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Mary Nell Steenburgen

Current Location:: California, United States
Birthplace: Newport, Jackson County, Arkansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Maurice Hoffman Steenburgen and Nellie Mae Steenburgen
Wife of Ted Danson
Ex-wife of Malcolm McDowell
Mother of Private and Private
Sister of Private

Occupation: Actress
Managed by: Michelle Elena Kempner
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Mary Steenburgen

Soft-spoken and endearing, Mary Steenburgen first achieved a measure of fame with her debut role in the Jack Nicholson directed Goin' South (1978), before winning raves and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Melvin's flustered but caring wife in Jonathan Demme's Melvin and Howard (1980).

Born Mary Nell Steenburgen in Newport, AR on February 8, 1953 to parents Maurice, a freight-train conductor, and Nell, a school secretary, Steenburgen grew up in the town of Little Rock. Expressing an early interest in theater from a young age, Steenburgen was active in her school's drama department until graduation.

Pursuing drama in college, she headed to New York in 1972, where she worked with an improvisational troupe. She was spotted by Jack Nicholson, who cast her as his feisty "in name only" frontier wife in 1978's Goin' South. Two years later, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Melvin Dummar's inamorata in Melvin and Howard (1980).

Able to convey a wide age and character range, Steenburgen was effectively cast as a free-spirited Frisco girl in Time After Time (1979), the corseted matriarch of a turn-of-the-century household in Ragtime (1981), prim authoress Marjorie Rawlins in Cross Creek (1983), a long-suffering suburban housewife in Parenthood (1989), and a Marcia Clark-like attorney in Philadelphia (1993). She also portrayed the Jules Verne-loving Western schoolmarm Clara in Back to the Future 3 (1990), a role she perpetuated (via voice-over) on the Back to the Future TV cartoon series.

In 1988, she was executive producer of End of the Line, in which she also appeared. Steenburgen's film appearances throughout the 1990s were erratic: some highlights, in addition to Philadelphia, include What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Nixon (1995), and The Grass Harp (1995). In 1999, she starred as Noah's wife in the biblical epic Noah's Ark, sharing the screen with the likes of Jon Voight, F. Murray Abraham, James Coburn, and Carol Kane.

Formerly married for several years to actor Malcolm McDowell, Steenburgen married former Cheers star Ted Danson in 1995. The two have collaborated on a number of projects, including 1994's Pontiac Moon and the made-for-TV Gulliver's Travels in 1996.

In addition to projects with her husband, Steenburgen kept her active solo career flourishing with notable roles in the telepic About Sarah (CBS, 1998), playing a mentally retarded mother who becomes the responsibility of her adult daughter (Kellie Martin), as well as a turn in the TV adaptation of the William Inge play Picnic (CBS, 2000). Beginning with its first season, she made frequent appearances as herself, along with husband Danson, on real-life friend Larry David's acerbic and largely improvised comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000- ). Steenburgen also had a brief supporting role as a doctor in the schmaltzy Sean Penn dramedy I Am Sam (2001). The following year, she began a fruitful collaboration with writer-director John Sayles when she appeared with Gordon Clapp as a pathologically perky chamber of commerce member in a small Florida town as part of an impressive ensemble in Sunshine State (2002). She immediately reteamed with the filmmaker to portray one of six American women trying to establish residency in a South American country in order to adopt in Sayles' Casa de los Babys (2003). The same year, Steenburgen had a supporting role as the chagrined wife of Will Ferrell's biological father (James Caan) in the holiday laugh-fest Elf (2003), in addition to joining the cast of the family drama Joan of Arcadia (CBS, 2003-05), as Helen, the Girardi family matriarch whose daughter, Joan (Amber Tamblyn), begins to unexpectedly have one-on-one conversations with God.

The ever busy Steenburgen took on a small role in the David Lynch surrealistic thriller Inland Empire (2006) prior to a run of back-to-back matriarchal roles, beginning with the outrageous sibling rivalry comedy Step Brothers (2008), as man-child Will Ferrell's enabling mother. The same year she appeared as the mother of a kidnapping victim in the black comedy Nobel Son (2008), and later as Ryan Reynolds' supportive mom in the hit romantic comedy The Proposal (2009). Near the end of the decade Steenburgen had a turn as the gun-toting wife of local sheriff Sam Elliot alongside Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, a Manhattan couple on the run from killers, in the box-office bomb Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009).

Sources: Starpulse, Yahoo! Movies, Wikipedia

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Mary Steenburgen's Timeline

February 8, 1953
Newport, Jackson County, Arkansas, United States