Ellen Burstyn - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Edna Rae Gillooly in Detroit, Michigan, 7 December 1932. Education: Attended Cass Tech High School, Detroit. Family: Married 1) William C. Alexander; 2) Paul Roberts; 3) Neil Burstyn, son: Jefferson. Career: 1951–57—model in New York and Texas as Edna Rae; dancer in Montreal club as Keri Flynn; "Glee Girl" on The Jackie Gleason Show (as Erica Dean); 1957—on Broadway in Fair Game (as Ellen McRae); early 1970s—studied at Actors Studio; 1973—bought script of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore , and chose Martin Scorsese as director; 1975—returned to Broadway in Same Time Next Year ; other New York stage work includes The Three Sisters (1977) and 84 Charing Cross Road (1982); 1979—named co-artist director, with Al Pacino, of the Actors Studio following death of Lee Strasberg; president, Actors' Equity Association, 1982–85. Awards: Best Supporting Actress, New York Film Critics, for The Last Picture Show , 1971; Best Actress Academy Award, and Best Actress, British Academy, for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore , 1975; honorary doctorates from Dowling College, 1983, and School of Visual Arts, New York City, 1983. Address: c/o Todd Smith, Creative Artists Agency, 1888 Century Park E., Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:

(as Ellen McRae)


For Those Who Think Young (Martinson) (as Dr. Pauline Thayer); Goodbye Charlie (Minnelli) (as Franny)


Pit Stop (Hill) (as Ellen McLeod)

(as Ellen Burstyn)


Alex in Wonderland (Mazursky) (as Beth); Tropic of Cancer (Strick) (as Mona)


The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich) (as Lois)


The King of Marvin Gardens (Rafelson) (as Sally)


The Exorcist (Friedkin) (as Chris)


Harry and Tonto (Mazursky) (as Shirley); Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Scorsese) (as Alice Hyatt); Thursday's Game (Moore—for TV)


Providence (Resnais) (as Sonia)


A Dream of Passion (Dassin) (as Brenda); Same Time Next Year (Mulligan) (as Doris)


Resurrection (Petrie) (as Edna Mae McCauley)


The Silence of the North (King) (as Olive Fredrickson)


The Ambassador (Thompson) (as Alex Hacker)


Twice in a Lifetime (Yorkin) (as Kate MacKenzie); Surviving (Hussein—for TV); Into Thin Air (Young—for TV)


Something in Common (Glenn Jordan—for TV)


Pack of Lies (Page—for TV); Hello Actors Studio (Tresgot—doc); Look Away (Seidelman); Dear America ( Letters Home from Vietnam ) (doc—for TV) (voice)


Hanna's War (Golan) (as Katarina Senesh)


Act of Vengeance . . . A True Story (Mackenzie—for TV)


The Color of Evening (Stafford); When You Remember Me (Winer—for TV) (as Nurse Cooder)


Dying Young (Schumacher) (as Mrs. O'Neil); Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love (for TV) (as Lil Lambert)


Taking Back My Life (for TV) (as Wilma); Grand Isle (Lambert—for TV) (as Mademoiselle Reisz)


Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story (for TV) (as Joan Delvecchio); The Cemetery Club (Duke) (as Esther Moskowitz)


Getting Gotti (Young—for TV) (as Jo Giacalone); Trick of the Eye (for TV) (as Frances Griffin); When a Man Loves a Woman (Mandoki) (as Emily); Getting Out (for TV) (as Arlie's mother)


The Baby-Sitter's Club (as Mrs. Haberman); Roommates (Yates) (as Judith); How to Make an American Quilt (Moorhouse) (as Hy); My Brother's Keeper (for TV) (as Helen); Follow the River (for TV) (as Gretel)


The Spitfire Grill (Zlotoff) (as Hannah Ferguson)


Deceiver (Jonas Pate, Josua Pate) (as Mook); A Deadly Vision


You Can Thank Me Later (Dotan) (as Shirley Cooperberg); Playing by Heart (Carroll) (as Mildred); Flash (Wincer—for TV) (as Laura Strong); The Patron Saint of Liars (Gyllenhaal—for TV) (as June Clatterbuck); A Will of Their Own (Arthur—mini for TV) (as Veronica Steward)

Ellen Burstyn (left) and Linda Blair in The Exorcist
Ellen Burstyn (left) and Linda Blair in The Exorcist


Night Ride Home (Jordan—for TV) (as Maggie)


The Yards (Gray) (as Val Handler); Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky) (as Sara Goldfarb); Mermaid (Masterson—for TV) (as Trish); Walking Across Egypt (Seidelman) (as Mattie Rigsbee)


By BURSTYN: article—

Interview, in Take One (Montreal), March 1977.

On BURSTYN: articles—

Current Biography 1975 , New York, 1975.

Glaessner, Verina, " Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore ," in Focus on Film (London), Summer 1975.

Bell, Arthur, "Burstyn without Masks," in Village Voice (New York), 5 November 1980.

Berkvist, Robert, "The Miracle of Ellen Burstyn," in Cosmopolitan (New York), February 1982.

* * *

Ellen Burstyn is an unparalleled re-inventress. While many actresses transmute their image after stardom wanes, Burstyn tried on different identities prior to Hollywood glory. It is her inbred survivability and desire to refashion adversity in a favorable image that informs her finest work. Having been christened Edna Rae Gillooly, and having danced as Keri Flynn, Ellen "Erica Dean" Burstyn then promenaded as one of Jackie Gleason's television Glee Girls, snared a fling at Broadway ingenuedom as Ellen McRae, and paid her dues as Ellen McLeod in such drive-in filler as Pit Stop . Before she chucked her marginal screen-acting progress to hone her craft at the Actors Studio, Burstyn had already gone through more name changes than Joan Crawford. If great actresses should be chameleons, then Burstyn returned to film work in 1970 as well-prepared by her own catch-as-catch-can life as by Strasberg's Method. Playing vitally attractive women with some mileage on them, Burstyn sent critics scrambling for superlatives by shifting from supportive but insecure mom in The Last Picture Show to the destructively paranoid stepmother in King of Marvin Gardens . At an age when most female stars have accumulated the bulk of their above-title credits, Burstyn was just hitting her stride. Maintaining dignity amidst the pea soup-spitting hysteria of the boxoffice avalanche, The Exorcist , Burstyn slyly demonstrated the chutzpah that nourished her slow-burning career. Negotiating a deal for a project she rescued from television, Burstyn starred in the finest flowering of feminism for the masses, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and won the Oscar. Chronicling a minor lounge singer's embattled insistence on not sacrificing rewarding work for a Prince Charming, she fueled the film with the rage she must have felt waiting so long for stardom herself.

Having hit this unexpected height in her forties, Burstyn repeated her Tony-award triumph in Same Time, Next Year , but on-screen, the shenanigans seemed better suited to Doris Day's Ross Hunter period. As a conventional movie star, Burstyn registered as too unyielding. More challenged by varying her range with misguided art films such as Resnais's stuffy chat-fest Providence and Dassin's A Dream of Passion (an attempt to do for Medea what Bergman did for Persona ), Burstyn's star power experienced a Resurrection , in which she filtered her tensile fortitude through her most translucent performance as a widow transformed into a psychic healer by personal tragedy. Sadly, this perfect mesh of actress and role led only to claptrap ( Silence of the North ), post-stardom supporting crumbs ( Twice in a Lifetime ) and the welcoming vista of television where she suffered to stunning effect in Pack of Lies and Into Thin Air , and wreaked emotional chaos in Getting Out . Having briefly sampled Hollywood immortality, Burstyn seemed content to cast herself as working actress, returning to Broadway as a female priest in Sacrilege or gracing ensemble films such as How to Make an American Quilt and Cemetery Club . Sometimes faltering in grande dame parts (e.g., television's Primal Secret ), the still-radiantly sexy Burstyn needs to display her many facets in something other than retreads of Fay Bainter roles. Appearing briefly in younger actresses' Oscar-pandering vehicles (Julia Roberts's Dying Young and Meg Ryan's When a Man Loves a Woman ), Burstyn wipes the little darlings off the screen. A talent educated in the school of hard knocks is likely to endure.

—Robert Pardi

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