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Mary Steenburgen
Steenburgen at the 2009 ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Mary Nell Steenburgen

(1953-02-08)February 8, 1953 (age 63)
Newport, Arkansas, U.S.
Alma materHendrix College
Years active1978–present
  • Malcolm McDowell
    (m. 1980; div. 1990)
  • Ted Danson
    (m. after 1995)
Children2; including Charlie McDowell
AwardsAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actress:
Melvin and Howard (1980)
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture:
Melvin and Howard (1980)

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

Steenburgen, who studied at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse in the 1970s, also received a Golden Globe nomination for the 1981 film Ragtime, a BAFTA TV Award nomination for the 1985 TV miniseries Tender is the Night and an Emmy Award nomination for the 1988 TV film The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank. Her other film appearances include Cross Creek (1983), Parenthood (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Philadelphia (1993), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Elf (2003), The Brave One (2007), Step Brothers (2008), The Proposal (2009), and The Help (2011).

Steenburgen is also an active humanitarian who is involved with various groups ranging from human rights to environmental causes.[2]

Early life[]

Steenburgen was born in Newport, Arkansas, to Nellie Mae (née Wall; 1923–2010),[3] a school-board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen (1914–1989), a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad.[4][5][6] She has a sister, Nancy (Steenburgen) Kelly, a teacher.[7] After graduating from high school, Steenburgen enrolled at Hendrix College to study drama.[6] She subsequently traveled to Dallas, Texas at the suggestion of her drama teacher to audition for a slot in New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse, which she won.[6]


Early career[]

Steenburgen moved to Manhattan, New York City in 1972 after being selected by the Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting. She worked as a server at Magic Pan and for Doubleday while studying under Will Esper.[8]

Film career[]

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.[8]

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 future-first husband 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 played Marjorie 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.


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 Temple, Milla 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 Stone, Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard, 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 A Walk in the Woods as Jeannie.

Television career[]

In television, Steenburgen starred as Kate Montgomery in the CBS sitcom Ink (1996) with her husband, Ted Danson, and co-starred with Danson as Mary Gulliver in the NBC miniseries Gulliver's Travels (1996). She had a recurring role as herself with Danson in the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. Steenburgen co-starred as Helen Girardi, the mother of Amber Tamblyn's title character in the CBS fantasy/family drama Joan of Arcadia. In 2011, she had a recurring role as Josephine in the HBO sitcom Bored to Death with Danson again. Steenburgen starred as Anastasia Lee in the 2011 FX pilot, Outlaw Country,[9] but it was passed by the network.[10] She finally appeared on FX 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 the FX crime drama Justified.

On June 13, 2014, it was announced that Steenburgen would have a recurring role as Delia in the Netflix crime comedy-drama Orange Is the New Black in the third season.[11]

Currently, she plays Gail Klosterman on The Last Man on Earth.

Personal life[]

In 1978, Steenburgen met and began dating actor Malcolm McDowell while both were co-starring in Time After Time.[12] They married in 1980 and had two children together, daughter Lilly and son Charlie McDowell. Steenburgen and McDowell separated in 1989 and divorced in 1990.[13]

On October 7, 1995, Steenburgen married actor Ted Danson, whom she met on the set of the film Pontiac Moon in 1993, and became the stepmother to Danson's daughters Kate and Alexis from his previous marriage to producer Cassandra Coates.[13] Steenburgen currently resides in the Los Angeles area with her family.[14]

An alumna of Hendrix College, Steenburgen received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989.[15] In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.[16] 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.[17]

Steenburgen is a close friend of former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and supported Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign along with Danson.[18] She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Goin' South Julia Tate Moon
1979 Time After Time Amy
1980 Melvin and Howard Lynda West 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 Brown
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
1994 It Runs in the Family Mrs. Parker (Mother)
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 Hobbs
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 Short film
2011 The Help Elain Stein
2012 Mrs. Pilgrim Goes to Hollywood Mary
2013 Last Vegas Diana
2013 Brahmin Bulls Helen West
2013 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya The Bamboo Cutter's Wife Voice role
2014 Song One Karen
2015 A Walk in the Woods Jeannie
2016 The Book of Love Julia
2016 Dean Carol
2016 Katie Says Goodbye Maybelle


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 Television miniseries
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Miep Gies Television film
1991–92 Back to the Future Clara Clayton (voice) Main role (26 episodes)
1994 The Gift Catherine Television short film
1995 Frasier Marjorie (voice) Episode: "Retirement Is Murder"
1996 Gulliver's Travels Mary Gulliver Television miniseries
1996–97 Ink Kate Montgomery Main role (22 episodes)
1998 About Sarah Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey Television film
1999 Noah's Ark Naamah Television film
2000 Picnic Rosemary Sydney Television film
2000–09 Curb Your Enthusiasm Mary Steenburgen 5 episodes
2002 Living with the Dead Det. Karen Condrin Television film
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 Television film
2004 Capital City Elaine Summer Television film
2007 Reinventing the Wheelers Claire Wheeler Television film
2009 Happiness Isn't Everything Audrey Veill Television film
2010 Southern Discomfort Television film
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 4 episodes
2012 30 Rock Diana Jessup 5 episodes
2012 Outlaw Country Anastasia Lee Television film
2014–15 Justified Katherine Hale 13 episodes
2015 Togetherness Linda 2 episodes
2015 Orange Is the New Black Delia Powell 5 episodes
2015–present The Last Man on Earth Gail Klosterman Main role (30 episodes)
2015 7 Days in Hell Louisa Poole Television film
2015 Turkey Hollow Aunt Cly
2016 Blunt Talk Margaret Rudolph 4 episodes

Awards and nominations[]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
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
1980 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actress Melvin and Howard Won
1980 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Melvin and Howard Won
1980 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actress Melvin and Howard Won
1980 National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actress Melvin and Howard Won
1980 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

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


  1. "Mary Steenburgen Sees Herself in Her Latest Role". 3 October 1998.
  2. "PBS Interview". PBS. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  3. 8/16/2014
  4. "Mary Steenburgen Biography (1953-)". Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  5. "Stony Reception in Little Rock; Film by Mary Steenburgen Draws Cries of Foul in Arkansas - The Washington Post | HighBeam Research - FREE trial". 1988-04-03. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Mary Nell Steenburgen (1953–)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  7. 8/16/2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mary Steenburgen: Biography. TV
  9. "Mary Steenburgen Saddles Into Outlaw Country Pilot".
  10. "FX says no to 'Outlaw Country'". Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  11. "Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen joins the cast of Orange is the New Black in season three".
  12. Chambers, Andrea. "Malcolm McDowell's Romance with Mary Steenburgen Has Gone Just Like Clockwork." People, Sept. 1, 1980, p.64.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Sheridan, Emily (April 19, 2013). "See, some Hollywood marriages do last! Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen look as in love as ever on sunny stroll". Daily Mail. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  14. "Current Home". Clinton School of Public Service. Retrieved 2 March 2014.
  15. "Hendrix College". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  16. "Acclaimed actress, Arkansas native to receive honorary Lyon degree". Lyon College Newsletter. 2 October 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  17. "The Clinton School Speaker Series - Inspiring Ideas and Action". Retrieved 2010-09-07.
  18. "Danson to Hit the Road for Clinton Again". The Washington Post. 15 February 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2010.

External links[]