi Main role (45 episodes)
2004 Becker Patient Episode: "DNR"
2004 It Must Be Love Clem Gazelle Movie
2004 Capital City Elaine Summer Movie
2007 Reinventing the Wheelers Claire Wheeler Movie
2009 Happiness Isn't Everything Audrey Veill Movie
2010 Southern Discomfort Movie
2011–13 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 Recurring role; 4 episodes
2012 30 Rock Diana Jessup Recurring role; 5 episodes
2012 Outlaw Country Anastasia Lee Movie

Awards and nominations[edit]Edit

Year Nominated work Award Result
1978 Goin' South Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress Nominated
1979 Time After Time Saturn Award for Best Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Won
1980 Melvin and Howard Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1980 Melvin and Howard New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress Won
1981 Ragtime Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Nominated
1985 One Magic Christmas Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Nominated
1985 Tender Is the Night British Academy Television Award for Best Actress Nominated
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie Nominated
1989 Miss Firecracker Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
1990 Back to the Future Part III Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
1995 Nixon Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Nominated
1998 About Sarah Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Nominated
2002 Wish You Were Dead DVD Premiere Award for Best Supporting Actress Nominated
2004 Joan of Arcadia Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Television Series Won
2011 The Help Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won

In addition to these recognitions, Steenburgen received the 1,337th star on Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 16, 2009.

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